‘Two roads diverged in a wood, and I— I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference’ poet Robert Frost once famously wrote. But to a teenage student under immense pressure only one road seems visible; it starts with the letter A and ends in a successful career. The youth have been taught to be blind to all other unconventional routes. B no longer stands for good or average. B is for a bad life. Instead of being an achievement, B has become a burden students are struggling to carry.
Mayhem reigned supreme in the student community when A and O levels results were released this week. These grades were to determine the universities students would be accepted into- the next big academic step. As per the current popular belief, the university from which students graduate would then determine their employability; the more well renowned the university, the more prestigious the job, the better the money. This is the formula for a successful life we as a society have developed. Anyone who is unable to follow it is automatically labeled as a failure, drowning the student in sorrow and shame.
Letters of the alphabet have become silent killers. In August last year, 4 students committed suicides within a span of few days in Chitral- a remote district of KPK- just after the announcement of the intermediate (higher secondary school) results.All four students committed suicide for failing to achieve the grades they or their parents were expecting. One student named Fareed Ahmed killed himself after getting 81 percent marks. Parental and social pressures have transformed education from an enlightening experience into a dangerous journey. Grades have been pinned by parents and society to a student’s sense of self; the grades are not good enough hence I am not good enough. This vicious ideology continues to grow till it swallows the student whole.
Even as undergraduates, students continue to be haunted by the alphabet. In February this year a medical student Yousaf Pirkani studying at the Bolan University of Medical & Health Quetta committed suicide when he failed to clear the supplementary exams. Last year in November, Rushaan Farrukh, a 24-year-old student at the visual arts and design department of Beacon House National University, committed suicide by jumping of the fourth floor of a faculty building. Society had convinced them that their grades were somehow more valuable than their life. But being unable to perform well at university is no indicator of an individual’s capabilities. Success in life is not tied to academic excellence alone.
There is no doubt that graduating from a top-ranking university serves as an indicator of a student’s academic excellence. With extremely low acceptance rates, universities like Oxford and Harvard have exceptional educational standards. Surviving till the end of the degree is just as difficult as getting in. These universities take intelligent students and churn out even brighter ones. Graduates from such prestigious universities are experts in their chosen academic fields. However, success in the academic world does not always directly translate into a successful career. The world has both PhDs struggling to earn and illiterate individuals making a fortune.
It is futile to believe the key to success lies in the letter A. Albert Einstein was deemed mentally unfit to learn by his teachers. Walt Disney dropped out of school. Bill Gates dropped out of college. There is a stark difference between encouraging teenagers to work hard and punishing them if they fail to meet a parent’s unrealistic expectations. In simply chasing grades the very purpose of education has been worn away.
The word education is derived from the Latin word ‘educare’ meaning to ‘bring up’. Etymologists have explained the term as to ‘extract out’ the best in a man. This can be achieved by garnering knowledge and understanding of various subjects. However, despite the same curriculum education is a personal journey and we must learn to see it as such. Students should be taught to compete against themselves instead of other pupils. It is their personal progress which matters. B can also stand for better at other things.