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Why merit lists should be scrapped for good, and not just during Covid crisis

This year’s CBSE and CISCE results being declared without a merit list is a positive step. Such lists only give students false ideas of success & create panic.

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The CBSE and CISCE boards declared the Class 10 and Class 12 results this year without a merit list due to the exceptional circumstances created by the coronavirus pandemic.

The move is progressive and a step in the right direction. They must continue with the trend in the coming years, and ban such lists altogether.

What purpose do these merit lists serve anyway, besides giving students warped ideas of what achievement means and external validation?

These lists, which rank students on the basis of their exam marks, are an absolutely futile exercise. As we grow up, we realise how redundant these merit lists are, for that matter even exam marks are.

The merit lists in no way define our future lives.

But such lists have over the years only put unnecessary pressure on students and intensified the rat race in our flawed education system.

Also read: Delhi University has one obsession and it’s making a mess of it. Exams

Stigma attached to low marks

The undue importance given to merit lists is actually a symptom of how India is obsessed with good grades in exams, and the stigma attached to low scores.

While in school, I remember that there were some groups, comprising students who all scored 90 per cent and above, who would not befriend low scorers. That was the norm.
I remember they would often discuss their aim to make it to the merit lists, and how they wanted to outperform each other. They also spoke about the pressure they faced from their parents to make it to the merit lists.

But what about students with low scores, or those who flunked and had to repeat a year? They were frowned upon by teachers and toppers alike, and were often treated as outcasts. I also remember how they felt intimidated by the toppers. The school’s scholarships were given out based on the merit lists, which led to even more disappointment for low scorers.

I never made it to the ‘sacred’ rankings list before Class 10. Till then, my parents had been disappointed in me, fearing that I would have no career if I wasn’t a rank-holder.

The superficial nature of merit lists affects parents too, because they are also under pressure from a society in which prying neighbours and relatives often ask — how much did your child score and what was her rank? We have all heard stories about parents promising children expensive gifts only if they stand first in class.

My parents did it too, and now they laugh about it having realised the futility of it all.

Also read: Your creative talent won’t get you into DU anymore. Keep obsessing over marks marks marks

Employers look for talent, not toppers

In no job interview, have I ever been asked how much I scored in Class 10 or 12, and whether I was part of the merit list that year. It’s been a decade since I passed my Class 12 board exams, and my educational achievements are just another column in my resume now.

If students are aiming for high scores in the hope of landing jobs, they must know that employers never look for toppers — they look for someone with talent, determination, ability to work with others, the right set of skills, and a hard-worker.

These skills are unfortunately not what our education system builds in students. Instead of breaking their head over memorising history chapters or chemistry formulae, and obsessing over marks, students must strive to achieve skills and knowledge. After all, even toppers can be rejected if they don’t have the right set of skills required for the job, no matter how their brilliant academic record may have been.

Our school curriculum deprives students of vital cognitive life skills. There should be courses in schools that prepare students for the real world.

Also read: Reader View: Govt should see beyond an exam-centric education for students

Reassuring social media posts

Right after the CBSE results were declared, several people on Twitter shared their old board exam marks to underline the fact that marks are not the be-all and end-all in life.
IAS officer Nitin Sangwan wrote on Twitter that he barely managed to pass his chemistry exam in Class 12, but that didn’t hinder him.

Actor Sushant Singh also wrote about how his 74 per cent marks in Class 12 boards “didn’t define him”.

I wish we also had such reassurance from successful individuals while growing up. I wish we had also been told that a report card, mark sheet, or merit list can never define who we are and our future. I wish we were told that it doesn’t matter how much we score in exams — what matters is how much we learn and how we capitalise on it.

Views are personal.

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  1. No wonder we are criticised as a country where everyone strives to be ‘free loaders’.

    There is no doubt that the system does induce stress but then, one way to look at it is to see it also as part of growing up. Not someone who ends his life at the end of a rope for getting getting a few marks less than he expected. These days psychologists are already speaking of training children to learn to life with failures.

    That said, there is another truth about our education system as it is. And that is, it is a system created by a Briton to produce slavish clerks for the colonisers of those times. We have to change it, where children can be taught to learn what they want to learn and grow and develop themselves.

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