The choice between excelling and growing up
I taught A’ Level law for a good 8 years, and then I quit. I was dejected because I think I always ended up seeing my students as my children and I was appalled at what the system was making me do to them; focusing on just getting the much desired ‘A’.
Lately, some students (not all) would start rolling their eyes or looking at their watches the moment I would talk to them about anything that might entice them into becoming better people. No, I did not preach in class but I did expect them to think about their subject beyond the book. Things have changed so much in a matter of just 10 years.
Sadly, my student who got the world distinction in A’ Level law several years ago did not measure up to even half in dignity, determination, values, and purpose compared to those who managed B’s before that.
After having taught for over 10 years, both at college and university level, I have taught students from every nook and cranny of the world. I must confess that after having seen some of them blossom into men and women of substance and dignity, I do recall that those who got the B’s (not A*) were the ones who excelled in life.
There is a logical reason behind it too; experience, exposure, trial and the essential error are your best teachers. Anyone can teach from a book and make you pass. However, only a good teacher will teach you things beyond the book and give you valuable lessons about life.
I have never forgotten my Economics teacher from college Mrs Sajjad who used to tell us the odd stories from Africa while she taught us the concepts of marginal utility; or my Scottish teacher from school, Mrs Baxter, who told us about her travels to Russia and how she felt when she entered the tomb of Stalin.
These women had some traits in common; they both had grace, were motherly yet worldly, had a great sense of humour, and they never pushed me to get A’s. They made me develop an imagination instead.
It just so happened then that I did exceptionally well throughout in both the subjects that these fine teachers taught, not because I wanted to excel ,come what may, but because I genuinely fell in love with their subjects due to the way they were taught to me. I wanted to read for the sake of learning and not for the sake of getting the grade.
When I came to Pakistan, my teachers told me that I had the potential to get distinctions in my subjects, but that I was never too pushed. I did as I pleased; I wrote poetry, I took part in debates, I wrote, and I dreamed. I did manage to get a few distinctions but I would attribute that to mere flukes than aspiration.
What I was learning to do then, as I realize now, was to be able to think outside the box. Twenty years later, this very habit has made me cherish certain values, create opportunities for myself and others out of the most adverse conditions, and what’s more, it has helped me to keep my mind alive.
Foreign universities in the USA and UK lay more emphasis on a candidate’s ability to demonstrate a sense of community rather than produce A grades in order to get a college placement. Unfortunately, when Pakistani students compete with these same students they are seen as international students who must show the A grades and community service records in order to get in.
This, of course, puts a lot of pressure on the Pakistani student who then inevitably, focuses all his energies on achieving an A grade. The more ambitious amongst these students manage a few months here and there of community work with local NGOs. Whereas the whole purpose of expecting a young student to do community work is to make him/her socially responsible individuals in the long run, something that is the need of the hour with over 65% of the total population of Pakistan under the age of 25 years, the education system in Pakistan does not allow the time for this.
What young students in Pakistan need to realize is that grades are important but equally important is the inculcation of a sense of social responsibility. Without either of the two, a person is incomplete and will probably not be able to avail of the best opportunities of life.
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