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MAKING THE GRADE: ON STUDENTS AND SELF-ESTEEM By: Katrina Chan, Erika Hao, Tiffany Uy Picture this: a student receives the results of her latest quiz this school year. To her right, the class overachiever is crowing over the latest addition to her string of perfect scores. To her left, her seatmate takes one look at yet another dismal grade, shrugs in defeat, and shoves the paper deep within her school bag. Other students are turning in their chairs, sneaking peeks at the scores written on their seatmates' papers. Words of congratulations are marred with hidden jealousy. Does this scenario sound familiar? It should; this is the reality of most classes after scores are handed out: a blend of exultation and discontent. Today’s grade-conscious culture manifests itself across the globe. We have all heard the horror stories from East Asian countries like South Korea and Japan, where tiger parenting and the constant pressure to succeed can drive students to suicide. Within the Philippines, the competition for slots in prestigious universities and workplaces is getting even tighter, with grades serving as the main basis for admission. Meanwhile, over in the Western front, according to a report conducted by the Virginia-based Horatio Alger Association of Distinguished Americans, students are more pressured to earn high grades than they are to become popular, engage in sex, or experiment with drugs. Moreover, according to another survey conducted in the United Kingdom, 89% of teachers believe that high-stakes class environments and pressure from examinations are major causes of student anxiety. Grades as a universal basis for standardized education started with the best of intentions; however, today, they serve to fuel a culture of insecurity. There is no denying that this gradeconscious mentality is ingrained in generations’ worth of students. Parents have always dangled the promise of tangible rewards to children who earn high grades and threaten punishment to


those who do not. Young as they are, kids have already developed natural responses to these incentives – high grades incite feelings of accomplishment, while the opposite brings nothing but fear. Sure, our educational system loves to emphasize importance of learning over memorizing. However, is this the truth of the matter? Because of the system of standardized education, most students are forced to equate their intelligence to the grades that they receive. More often than not, one’s self-worth as a student is also equated to one’s ability to excel in school. Do the grades we receive truly reflect intellectual ability? If we think about it, grades themselves really are arbitrary scales of measurement. "I don't think grades reflect all of a person's abilities. They don't really test street smarts or other skills aside from our study habits or how used we are to a teacher's test format. Grades and tests don't consider intelligence or skills beyond what the school teaches in the classroom," Annicka Koteh, a sophomore from the Immaculate Conception Academy, remarks. Research has shown that multiple kinds of intelligence and different modes of learning exist in all students. Why does the educational system only reward an extremely narrow definition of academic success? Students of all kinds are affected by this precedence that grades take over learning. Within the “overachiever” set, inferiority and superiority complexes abound. Resentment stews when one is outperformed, while star performers guard their spots at the top. Even worse, a wide gap between the “overachievers” and the “underachievers” serves to alienate students from one another. “Underachievers”, who may be unfairly placed in “lower” classes due to being late bloomers or not intelligent in the traditional sense, can feel caged and believe they cannot do any better.


The educational system can turn causes of celebration into moments of self-deprecation.

Persistent comparisons can lead to resentment and alienation between students.


As a consequence, most students forgo the actual act of learning and understanding in order to simply get the grade they want. Some settle for rote memorization of the syllabus without absorbing the fundamentals; others resort to cheating to secure good marks. After the test is over and the perfect score is achieved, all the information immediately flies out the window. What has the "future of the nation" been reduced to because of this system? People argue that high grades provide the suitable rewards system that motivates students to study and do well in school, but maybe schools are going about this the wrong way. Should the motivation to learn not come from the student’s own desire? Education has devolved into a means to an end instead of serving its real purpose. Both the system and our mentality conspire to stifle potential instead of honing it. So what do we do now? This deep-rooted problem calls for a change in both the system as well as the mentality of society. The first thing to do is dig deep into the root of the problem: ourselves. Though it may seem next to impossible to eradicate an ideology crossing over multiple generations, there’s no better time to shake the status quo than today. Students should adopt a habit of “learning” instead of “studying”; the difference lies in the understanding and application of concepts to everyday life, not just on paper. Furthermore, it is important to stop pitting students against each other. An A- doesn’t make one any less of a person than an A+ would, and so students must learn not to judge their peers based on the same notion. Fixing systemic problems can entail adjustment of the weights of activities, shifting the focus from traditional quizzes and examinations to the alternative forms of assessment which transform classroom-learned ideas into practical life lessons. Moreover, teachers, counselors, and school administrators must also be trained to approach and treat students with a new


mindset. Relative standards of intelligence must not impede students from achieving their full potential. Why should students be forced to conform when individuality can fill in the gaps left by standardized test scores? Students are more than statistics, and should be treated as such. We have an educational system ruled by numbers inked in black and white, but life is much better captured by its varying shades of gray. As with anything, there are sparks of hope: a few schools are already trying to go against the grade-conscious grain. In a well-publicized move, the National University of Singapore even proposed the rollout of a grade-free approach for its new batch of freshmen. A few schools are not enough, though. Students are not blind to the system’s flaws; this is a call for them to start demanding change. The avenues are all at their disposal; social media and the Internet get more and more accessible as the days pass. There is no excuse for not speaking up. Instead of simply making the grade, students should actually make a difference in their struggle against old standards. Sources: o Horvitz, L. (2001, August 8). Teens Say They Want To Make The Grades. Orlando Sentinel. Retrieved

from

http://articles.orlandosentinel.com/2001-08-

08/news/0108080331_1_pressure-10th-grade-make-the-grades o Hwee, O. H. (2014, January 23). NUS rolls out 'grade-free' system for its freshmen. The Straits

Times.

Retrieved

from

http://www.straitstimes.com/breaking-

news/singapore/story/nus-rolls-out-grade-free-system-its-freshmen-20140123 o Lipsett, A. (2008, March 18). Stress driving pupils to suicide, says union. The Guardian. Retrieved from http://www.theguardian.com/education/20


Entry #8 - Making the Grade: On Students and Self-Esteem