Do marks determine the future of our children?

Published: March 17, 2016 at 7:46 am

Last Updated on March 17, 2016 at 8:14 am

Every March, thousands of households are stressed out because of school board exams. The 12th standard exam is considered as the make or break exam in determining the future of a child. How important are marks/grades in determining the future of our children? Do board exams represent a do-or-die situation?

It is very easy to say ‘marks are not everything’ and that ‘each child is talented’, ‘we should not pressure children’ etc. etc. Truth is, the importance of exams, the talent of children and their future is a convoluted, complex problem that is often considered in isolation without understanding that we need to start preparing our children for their boards and life beyond from the moment they were born!

What do marks represent? In order to answer if ‘marks matter’ we need to understand what they represent and what they don’t.

Marks represent effort. Marks do not represent knowledge. When I sit in judgement of my class, all I can evaluate is how well they have fallen in line with the requirements of the system.


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The system requires them to come to class regularly, participate in it and put in at least 1 hour of effort in their hostel rooms for every lecture they attend. They are judged by 3 exams spread across the semester.

If they put in the necessary effort, they are bound to do well in the exams and get good grades.

Is the system flawed? Ha! How easy is it say that! We have a saying in academia: ‘only those who have conquered a system can criticize it’. So let kids who have done as expected and fared reasonably comment about the system. I am all ears. The others, in my opinion, are yet to earn that right.

There is no way for me to evaluate how intelligent they are. The same is the case with school boards.

Colleges decide admissions based on the marks from the board (and other ‘things’ which I don’t want to get into here). Any college would like to admit intelligent students, but they also want students capable of following instructions. So they take their chances by taking students with ‘high’ marks.

Not a bad strategy at all since intelligence can be acquired with disciplined effort too. By intelligence, we are only referring to the quality and speed with which a given problem can be solved. Genius is a freak of nature, so we will leave that alone.

Take the case of employers. They too judge students by the marks they get in college, perhaps in addition to aptitude tests and an interview. How many employers want intelligent mavericks who have a mind of their own and want to use it at every instance? They want intelligent people who will follow orders. They too are taking a chance by picking those who have got ‘good’ grades in college. (There is always a marks cut off to apply for placement interviews).

So are marks important? Hell, yeah! Marks matter unless the child is individualistic enough to chart his/her own path.

Individuality does not always mean wanting to becoming an entrepreneur. Unlike intelligence, individuality is perhaps a gift and one cannot perhaps learn it with practice.

However, individuality needs nurture, which only parents can offer. Sooner or later it is bound to surface. If we think that marks are not important that we need to determine

  1. if our child is an individual and if so, what kind of individual he/she is.
  2. if that individuality deserves nurturing (stalkers are individuals too!)
  3. if the family can afford that kind of nurturing. Sad, but the truth in many families which are struggling to make ends meet

The deserving individual needs space and leisure. Oodles of it! Only then can the individuality blossom at the right time. Only then the kid will tell the parents, ‘this is what I want to do with my life’.

Ideally, only couples who can afford to provide such space and time ought to have children. Unfortunately, parenting is an instinct.

The point I am labouring to make is:

If a child does not know ‘what to do’ by 11th standard, what should the parents do?

  1. Force the kid to work hard, do well in the boards and then take stock later? Or
  2. Don’t  push the kid and leave them be?

That is a tough choice! Only parents in that position will understand this.

The child not knowing what to do need not be anybody’s fault. Some, make that most, children are late bloomers.

They truly understand themselves only 2-3 years after they leave school. By that time most of them find themselves in a course that do not like and sometimes doing a job that they are not interested in. Then they will start searching for financial independence in Google!

I think young parents should encourage children to be independent. solve problems on their own and provide them with space to think. That is all that they can do. The rest is up to the child.

If the child is clear about what to do after school, well and good. If not, we should probably encourage them to take some time off and decide.

Many years ago, in an interview to Week magazine, actor Nandita Das mentioned that her father, painter Jain Das insisted that both his children take a year off after school to find themselves. I was probably in college when I read this and it had profound impact on me.

I often wondered if I should have done that myself. In any case, as a family we would like be to financially stable enough to afford this luxury for my son.

All this sounds good on paper. What if my child does not bloom?! What if my child has no special talents? How long can I afford to give them space?

The bitter truth is, only a few of us have talents that can help bring food to the table. Only a few of us are individualistic enough to build ourselves a career, doing something that we love.

Can we afford to find out this truth by not taking exams seriously?

School is a system that expects conformity more than than anything else. Exams are a way to judge that conformity.

That sounds terrible when put that way, but the truth is all us need to know how to ‘fit in’. An individual needs this skill (yes, it is a skill… for some!) and working hard for exams – the effort involved – is not a bad idea at all.

Children should push themselves to work hard for exams and parents should push their children to push themselves without expectations right from an young age.

The problem is not with effort. The problem is excessive expectations. We (in general) do not tell our child

‘work hard, that is all that you can do. Come what may, I have confidence that will find a way to shine’. I am what I am today because my father told me that many a time: O Captain! My Captain!

Instead we tend to tell them,

‘ work hard or else …’.

Shane Horan
Pci credit: Shane Horan

It is that ‘or else’ that drives children to depression, suicide and low self-esteem about themselves.

So do marks determine the future of our children?  Yes, if we keep needling our children about it. No, if we emphasize on the effort and make our unconditional support clear enough and early enough to them.

What do you think?

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Pattabiraman editor freefincalDr. M. Pattabiraman(PhD) is the founder, managing editor and primary author of freefincal. He is an associate professor at the Indian Institute of Technology, Madras. He has over ten years of experience publishing news analysis, research and financial product development. Connect with him via Twitter, Linkedin, or YouTube. Pattabiraman has co-authored three print books: (1) You can be rich too with goal-based investing (CNBC TV18) for DIY investors. (2) Gamechanger for young earners. (3) Chinchu Gets a Superpower! for kids. He has also written seven other free e-books on various money management topics. He is a patron and co-founder of “Fee-only India,” an organisation promoting unbiased, commission-free investment advice.
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