Grades vs. Learning: What is more important?

Students flipping directly towards the last pages of their exams rather than reading comments first, and parents asking about their children’s results rather than asking about their growth. Government initiatives and coaching centers always talking about grades and grades only, and a long queue of students outside tuition centers. Do these situations sound familiar? 

For most of the teachers, principals, and parents in America, the sole emphasis on the grades and test scores is irritating at best and damaging at worst. Many students these days must be busy cramming books and essays, to ace their exams with the highest grades. As most of our lives are spent being students, it is very easy to get caught up in the world of writing, reading, and of course the most important thing- grades. Being graduate students, we feel this constant pressure either from our family or peers to always give our best in exams. However, this heavyweight of always scoring well drags us into a pit where we forget that our future prospects and values are not tied to some piece of paper of which our grades are an important part. 

The most important question to ask is whether students were always this obsessed with their grades. Or does society, constant competition, and the pressure to always be the best have made them base their self-worth on their academic success? According to a survey by a psychologist at the University of Michigan, almost 80% of students are led toward anxiety and other mental health issues, as they base their self-worth and integrity on their grades. This article wants to remind students that good grades do not define them, and are not necessarily a reflection of their intelligence.

The History of Grades:

While the answers to the complex questions starting with Why? Why not? And what now? are difficult to find. But the answer to one question is very clear and that is NO, Students have not always been so fixated with grades. 

Although it may seem like grading systems have been around forever, interestingly it’s a new phenomenon. In the later 19th century, The British Society of Apothecaries started evaluating doctors to determine whether they were adequately qualified. In the 20th century, school systems experimented with various evaluation systems and started assigning numbers between 0-100 on the basis of how well a student has learned in class. In the 1960s, in order to humanize the practice of grading students, they were only given simple pass/fail grades, which later changed to a system of grades ranging from A to F (A, B, C, D, and F). 

The researchers Schinske and Tanner highlight in their research that “neither the development of a grading system nor the subsequent revisions of the system were done for the benefit of student learning per se; historically, grades have existed primarily for institutions”.

Why Do Students Value Grades More Than Learning?

You must be wondering if grades weren’t made by keeping students in mind, then why are students so obsessed with this cliché system? Why do students focus on getting a higher GPA, but are fine with not remembering even a single word from their class at the end of the exams? Why are students constantly enrolling themselves into coaching centers or seeking help from online tutors? There are various factors which compel students to think and behave like this. 

Better GPA, Better Opportunities:

Educational institutions have impelled students to think that their success and grades are inter-connected with each other. Prestigious and well-known universities, such as Yale, Harvard, Caltech, etc., give admission to students who have CGPAs closer to 4.0. Even some universities in Texas give admissions to students who are in the top 10% of their higher school class, solely on the basis of their GPA. 

This same practice is also followed by recruiters, who don’t even think of entertaining the applications of candidates who have a percentage less than a certain GPA. They believe only the students who are extraordinary in studies, can perform well in a job, but this is not completely true.   In fact, Mark Zuckerberg also highlighted this issue and said, “I was never a topper, but the toppers of the best universities are my employees now”. 

Significance of Learning:

Although the importance of grades cannot be neglected, students should always keep in mind that learning, gaining knowledge, and acquiring skills are the main purposes of education. Learning helps you in self-development, and the most rewarding aspect of this practice is that it allows you to understand the world around you with a deeper insight, and new perspective. It also plays a vital role in gaining confidence, embracing one’s abilities and taking the steps necessary to achieve one’s goals. These are the things that a person can never learn by running after the grades. 

The Bottom Line: 

Grades can be important because of the society we live in and the significance our educational institutions give to them. However, the main purpose of education is to help students learn and develop various skills, which ultimately help him in gaining confidence and embracing his own self, which can never be done by solely running after the good grades.