A or 400-mark Score: Not A Ticket to Success.

By Evelyne Syombua

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Just like the previous cases over the years, the announcement of the KCSE results on the 10th of May was crowned with joy, sadness, and celebration. As usual the top performing students and the top performing schools were listed .

But why only celebrate the A students and those who scored above C+? Why list the top-performing schools and the poor-performing ones? And what are we doing about the latter?

Well, for the longest time, good grades have been an honor to all students, parents, and teachers. The top scorers have become the country’s obsession and pride.

Since the establishment of the 8:4:4 system, every year after the release of KCPE and KCSE results, the media space has been used to discuss the top students, top schools, the number of A’s, those who qualified for university, and the list is endless.

Meanwhile, as best performers are applauded , the silent group of those who scored below C+ are forgotten and left feeling disoriented and less appreciated.

Out of the 747,161 students who sat the 2020 KCSE exam, only 143,000 students scored a C+ and above. In a culture that prizes good grades over everything else, over 600,000 students would be considered “failures “.

As students, teachers, parents, and the entire country, we have been made to believe the lie that the foundation to a successful life is in scoring above a C+. Yet the truth is it takes more than a “good grade “.

This notion that only the academically gifted are the ones that will succeed in life has and continues to damage thousands of young Kenyans who, despite their best efforts, are still not considered worthy because of their ‘poor performance’.

Do not get me wrong, I am firm believer that hard work should be rewarded. Awarding the best performers such as those who score good grades in certain subjects with badges among other forms of awards in school, gives them a feeling of recognition and appreciation.

However, we must also actively think about the other learners who give their best yet do not manage to the pass mark stipulated considering their gifts, circumstances, and resources. As teachers and parents we compare our learners to those who are academically gifted with statements like “Why did you not perform like so and so? If only you could be doing what so and so does then you could score a good marks or better than her”. Without realizing it does more emotional damage than physical.

For instance, when the pandemic struck the country early last year, not all learners could access the virtual learning platforms hence disadvantaging them over those who easily accessed these platforms. Likewise, not all students are academically gifted therefore scoring a D or an E should not be a measure of a learner’s intelligence.

The truth is not all successful people got good grades let alone finishing their studies. Therefore as we acknowledge the importance of good academic performance, we should also not forget that in the current society, there is more to success than having a “good grade”.

Let us shift our focus beyond school life, what kind of individuals do these learners become. What values did they pick up along the way? Did they become more compassionate and empathetic individuals? Did they discover their talents and gifts along the way? Did they sharpen their leadership skills?

To quote Dr. Trish Hatch, “ What if we moved away from a single test supposed to determine one’s future college/career options and embraced self-awareness and self-assessment, career exploration, goal setting, and action planning instead? What if we exposed students to as many career options as possible and move away from the ‘known’ limiting careers? Aren’t all careers important for the well-being of society? “

Most of the students end up stigmatized when looked at as failures simply because of their poor performance. And it gets worse when they do not end up in careers that society has branded important. This is one of the contributions of a large number of criminals and laggards who consider themselves as society rejects and life’s failures.

It is time we accepted that not all students are academically gifted and disabuse ourselves of this culture where we use an individual’s ‘D’ grade against them in the future. Statements like ‘She/he cannot do the job because she/he is a D student’ or “we cannot hire you because of your D grade “ need to be eroded, because they only add to the already exploded problem.

The country stands to gain a lot economically when it promotes career diversity by allowing students to choose professions matching their interests, skills, and abilities. Because each one of us has something to offer academic qualifications notwithstanding.

It is prudent that as a country we rethink our definition of a “successful student”.

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