Is there life beyond 100 per cent?

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Is there life beyond 100 per cent?

Here's why high grades can actually be hurting students in the long run

By Bikram Vohra

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Published: Fri 17 May 2019, 12:00 AM

Last updated: Fri 17 May 2019, 2:00 AM

I have occasionally marvelled at the incredibly high marks that young children obtain in their board examinations. Much of the past few days have been filled with stories of boys and girls getting maximum marks. As I have always said, while this may be possible in maths or multiple choice questions, is it within the sphere of reality for the arts and for language and expression?

To me, it is more than a worrying thought. At the outset, as parents who are celebrating these honours and teachers who are beaming with pride, it is worth knowing who these educationists are that correct these papers and have the measure of genius in them to give an essay full marks. Who are these people and how are they selected that they have this unique ability to assess perfection?

Then there is another aspect that I truly believe parents and teachers are simply overlooking in their excitement over assembly-lined brilliance packaged and dispensed within the thousands. Being from a much older school of thought and action where 60 per cent was considered a first class, I had my first experience of this new order while teaching a journalism course at a university. Seeing 70 per cent as the outer line, I managed in the mid-term to bring down their grades because they were scoring in the 90s in other subjects. So there I am all chuffed up and cheerful and walk into this classroom of sulky, long-faced students, most of whom are usually warm and friendly and they glare at me as if I had betrayed their trust. I tell them they did very well in their 'written' and I am very impressed with the performance and they collectively give me the raspberry, like are you kidding, 72 per cent is the boonies, it is the wilderness, it is blowing in the wind, you have just ruined our average. And then I get a call from the headmaster asking me to drop in to discuss the marking system.

And there we are then, with an army of young people given the benediction of being superlative even as those in the mid-eighties are crying in their corn flakes and singing 'woe is me' while their parents go into shock because 88 per cent is just not enough, my son, to get into a good college. It is not even good enough to get into a second-rate college, warned you to study harder, now see where we are. trapped.

There are colleges now that have cutoff marks of 96 per cent or you need not apply or get to the back of the queue and this must be the most smug and arrogant attitude to education.

And I can hear you say yes, heard all this before, so what is new?
I will tell you what is new and what is being totally dismissed in such 'cent per cent' systems. The gap between this mythical mental idyllic state and the cruel world out there. By giving children in their teens the idea that they have scaled Everest is disarming them and leaving them vulnerable to the harshness of the real world because out there, no one gives you 100 per cent and the realisation that you aren't that hot comes as a shock.

In this hurtle, we are actually harming these children because we are giving them no wriggle room to accommodate what is out there. Good bosses, bad bosses, where did they come from? Colleagues who will be so street smart that they will run rings around you - and those full marks will offer no protection.

I have always felt that a fully-rounded education is not one that just gives you five stars and sends you half-baked and half-packed into the world. A fully-rounded education must offer you the in-built flexibility to take on the bumps and potholes on the road of life and not expect a six-lane highway all the way. Because life is not smooth and it does not owe you a living, and success and failure are both imposters and should be treated as such because neither stays forever and what does happen is that having hit the 'jackpot' at such a young age, there is this expectation that life will lay out the red carpet. She doesn't, she won't and children like these, whose numbers are growing exponentially, are not only unready but there is this disservice done to them in making them feel they have achieved the summit at 16.

Unless some sanity is brought into these mass markings, two major issues arise. One, where do you go from full marks to offer adequate encouragement and incentive. If that student drops to 95 per cent, it becomes a screaming failure of a performance.

And the issue does not stop here. Consider the huge talent being lost at the 80-plus level. These are extremely bright young people with huge abilities, but because the system has cruelly cast them aside as unworthy, imagine the massive amount of talent band skill and smarts that is marooned. This is a real problem and will keep increasing as more children are left stranded from opportunity merely because some arbitrary yardstick decided their excellence was not excellent enough.

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