“For those who aren’t happy with their CBSE Class X and XII results, I want to tell them, one exam doesn’t define who you are. Each of you is blessed with numerous talents. Live life to the fullest. Never lose hope, always look ahead. You will do wonders!”
– Prime Minister Narendra Modi
It was just yesterday when I had a deep conversation with my uncles. They said that during their time (i.e. in the ’90s), there was something called Second Division (Distinction was above 75% marks, First Division was 60-75%, Second Division was 55-60%, and Third division was below 45%). The significance of Second Division, according to them, in today’s time, is comparable to whatever marks make you eligible to demand that hunky motorcycle or that limited edition brand new fashion accessory. “That is strange,” I said. “I have been scoring well above that threshold and nobody has ever made me feel worthy of a KFC meal, let alone a new motorcycle.”
It has been over a month since CBSE declared the board exam result of Class 10 and 12. In a brilliant move, the Board did away with the term ‘Fail’ in their mark sheets, and replaced it with ‘Essential Repeat’ to reduce mental health impact on students. Additionally, CBSE decided not to announce its Toppers’ List this year, due to the pandemic, which hampered the examination process. However Indian media was quick at unearthing the top scorers and just like every year, played hours of footage of their interviews and study schedule.
The student who has topped the Class 12 board exam this year said that she regretted getting one mark short of a perfect 500. Over the following one month, various State board results were announced and and headlines covered the names of the respective toppers, without realising that by overly focusing on the magical percentage of 99%, media is creating a sense of achievement and triumph for those who top, inadvertently making them role models, at the cost of making life a living hell for all those who didn’t score as high.
In 2016, 9,478 students in India took their lives. In 2017, this number rose to 9,950, and 10,159 the following year. With the global mental health at its worst since the financial crash in 2008, education at a near standstill, and students at their most vulnerable stage, there is one question we need to ask: have we built an education system or an examination system? By overly focusing on marks and standardised tests as a means to judge one’s ability, we are ruining the biggest asset of this country, its youth.
They end up studying for eight hours a day in school, they go for coaching classes, and pull all-nighters during the exam season so that they can secure a high number, lesser than which is neither acceptable by society nor elite institutions. This leads to a lack of focus on competence, creativity or their health. A second division student is worse than failure in current times. Despite board exam marks that are increasing year after year, crime, unemployment and mental illnesses are also increasing at much higher proportions. Today, a majority of children can be seen wearing spectacles much before their teens, having a root canal as young as early as the age of five, and suffering from anxiety and depression in their early 20s.
We are in a deep crisis and it seems that our education policymakers have gone terribly wrong in planning our country’s education system. The insatiable hunger for marks is making students less productive and more ‘mechanical’. Institutions such as Harvard, Columbia and Cambridge University put us as a country of 1.3 billion to shame when it comes to winning a Nobel Prize. India has not won a single Nobel Prize in Science (except Economic Sciences in 1998) or Literature since independence. Just to clarify, I’m not suggesting the number of Nobel Prizes won as a threshold for quality education, but the fact that no Indian institution, including the likes of our IITs and IIMs, has made it to the Top 250 Global Ranking Institutes is terrifying at worst and saddening at best.
India has a rich legacy of people who gave up formal education and have built multi-billion dollar companies, become literary figures or left an impact on society, and this list is long. Twenty-four-year old Ritesh Agarwal dropped out of college, founded OYO, and built it into a business of $5 billion; Arunachalam Muruganatham (popularly known as Pad Man) grew up in extreme poverty, got no formal schooling and went on to invent one of the most cost-effective methods for manufacturing sanitary pads; Sachin Tendulkar, again a school dropout, a Bharat Ratna awardee and known as the ‘God of Cricket’; India’s first Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore never earned a degree and loathed formal education.
The recently launched New Education Policy (NEP) does show a ray of hope, but many editorials by accomplished academics that followed the policy suggest that the NEP is late by a decade. This goes on to show how desperately we are in need of drastic changes in our education System. Lastly, to the parents of this nation’s future, if your child did not score 99% marks, please remember that good marks and fancy degrees are good to have, but in the end, even if you pressurise and mentally strain your child into winning this rat race, they’ll still be a rat. Don’t take my word for it, just scroll up and read His Excellency’s tweet at below my article’s title.