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.
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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'?
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.
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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.
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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.
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