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Beyond Marks and Ranks Lies the Real Success Story

Bikash Sarmah


With the declaration of results of the Class X and XII board exams this year, the hype is around ‘marks’ and ‘ranks’ as usual. Whether these marks are indeed a marker of a student’s real merit, originality, and knowledge promise as far as both knowledge accumulation and knowledge generation are concerned, no one is bothered. The chief concern is whether one has scored above 95% in total aggregate, including in the humanities where markings are usually conservative (but these are unusual times), and whether one cannot be considered ‘intelligent’ and ‘meritorious’ if he has just failed to cross the overwhelmingly perceived sheen and success of 95%.

A 16-year-old student taking the Class X board exam, be it under the CBSE or any State board, is a struggler befuddled by the noise of marks made by his parents anxious about the future of their ward. Whether the future the parents envision for him is the same future that he wants to create, is a non-issue. The case of a creative child fascinated by Discovery Channel and passionate about wildlife photography, who wants to be a wildlife photojournalist, should serve as an eye-opener. His parents wants him to pursue a Bachelor’s at one of the IITs so that later on he could land up in an Ivy League institution for a Master’s in a highly coveted engineering domain and finally get settled somewhere in the West. This dream has nothing to do with the interest of the child. He is given to creativity and knows as well that he has the potential to make a mark in the domain – wildlife photography – inspired by his creative passion and intelligence, but his parents detest the very idea of photography and are rather inclined to believe that such indulgences are either crazy or demeaning. The child loses his way.

The loss of the child’s way in the morass of parental whims and fancies, and expectations that go beyond what he is capable of doing or what he is meant for – for instance, in the case of a pure mathematician in the making while his parents want him to be a famous cardiologist – is an acute loss, which is not recoverable so easily. The child not only suffers depression but also feels disempowered as he is not allowed to pursue dreams that he is made up for and is rather forced to toe the lines of the establishment; by establishment I mean the family first and then the surrounding extending up to the school where the rigidity of stereotypes crushes the flexibility of a fresh mind dedicated to things far more superior in the realm of creative imagination and action – beyond the routine curriculum and a suffocating regime of marks and ranks.

Let me cite a case that may be called ‘strange’ but which, in my considered view, is inspiring differently. I am talking of the celebrated cricket commentator Harsha Bhogle. An interesting case, he took his BTech degree in chemical engineering from Osmania University, Hyderabad and went on to do his Master’s from IIM, Ahmedabad, but instead of racing towards a managerial job with an MNC, he chose his real passion, cricket commentary and journalism, for what he was made and which he was aware of too. He did not kill that passion, nor did he allow anyone to kill it. He kept it alive. And there he was, having to his credit of being the first Indian commentator to be invited by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation during India’s cricket series in 1991-92 before the 1992 Cricket World Cup. Mind it, had he pursued a typical corporate job after his PGDBM at IIM, as did many of his friends do, we would not have known any Harsha. This is success – doing what one loves to do with passion after a great deal of self-assessment and self-mastery. How many parents motivate their children this way?

Or, for that matter, Chetan Bhagat comes to mind too. This is another interesting case. A best-selling English novelist of the very modern or digital (if I may use the word) kind, he is also an IIT-IIM alumnus who left a high-flying banking career abroad to pursue his dream – writing. His novels have formed amazing scripts for Bollywood hits, not of the characteristic kind but laden with substance delving into over man’s search for his hidden potential and its actualization despite adversities and stereotypes – though it is another matter that some would call the movies based on his novels ultra-exaggeration, but that is another story for another time.

As someone who was trained to be a mathematician but left his PhD research in mathematics to pursue journalism and creative writing – and despite the ‘rank’ baggage of the past as he cracked both Class X and XII board exams in a parents-euphoric ‘rank’ way – my personal experience with education, ever since the facts of education in the real sense dawned upon me as I encountered some very brilliant minds in the maths and physics faculties in my college and university years, informs me of the pressing imperative in education of a system in which students are allowed a freedom of choice to pursue their passions and are thus given ranks of a meaningful kind as and when they excel therein.

A student of Class X excelling in Wordsworth’s Lucy Gray cannot be expected to solve trigonometric equations with equal astuteness and profundity. If you want to award him any mark or rank in academics, judge him through the prism of poetry, not through the abstruseness of mathematics. As simple as that.

But, very unfortunately, a huge majority of parents and schooling systems merrily gloss over all this. The result is creativity disaster. No wonder, India is not known for world-class knowledge generation and innovation (another word for creativity), but for a moribund education regime that has schools, colleges and universities of myriad kinds merely manufacture marks, ranks, degrees and certificates that do not stand the test of ingenuity. That a country of over a billion does not have a single university within the top 100 bracket globally is a very disgraceful commentary on the way we construe the means and ends of education.

Fortunately, this time, some rank holders in both the Class X and XII board exams in the science stream have made their preferences very clear. It is not the stereotype of engineering and medicine that motivates them, but it is general science with honours courses of their choice and in which they think they can shine as researchers that is propelling their intellectual flight. For instance, Mrinaljyoti Porel of Darrang College, Tezpur, whose rank is 2nd in the Class XII science board exam conducted by the Assam Higher Secondary Educational Council, says he wants to be a physicist even as he has cracked the IIT entrance test.

So here we here, with students opting for such alternatives, with tremendous research edge and prospect, as would generally be looked down upon by many in a bizarre – and ludicrous – craze for engineering or medicine but where, very unfortunately again, we do not see any quality and proven engineer researcher or medical scientist; what we see is a galaxy of typical engineers and doctors drunk with avarice and with little inclination towards any creative/ innovative work whatsoever in their fields.

It is time for some fresh education winds of change to blow for a knowledge society in the true sense to happen here and lead us to the glories that belong to us but that we have missed due to misplaced priorities.

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Ankur Kalita