To score or not to score:

Greeshma Sukumaran
Published: August 2019

Psychological impact of prizing high grades

Psychologists and educators are in agreement that when children are put under unrelenting pressure to excel in their examinations, they tend to take extreme steps. Such pressure leads to far – ranging psychological issues.

Palak Modi, a Counselling Psychologist and a Special Educator in the city, notes that a large number of students suffer from anxiety and depression related issues due to parental, academic and peer pressures.

“The unrealistic expectations, pressure from parents and lack of support from their peers are predominantly the reasons for such problems,” she says, adding “While it is important that we encourage our students to score well in their examinations, the focus should also be given to life skills development of children. School grades should not be the only predictors of achievement, other aspects contribute as well.”

“What we as parents fail to understand is the undue pressure we exert on our children to perform exceedingly well,” says Ramya S, a Wellness Psychologist and a parent in the city. According to Ramya, drawing comparisons of their wards with others also puts them under stress. “We should not judge every student with the same yardstick. The intelligence level of each student is different and what is important is that, as a parent and a teacher, we should be able to identify their interests and guide them accordingly,” she offers advice.

“We ask our children to fare well in their examinations, because it is depending on their marks that various colleges and universities offer seats for higher studies. Most of the organisations while hiring depend on the marks sheet to gauge the ability of a person. As parents we cannot deny the fact that we want to see our children have a better future,” says Pushpalatha, whose children are enrolled for Pre University education and Bachelor of Science in Biotechnology.

Sriram, whose younger daughter has now enrolled for the undergraduate programme says, “Marks alone cannot define a person’s capability but it is important that children study well. Today, we need a holistic approach in education, which can carve better individuals. If our children are scoring high marks, then well and good, but if they don’t, that is not the end of the world. As parents we can always help them by recognising their weak subjects and tutoring them well enough to overcome their problems.”

This is a view some of the students too share and it shows that not all is lost. Nikhitha, a 1st year Commerce student says, “I was neither compelled to get high grades nor was I under any pressure during my exams. My parents had suggested and chosen the course that I had to do and I just complied. They wanted me to study to secure a degree and they were of the liberal mindset that marks will not define my intellectuality.”

“My parents have never exerted any pressure on me, but I personally take it upon myself to get high grades. I have seen my elder sister not do her homework on time or prepare well for her examinations with the end results that she fails in some subjects and gets criticised by everyone for the same. I didn’t want to go that route; hence I make sure I study well, even if it takes a heavy toll on me. Scoring higher boosts my confidence and makes me a happier person,” Kavya Brahmanand, a B.Sc student notes.

“I have grown up watching my parents working hard and smart to have a good career and thus a good income. So seeing them, all that I have learnt is to work hard and work smart. I have a dedicated time table for my studies and for my entertainment and I make sure I religiously follow that. This helps me to prepare for my exams well and I am never under any pressure to score high,” Mithul, who is doing his final year Mechanical Engineering in the college.

A recent report of Niti Aayog, the think-tank of the Centre revealed that more than half of the students who pass out of higher educational institutions in India are not employable, pointing to the need to focus on life skills in our educational institutions. The Niti Aayog report paints a grim picture of India’s higher education scenario stating that a massive 53 per cent who pass out from higher educational institutions cannot be employed anywhere. The report concludes with a call for a thorough revision of standards of education in the country.

“Scores have significance in our life because of the current education system,” says Niyantritha, a 2nd-year commerce student of Jain (Deemed-to-be University). My parents have given me all the freedom to choose a course of my interest. That is also one of the reasons why they expect me to score high. Personally, I am not of the opinion that scores matter in life. But, it is difficult to make them understand that because even today, we get admitted to colleges and universities based on scores in exams. For parents, that is a big concern.”

Though the scenario has seen changes in the recent past, we have a long way to go before we see any significant change on the ground level. “We tell our children that if you take up this specific course in a particular institution, you will earn well and be rich. We are being dishonest to them by saying that only such kind of jobs pay you well. And secondly, we stress on the fact that earning well is what matters, not anything else,” Janardhanan, father of an 18-year old girl who was in the city to get his daughter admitted to a college says.

It is important that parents, teachers and facilitators understand that every individual is different. Failure in exams or scoring low is not the end of the world. “I don’t think parents these days put pressure on their child to score high. While all parents wish for their child to lead a comfortable life, the family and the structure have been evolving and parents and teachers support the children in the areas they need to pay attention to,” Dr. Nalini Satishchandra, Principal of JAIN College says. “I see parents and students from all walks of life and it will be wrong to say that the situation has not changed. Of course, we still need to upgrade ourselves with the right kind of knowledge to guide them in the right direction.” Dr. Nalini remarks that the communication between the parents and students have improved these days to an extent where children feel comfortable talking about their choices and issues to parents openly.

Psychologists have always pointed out that the remedy to any such underlining issues is a free environment to talk about anything openly. “While on one hand, we want our children to excel in studies and score high because that has now become a prestigious issue; on the other hand, we demoralise them by drawing comparisons with their peers, cousins and other children,” adds Ramya, the Wellness Psychologist.

“My parents have been supportive of my choices. I understand their concerns and we openly discuss the problem we as children have in our colleges and other spaces. Talking to them openly about the issues and my limitations has actually given me the confidence to go out and do things I like,” a student, who is now in Bengaluru to seek admission, says.

“We tend to forget the damage inflicted on our children who are feeling deeply inadequate because they haven’t scored “good” marks. We judge them and criticise them based on the score when we all know well that scores do not matter after all. But we still insist that they score high,” says Dr. Vinodh, parent of a student who is now pursuing her degree.