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Grades, self-esteem in the West Indian school system

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Let me start off by giving some background information about myself. I am a level two Economics student at the University of the West Indies Cave Hill Campus and I am what you might call “bright”.

My entire life I’ve been known as “smart” and “nerdy” and quite frankly, it’s true. I am also aware of how fortunate I am in my ability to master the schooling system. However, that’s all there is to it; I am good at the system. I am in no shape or form superior to my peers. My brain is simply suited to the rigorous teaching methods employed on our students.

Did you know I was poor in athletics, art and computer science? Luckily for me these things aren’t as heavily graded as math, science and English. You might be thinking “why is she even telling us this?”

You see when you’re good at something, you tend to attach it to your self-worth. My entire life has revolved around how well I did in school. This might not seem like such a bad thing…until you get a bad grade, of course. As a teenager, a bad grade meant I wasn’t good enough. It meant I was a failure. I might as well just ‘chuck’ myself into the river and I cannot swim. I was conditioned to believe that failure in school meant failure in life.

Skip forward a few years later: I’m a student at UWI. My aunt messages to tell me my cousin (her son) is crying. He’s having a meltdown because he realized he has made a mistake on his exam. My cousin is six years old. At six years old, he has already attached his self-worth to his academic performance. My heart is heavy, because I know that feeling all too well. In my opinion, there is too much pressure placed on students’ academic performance. However, I do not blame the parents.

I look around me and I can’t help but notice 90 per cent of the Vincentian students here attended the top female and male secondary schools. That is not a coincidence. Your placement in secondary school almost sets your educational path in stone. The parents know this, so they push their children to excel.

This HAS TO STOP. We must not segregate students so early based on academic performance. I know CXC and the governments are making strides in fixing these issues, I see their efforts. However, too many students are marginalized because of this system. The same way I learnt to attach my self-worth to my grades, who’s to say other students don’t do the same?

How many students would have given up before the journey even began? We think of school as a race, but a race is a competition and school should never be a competition. Education should not only encompass science, English and math. It should be designed to nurture artistic minds, as well as mathematical minds.

There are so many people with amazing talent and skill; I am in complete awe of them. Yet, according to the world, I am the success and they are the failure, because I happened to grasp Pythagoras’ theorem better than they could. It should not be so…it should never be so.

Please, I beg you, let your children know they have worth, even if they don’t place first in class. Give them room to hone other skills besides what is taught in the classroom. Remember a carpenter or mechanic is no less important than a banker or a lawyer.

Shafel McDowall is an aspiring economist and social change advocate

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