You don’t flunk life just because you flunk an exam
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You don’t flunk life just because you flunk an exam

May 18, 2024

The Pre-University and SSLC results are out, and as expected, there is happiness, disappointment, grief and, unfortunately, quite a few deaths — two students in Mandya district, both just 15 years old, committed suicide.

While one student ended his life for failing an SSLC exam, the other, a girl, committed suicide assuming she had failed the exam when, in fact, she had passed. It is heartbreaking that our children feel so cornered by failure that they see no way out but to end their lives.

As per a report released by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) in 2023, more than 13,000 students died by suicide. Around 10,000 of them were below 18, and failure of examination was among the prominent reasons for suicide.

The result season is a time of anxiety for all — colleges, schools, principals, parents and students.

The colleges pray for a rank to increase their marketability, the school principals wish for a high pass percentage to secure their job and the parents hope their ‘status’ is intact while the students are in a state of panic.

The competition is such that these days, marks in the range of 90s is not impressive. The cutoff for many colleges is 98 percent and numerous students score above 95.

In its May 2017 edition, National Geographic had a cover story titled ‘Genius: Why some people are smarter than the rest of us.’ The reason is not IQ. Then what is it?

According to one of the psychologists cited in the magazine, “No matter how brilliant a person, fortitude and discipline are critical to success.”

The magazine also states that the arc of one’s career depends on two factors: One’s chosen discipline and how soon one masters it.

It’s obvious success does not come effortlessly. So, the students who have scored high marks have put in the effort.

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Oh! The Stallions and Donkeys

Now, once the results are out, the students go from being biped to quadruped as they are paraded like winning horses.

Like in the case of a winning race horse where the trainer takes credit, here too the colleges take credit.

Like how the jockey increases riding charge, here the tuition centres do the same.

And like the horse which endured the strain, pain and sweat, the students, like the winning horse, are dazed and confused as the owners, the parents, pose with their winning horse              for pictures.

Forget the horses; they will find their way, but what about the ones who ran like donkeys? They should have worked harder, one would say, which is true.

Unfortunately, once you make the mistake of running like a donkey, especially in second PUC or SSLC, our society rarely gives you a second chance. Herein lies the problem.

A failure in SSLC, or worse, Pre-University, seems to embed a harsh sense of finality — the END — in young minds.

That an exam for which a student appears at the young age of 15 and 18 can be so overbearing and powerful that it can bring such finality, such a sense of unworthiness, that it drives them to suicide and deep depression is very disturbing.

Inflation of qualification

Academic pressures stem from the steady devaluation of the ‘degree’, leading to ‘academic inflation.’

A few decades ago, a high school diploma and a diploma could get you a good job. Soon, too many had them.

Then, an undergraduate degree made you special. Soon, there were too many of those, too.

Then, it was a master’s degree that set you apart. Now, that is no longer special as some have double master’s. And well, Ph.Ds are no more worthy.

In an economy where even a basic degree is becoming passé, our education system, too, will have to change. It cannot continue to stigmatise talent that is not ‘employable’ because sooner than we think, creativity, passion and entrepreneurship will become viable.

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Forget Beti… it could be ‘Beta Bachao’!

The fantastic news is the consistency with which girls have been performing year after year. This year, too, they excelled. In science, the PUC topper was a girl, so also in commerce and arts!

In science, out of the top 10, six were girls. In commerce, out of the top 5, 4 were girls! In arts, out of the top 3, 2 were girls!

The pass percentage among girls was 84.87 percent. The pass percentage among boys was 76.98 percent.

With results like this, I guess our Prime Minister may not have to work hard to push for the ‘Beti Bachao’ programme. The ‘Betis’ are not only saving themselves by excelling in academics but also their families with prosperous careers. Soon, parents would rather have ‘Betis’ than ‘Betas.’

For now, yes, exams do matter, and high marks are the only way to get into a professional stream, seen as the only path to prosperity. But until this changes, let the kids know: You don’t flunk life just because you flunk an exam.

Let us embrace a future where our children feel valued for their unique talents and strengths. As the saying goes, if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing it is stupid.

The time has come for parents and teachers to make children mentally resilient and prepare them for life instead of over-obsessing about the outcome of an exam.

In the grand tapestry of life, an exam is just one thread, not the whole story.

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