Why high school milestone is a myth

Parents who fear there kids may miss out on good colleges don’t know of the many success stories coming from the not-so-well regarded colleges.

 |  5-minute read |   18-02-2020
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It is that time of the year again. Across the nation, class 12 school students are on the verge of appearing for their school leaving examinations. These can be trying and stressful times not just for the students but also for their parents.

Perhaps some sound and practical advice and insights to parents on what is truly important for securing a good future for their wards may be useful. What I offer here is based on years of observing the life journeys of a large number of students.

Marks versus happiness

I have also had occasion to hold meaningful discussions with highly respected and experienced colleagues across the globe on what I propose to expound here. Let me begin with an anecdote from my school days.

There was a classmate of mine who shall anonymously bear the label J. All my memories of him from my school days centre around how much fun it was to be with him.


My friend J did not allow any examination or test to pull down his spirits; not even the final school leaving examination. He was smart enough to consistently obtain grades — without effort — that were deemed as average. As things panned out, many of my high scoring schoolmates have turned out to be successful doctors, managers and such like. They have garnered reasonable reputations and even wealth. I am not sure how much joy and contentment has descended on them when I contrast their lives with J’s life and career. It is not just about having a successful and satisfying career, I deem J to be among the wisest of my friends and, most importantly, he has not lost his sense of fun. Of course, he runs his own enterprise and is also wealthy.

This brings me to a persistent thought on this subject that has occupied prominent space in the recesses of my memory banks. It dates back to a very meaningful discussion that I had with a retired principal of one of India’s most well known public schools. In the course of dissecting the role of good scores at school examinations in securing ‘successful’ careers for students he offered some very interesting insights. He mentioned that his own experience had taught him that many students who had very ordinary scores in their school leaving examinations consistently had careers as successful as, if not better than, those students who had scored very well. More importantly, he mentioned that students with average scores generally seemed to be leading more fulfilled lives. To cap this observation, he referred to his three sons.

Future imperfect

I recall him telling me that the elder two sons were very focused on their studies and such things, while his youngest was at best a mediocre student. He also mentioned that his youngest son loved outdoor activities and was good at rallying his friends for various adventures. His three sons, at the time of our discussion, were well settled in their careers, but he said the youngest was the happiest. For good measure, this wise and retired principal mentioned that the youngest was also earning much more than his older siblings.

At that point in time, I had looked at this insight with a degree of scepticism. However, after nearly 30 years of similar experiences, I now realise the truth and power behind what the wise and retired educationist had observed. So, what advice do the above anecdotes provide for parents when it comes to shepherding their wards after high school? To my mind, the first and most important inference is to ensure that there is no undue pressure on their wards to achieve high scores. This does not mean that a student must give up trying to perform well at exams. The idea is to ensure that the student is not overburdened with anxiety about exam performance beyond reasonable levels.

Of course, I can foresee what parents will tell me when they read this column. In fact the average middle class Delhi parent shall ask about the impossibility of getting into a ‘good’ Delhi University (DU) college if her ward has mediocre school scores.

Pursuit of excellence

It does not strike this parent to ask about what actually happens to the vast majority of students who are, year in and year out, enrolled in the lower ranked colleges of DU. I have nothing but success stories to narrate about innumerable students from these not-so-well regarded colleges. Here are two from this vast storehouse that I have acquired: W is currently one of the senior-most executives in a transnational finance corporation in New York. He studied at an unknown high school in Delhi and graduated with a second division. He enrolled in a very poorly regarded degree programme in an equally poorly regarded evening college of DU.

He enrolled to qualify as a chartered accountant on the side and found his true métier. He does not have an MBA or an IIT qualification. The same story is repeated with a girl student who stood first in the Physics Honours programme of DU from a very poorly rated college on the outskirts of Delhi. She has found her calling in life, acquired a PhD from a well known university in the US and is set in her career.

So, dear parents, take heed!

(Courtesy of Mail Today)

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Dinesh Singh Dinesh Singh @dineshsinghedu

The writer is former Vice-Chancellor, Delhi University and currently Adjunct Professor of Mathematics, University of Houston, USA

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