Let me begin by reminding all of us, that exams are meant for diagnosis and not ‘labeling’. The unit tests and other midyear tests are meant for the teacher to diagnose the strengths and weaknesses of a student in the class. For the teacher to adjust lesson-delivery accordingly.
In the final exams, the marks received by a student are a tool to proactively give the child and parents feedback about their weaknesses and strengths; to prepare them better for ‘life’.
Once we recognize this, we will stop chasing marks and labeling our children by them. Because in the 21st century, having a better memorizing capacity is not a value-added skill anymore (if it ever was!) – We all have infinite information available at our fingertips. No child’s memory retention capacity is going to beat Google’s in any way.
So it is critical that all stakeholders – parents, education systems and students stop this rat race of getting the highest percentage or being a topper. Exam results are a great feedback tool – to the toppers, my heartiest congratulations. To those who fared poorly, what feedback did your exams give you? Please understand that even if your marks are poor, ‘You never fail. You either win, or you learn’.
So it’s up to you, how you interpret these results. If young adults start thinking of themselves as ‘losers’ or ‘good for nothing’ just because they fail an exam; and if society reinforces that belief, then not only are we refusing to take feedback, but also falling into a trap.
Coming back to what we, as a society are doing by rewarding children’s memorizing capacities. Is that the only ability required for them to succeed in life? There is a new paradigm the world is discussing, it is called the ‘growth mindset’. Individuals who believe their talents can be developed (through hard work, good strategies, and input from others) have a growth mindset. They tend to achieve more than those with a more fixed mindset (those who believe their talents are innate gifts).
Criticizing and labeling students negatively for poor marks is fixed mindset thinking – you’re telling them that they can never improve and that their future is doomed.
We have wrongly set up the importance of marks as if they are the Holy Grail. As if the only chance to succeed in life is through fantastic board exam results. The same sentiment was echoed by Google CEO, Sundar Pichai in a recent interview at IIT Kharagpur where he said getting the best marks or getting into a top college isn’t a necessary prerequisite to success in life.
We love sharing success stories of toppers, what their pre-exam routines were like, what do they want to pursue, and I say more power to them for that. But what about the rest of the students? What about the children who are so pressurized that they end up losing their mental balance, going into depression, or worst of all, committing suicide! Why are we not projecting, and celebrating, stories of children who might’ve fared poorly in a board exam, but yet became huge successes in life?
Some of the most successful people in the world have gone through repeated failure and rejection at every step they took. Yet they persisted, showed grit, brushed the dust off, got their chin up and tried again, with even more enthusiasm.
Years ago, when a global fast-food chain store opened in China, they invited applications for servers, whose job was only to put burgers and a cold drink on a tray and ask “would you like fries with that?” Of the 12 applicants, 11 got selected, 1 got rejected. Today, that 1 rejected candidate is Jack Ma, the founder of Alibaba, and is worth $31.4 billion!
Each of us has failed many times in our lives, learned from it, and emerged stronger. Some children might not do well in a board exam, but if we support them, help them learn to cope with it and persevere in an area of their choice, it would most definitely be their first step to a much more glorious future.
The next Jack Ma might’ve just failed his board exam two days ago.
Let’s stop making failure a bad word. Because you can’t judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree!