If students fail to achieve good grades, it's the failure of the education system

Not all students are ready and able to rise up to the ‘one size fits all’ strategy.

Updated Oct 01, 2019 04:42pm

As we near another year of Cambridge International Examinations (CIE) in Pakistan, students are seen rushing in droves from one tuition teacher to another in the hope of utilising whatever time they have left to bump up potential grades.

While the academic fervour is commendable, their motivation is clearly extrinsic.

Some have hopes of college placements in Ivy League schools and the like, others have demanding parents and yet many more are terrified of being deselected from their alma mater — schools that they have come to see as their second home. Many of these schools offer progression to A Level, but are wary of taking back students who do not make the required grades.

Whilst schools have to contend with the continual pressure of producing impressive grades to maintain a reputation they have worked hard to establish, they must also acknowledge a moral responsibility towards students they have nurtured through their foundation and growth years.

Perspective: Tackling the menace of a failed education system

Arguably, if a student fails to achieve the required grades, it calls for a discourse about the failure of the education system itself. Not all students are ready and able to rise up to the ‘one size fits all’ strategy that schools in Pakistan employ in preparation for the much-anticipated CIE O Level each year, and most of them clearly do not have a plan in place to cushion those who find themselves left behind in the race for grades.

As well-reputed schools ask students to leave or repeat their O Level, it speaks of their inability to look introspectively at how the system may have failed their own students.

Is it only extrinsic motivation we must continue to rely on?

Perhaps students are unable to find the curriculum engaging enough to develop the determination for self-reliance in pursuing its stated aims. They may not have acquired the necessary tools for self-efficacy, or they might be in need of a mentor who can guide them through their learning journey.

Some students require more hand-holding than others; some are seen transitioning through difficult personal circumstances while many others may be contending with self-doubt, anxiety or familial pressures.

Do we as teachers take the time out to know these details about our students’ personal lives? How deeply are we vested in bringing success to our students rather than piling on the pressure on them to chase 'success'?

Opinion: Why attempts to reform Pakistani education fail

Along with imparting a predetermined curriculum with clearly defined learning outcomes, teachers have a moral responsibility to provide pastoral care.

Education is not like prescription medicine — one cannot study the symptoms and offer a quick antibiotic solution. That is the short-term solution for which students keep returning to tuition teachers outside of school.

If the school management were to use strategic tools to build intrinsic motivation during their growth years, students would be encouraged, engaged and empowered to own their learning, perhaps by managing their time more efficiently, engaging in dialogue with teachers for guidance on in-depth learning, and then recognising where the pitfalls lie and developing plans to target their difficulties over a two or three year time frame.

This would save them the pressure of going into firefighting mode as exams loom ahead, which often activates an inevitable survival mode which propels them to go through the exhaustion of trying to stay afloat in the weeks running up to the dreaded examinations.

Many of us are familiar with this story: it often ends in unnecessary heartache when students have to pay the very high price of being weeded out of their beloved school or repeat a year with emotional baggage that becomes a constant reminder of how they may have failed themselves.

People & Society: Why Punjab is outsourcing its public schools

As educators, we could perhaps help harness their feelings of being left behind in this fight for might. Unfortunately, schools do not have systems in place to cushion such blows.

We let our students who do not make the mark fester with the feeling of having been somehow irresponsible towards their future or — worst still — less able than their peers with fantastic grades.

We let them judge themselves harshly, suffer the consequences and we are happy to call this ‘self-awareness’. In fact, schools that allow their own students to harbour such failure, those that reject them on the basis of mediocre grades, would do well to revisit their own mission as educators.

Don’t we send our children to school to learn compassion, generosity and appreciation? Would it not signal a failure of education if schools cannot demonstrate their capacity for these values to the very students who are asked to leave because they have become yet another statistic, having been unable to contribute to the school’s reputation of high academic achievement?

Achieving great things in life is not the domain of those who can produce great academic results, for it is ultimately a mind capable of great ideas and thought that contributes value to the world.

Are you teaching or learning in Pakistan? Share your experience with us at prism@dawn.com


Author Image

Neda Mulji has been teaching children and adults for over 15 years in Karachi, London and Dubai. Currently, she is a lecturer of Communication Skills at Amity University, Dubai.

The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (15) Closed

Apr 05, 2019 05:34pm
Government college Sargodha used to have 100 students in Fse pre medical and send 2-3 students to medical colleges. In 1981, out of class of 107 only 7 had grades to secure medical school including me and it was considered the best class of all times. No one including me gave the fact any thought that the system had failed 100. Still hurts.
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Apr 05, 2019 08:22pm
Due to illiteracy and backwardness, not only students but their parents too don't have any particular idea about the true meaning and ultimate goal of education. Students are hoarded to schools and taught to memorize things without providing them the reason behind the pursual of education. Students and parents do what is the utmost narrative of society that is to educate children so that they may get jobs. Parents and students should be taught the reason behind taking burdens of schools bags to classrooms. I, as a teacher has done it, you people have the best of luck.
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Apr 05, 2019 09:17pm
Including teachers who blame students
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Working teacher
Apr 06, 2019 02:20am
I like how Neda has described the current scenario. And as a working teacher, I see this fear in my children everyday. I came here to read something that would be more perceptive and layered. But I found it more of a synopsis of a staff-room conversation between two teachers. Students are disturbed. They want a system that enables them to try. A system that would allow them to learn how to take risks... and above all, how to be decent human beings. But the Cambridge system has just transformed into a more contemporarily stylized version of our local education system. Where students are forced to cram concepts, take tuition, be in an involuntary rat race, leaving reverberating effects on their lives. My children are scarred. And the best I can do to help them is: hear them, tell them that I am with them, and continue to teach them the best I can. But whose fault is it after all? Even the most progressive schools are enabling such toxic culture. Where can we then find solace?
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Apr 06, 2019 07:29am
The education system of which majority of us are the product is one mother of many evils of Pakistan today. Rattafication, Lack of interest in studies, Lack of understanding of the subject, corruption and cheating and on top of all too profit centric educational institutions without well qualified teachers.
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Apr 06, 2019 09:38am
how true ,please train teachers before they start teaching This will be abig favour to our future
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Patriotic Pakistani
Apr 06, 2019 10:35am
If students fail to achieve good grades, it's the failure of the jingoistic education system
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Apr 06, 2019 11:11am
Pakistan is a LONG way from catering to the needs of individual students. Before it gets there, it first needs to cater for the majority. Whilst-ever there are millions of children not attending school at all, focusing on individual needs is just a stretch too far. First, get the basics right, so there is a sound foundation on which to build.
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Ali S
Apr 06, 2019 01:39pm
@mansoor, Getting into medical college isn't the be all and end all of a student's life, and the education system has failed even if it sends 100 students into medical college if those students think that getting into medical college is the only path to success.
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Patriotic Pakistani
Apr 07, 2019 02:20pm
If students fail to achieve good grades, it's the failure of the xenophobic education system
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Muzammal Ali
Apr 07, 2019 05:44pm
First of all, we need to understand the dichotomy between business driven institutions compared to knowledge-based ones in order to fathom the prospect outcome, which is according to their intentions moulded into visions, ambitions, and dreams; learners' reasons in early ages are decided by the parents - only if the parents do know how it works, while later if the education gained in accurate sense would let make decisions for higher studies. Nowadays, alleging one another will not provide the long lasting solutions. Schools are machines of delivering degrees with high marks on it, that is controversial in many dynamics.
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Maryam Siddique
Apr 07, 2019 09:51pm
not all students are interested in getting good grades
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Apr 08, 2019 07:59am
I totally agree to the last paragraph. Therefore, there is no need for the rest of the article. Of course some students have poor results and just a few have Ivy League-compliant results and it is not a school's responsibility to make all the students geniuses and high achievers. Take a look at Gaussian and compare it with IQ distribution, for example. Plus, especially at the higher stages of education, the school should give you opportunity to educate yourself - the rest is up to you. And to be honest, exams results are not the only criteria for being accepted to many universities. If the students have the mindset of not learning properly on Fridays, during the holy month of Ramazan (however difficult it is) and during various holidays (and before them and after) and not giving their 100% throughout the whole year afterall (and giving the 120% one month before exams), what can you expect? Now compare with Japanese / Korean schools, where children often come home after their parents...
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Patriotic Pakistani
Apr 08, 2019 06:41pm
If students fail to achieve good grades, it's the success of the rampant mental retardation seen in the design of the education system
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Apr 08, 2019 09:32pm
Clear and incisive, an excellently written article that should be a mandotary read for anyone involved in the schooling system. Unfortunately all private schools have become businesses rather than institutions of education, and an ignored public sector has many mountains to climb before addressing this issue.
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