THREE YEARS into the university, I have found myself slipping into that black hole of being a slave to my grades a couple of times. When your professor tells you to forget about the grade you’ll get, that is a breath of fresh air. It reminds me of the student I sometimes fail to be.
We were having a class discussion about whether the formal mode of instruction is outdated for the learning style of our generation—the kids who grew up with the power to do homework, research and learn something (although perhaps superficially) all at their fingertips. When the class was asked what kind of education we wanted to receive, I pointed out that I wanted an education operating the way it should: with students attending a class hungry to learn and acquire the skills needed to make them competent contributors to their own chosen fields, rather than entering a classroom every single day with the ultimate goal of pleasing the teacher and meeting the minimum requirements to pass the course. Our professor’s reply was:
“If I could use a time machine, I would go back to the time when the grading system was invented and I would destroy it. Because of its invention, teaching ceased to be a calling and became a profession. I can only imagine the amount of potential we kill every time teachers give a student a grade of 5. A grade is but a number. Never let anyone judge you by a number, much less yourself. The day you start caring about your grades is the day you stop learning. A card of excellence is just a piece of paper. It will rot. But the knowledge you get because you wanted to learn—that’s yours forever, or you could pass it on.”
It would be hypocritical of me to wash hands and say I did not fall for the system. Of course I did and I probably still do on certain occasions. And what is even sadder is that I am not the only one who does. Most of us are guilty of it. At the end of the day, we all emerge with passing marks but when we look back, we remember not even a tinge of enjoyment because we were all too preoccupied with trying to pass the course.
Before I went college, recognition day was to me among the most important in the academic calendar. I looked at it as a time for me to shine. It made me feel admired and important.
When I was new in college, I would patiently join the line of students outside every department waiting for a chance to claim our class cards at the end of every semester. Back then, it felt really good to tell your parents you had aced your subjects.
Several semesters later, however, I would hear my mom complaining about not seeing my class cards anymore. It started when I was getting my class card for a subject which I really liked. I was already third in line in front of the department assistant releasing the class cards when I felt like it did not matter to me anymore. I did not see the need to shine and feel important like before. I turned around and went back. The subject exceeded my expectations and I loved it not because it gave me a chance to get a grade of 1, I loved it because I loved it. I was satisfied, and like pearls to milk tea, grades are just an add-on.
I know some students who get better grades than me. Ironically, they sometimes sound more jaded than me and some complain about studying. When I hear them ranting, I almost always fall silent and brood over whether I am being just like everybody else, enslaved by a scale of 1 to 5. I sometimes do.
When times get really tough and I have to fulfill what I think people believe to be my role, I have this feeling to just get it over with. When I recall those times, I would regret depriving myself the feeling of being in that moment. I hate looking back and seeing my tired self, even if such a moment was a milestone because I did something new, something right or something different. If I throw my worries out of the box, there’s more space for excitement. So I have decided to keep it simple and to live learning.
Our professor explained it this way:
“It is not about whether our mode of teaching is outdated or not. It is about what learning means to this generation now. (For example,) many students do not enjoy mathematics because fear of failure preempts the experience. They fear math either because they are already afraid of the teacher giving them a 5 and/or because people say math is difficult. It is sad. Most students are defeated even before the first lesson.”
He was right. The reason I said it was the education I want to have is that I feel most students are falling for this system. Today, most students try to find out what a teacher is like, what the teacher’s class requirements are and what they need to do in order to get a passing mark, instead of trying to determine what is there to be learned and giving it all their effort. Students who fancy a little euphemism call it being pragmatic, but I think it defeats the essence of learning. Most children get tired of going to school because every single day is just another day of trying to avoid failing. They learn their lessons superficially—only just enough to get them to the next level—but they don’t know them well. It is like building a city of skyscrapers—made of wood.
My grade school or high school self would have been devastated not to see excellent marks on my report card. My college self, however, will look at the grades on my class card, whatever they may be, with contentment. They may not always be high, but I’m happy to say I learned and I enjoyed doing something at my own pace because that is where I am at my best. I do not want to learn at the expense of my own enjoyment, being too busy trying to achieve and to be something people think I should be.
A few years back, I thought that it was my grades that got me all the respect and affection I was getting, that it was my grades that became my ticket to the university and the basis for all the scholarship grants that I received. Now I say it was not my grades, but it was me. It was my effort. It was my liking for what I do. Grades gauge some things, but they are not everything. They cannot speak for what goes beyond them. There is so much more to learning than getting a grade of 1.
Raiza Michaella Kasilag, 19, is a 4th year BS Nursing student at the University of the Philippines Manila.
When Learning Ceases
by: Raiza Michaella Kasilag
(Philippine Daily Inquirer)