An Obsession with Graded Learning Damages the Learner’s Capacity to Reflect and Engage with the Self

A growing obsession with grades and certificates goes against the free-spirited eagerness to learn with interest and turns children into docile and disinterested consumers of knowledge.

When I was a teacher in a low fee paying private school, there were always students who would ask me a constant question in the class, “Sir, are these questions coming for the exam?” This always made me curious to know whether the students were studying only to get good grades or something beyond that. Are they not keen to understand the concepts to apply in their practical lives? For me, as a teacher, it was always difficult to ensure students understand the relevance of what they are learning in their lives. After a point of time, I got the sense that most students were being conditioned by their parents, teachers or others members of the community for the achievement of the goal, which is to get the highest grades in the class and become the school topper.This worried me because getting the highest grade or being a topper doesn’t have any visible connection with their skill of applying their knowledge in practical life. 

Often the students have this misconception that if they are not scoring the best grades in the class/school or if they are not the topper in the class/school, then they are just failures. This creates an environment in the classroom which is competitive in nature. As a teacher, I also couldn’t escape from this thought process. When I used to see students in other schools scoring very high grades, I used to try to ensure a ”good score” for my students too. But is that what needs to be set as “expectations” from education?

What happens from this “good scoring” craze is that students want to learn only those aspects or concepts that may come for the assessments. They expect the teachers to tell what is important and only what the teacher tells would be learnt by the students. This completely becomes a “spoon feeding education system”. They memorise what is important for the assessments and try to replicate their “prepared” standardised answers during the assessments. Right after their assessments, they forget whatever they had learnt. When the primary students become conditioned to this kind of system, then they just continue this habit throughout their lives. They become the individuals who, in paper, are the best achievers, but in reality, when they face a difficult situation, are not able to adequately apply any of those concepts that they had learnt from their education. Basically, they become dependent beings. In schools, they are dependent on what the teacher tells them to do and once they are adults, they are dependent on what the society members tell them to do. They are not able to decide for themselves and are not becoming the “creators” of their own lives. This kind of pattern has to be broken beforehand, ideally, at a younger age. Obviously, this is not an easy thing to do, especially in the initial years. But once the new pattern sets, then it becomes easier. 

There are two important aspects which the education system has to build in people, at a young age. These are the practices of reflection and being self-directed in their learning. Reflection means, in simple words, the practice of questioning oneself on the events which had happened in the past. It is simply to ask yourself the question, “Why?” For instance, in this COVID19 pandemic situation, which we are facing, there are situations in which the government is enforcing lockdown procedures. Now when facing this situation ask yourself, “Why is the government enforcing this?” The simple answer can be to protect as many people as possible from contamination, especially the elderly individuals and people suffering from pre-existing ailments, more because of the lack of health infrastructure in our country as per the need of the population the country has. So it is simply to think about events happening around us and to make a smart decision from it. We have to realise that if we do not make a smart decision then there are other individuals in your house and/or surroundings who can get affected and that effect will come back to us again. 

The other important aspect is to become a self-directed learner. For this, we have to understand that we are all learners. Learning happens throughout our lives. This can happen in a formal education setting such as a university, college, etc. or it can happen in an informal education setting such as from newspapers, social media, news, etc. These help people to understand more about the events which are happening around us. There, the learner must be careful to be selective enough to learn with logic and disseminate learning with adequate precautions. Probably we all remember that random forward of unnecessary information on pandemic finally was restricted by the government in our country because that was creating a messy situation altogether! The origin of such practices also lies somewhere in the habit of taking action without thought by even so called “educated” people.

The practices of self-reflection and being a self-directed learner are not necessarily always taught by the formal education system that encourages only high scoring and ranking. Thus most adults get the habit of doing only tasks as per the instructions given by the higher authorities. Formal education space rarely enriches the habit of practicing self-directed learning  and learning by doing on own as self-motivated learner from a young age. If these habits are being built, then it can help them to make better decisions in their lives. If learning is considered as a continuous and self-directed process rather than giving immense value only to grades, there will be the possibility of getting more conscious and responsible citizens in this country which could make the implementation of decisions during this pandemic easy.

Elwin Varughese is working in the field of Education. He has completed M.A. in Education from Azim Premji University, Bengaluru.



Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here