This is the time of year when results for the schools board and HSC examinations are announced, which makes me both sad and relieved. Seeing the anxiety of students and parents about what the future holds is very disturbing. But since my days of being in this syndrome are long past — as student and parent — there is also a relaxed sense of detachment.
The problem is more acute at the school finishing level when clearly the objective should be to get as many kids as possible into courses of their choice rather than having so many stumbling blocks to stymie their progress and aspirations of a higher education.
Every year at this time, I marvel at how things were a little over four decades back. When I appeared for my Senior Cambridge exams, marks in the 90s were unheard of. Why, 75 per cent or so got you classified as ‘genius’ in your peer group and you were the toast of school, family and neighbourhood. If you got a first class, every marquee college in the city had its doors open for you.
Nowadays, scoring even 95 per cent is sometimes no guarantee of getting you into a college – and/or subjects — of your choice. At 90 per cent, you will have to burn your soles at just finding a decent institution to get enrolled in. And heaven forbid, if you’ve got 80 per cent, you could be stranded and worse, dubbed a ‘loser’.
Reading the front page headline in Thursday’s edition of this newspaper which goes “Stringent rules pull down HSC pass percentage in state, city’, one could almost sense the tension in thousands of homes where children have appeared for exams this year.
A few years back I got acquainted with parents of a girl who was to appear for her school finishing exams in two years. The 24 months leading to her final exams were torturous for all three of them.
The stated family aim was for the girl to get “95 per cent or over’’ which would ensure a place in one of the top colleges in the city. This entailed not only non-stop studies for her, including going to coaching classes, but also sent the parents scurrying to godmen and the sort to have divinity on her side too.
When the Class 10 results were out, the girl got 85 or 86 per cent if I recall correctly. But this turned out to be a joyless achievement for the family, especially the parents, who wailed and moaned about how all their efforts had been of little avail.
“How could she not get 95 per cent?’’ was their bewildered refrain. But how tragic that scoring 85 per cent was seen as failure?
Frankly, this percentage business has become a terrible predicament for students and parents.
Why and how this has come about? Have children become cleverer over the years, courses friendlier, examiners more lax, or the system of evaluation changed? Or what?
Since I am not into education vocationally, I can’t say what influences marks at this level. But I ask if the difference between 93.3 % and 92.7% is really that much that it can get a student admission to a college and debar the other?
This is not to diminish the value of formal education, the need to stoke the competitive impulse to do better, or for institutes to establish high standards. But if it is just linked to marks, not ability to comprehend, it is insensitive and can be a disincentive for vast numbers.
The purpose of school and pre-university education is not to mug up pointlessly just to score marks.
Surely it must have more to do with opening up young minds in helping them acquire skills to understanding and solving problems skillfully.
If finishing school does not produce kids confident to take on the challenges of the world, it is a failure of purpose, not success, whatever the marks scored.
It doesn’t take rocket science to deduce that the ‘frenzy for percentages’ hasn’t helped either excellence or spread great happiness in the pursuit of academics.