Throughout your childhood, you’ve probably had to deal with the looming spectre of grades. Grades are those things that the education system uses to try and coerce you into doing your work. Unfortunately, grades became so strongly associated with how well you did in school that people have linked school grades to actual intelligence.
The reality, of course, is that are grades not an indication of one’s intelligence, and to get better grades, you usually wind up having to suck up to the system and having no social life whatsoever.
Yes, I’m pretty much saying what some people may have already figured out by now. Grades may help you get a good job (if only because employers like suck-ups), but they are completely useless in terms of actual learning.
First of all, most kids aren’t really interested in the majority of school subjects, especially if they’re being pressured by teachers who reinforce the idea that their childhood grades will haunt them for the rest of their lives. Secondly, the earlier mentioned scare tactic prevents kids from focusing on learning because they’ll instead focus on getting good grades.
Of course, the grades are always issued by an invigilator, be it a teacher or an exam board, so a young person’s quest for grades is actually a quest to seek the approval of the system. Even the parents don’t know that by encouraging their kids to get good grades, they are encouraging them to surrender their will to a faceless, overarching bureaucracy, and that isn’t even the worst part.
Grades turn education into competition, in that we see neurotic kids competing for a teacher’s approval. In this sense, grades just give some kids their first reason to be smug, but they also give parents a reason to be smug to other parents.
The worst part about grades is that the kids feel like their work is being watched by an all-seeing eye. That’s exactly the feeling I had in A-level Art. I felt that I had to rush my work to be completed within only a few months, which left very little time for genuine inspiration.
Overall, I feel that grades are essentially meaningless, especially if you have to suck up to the system in order to get those grades. I hope that in time we’ll follow Finland’s example, which will mean that kids are actually learning things that they will actually use in the future.