Is it Fair to Obsess Over Students’ Grades?

Reading Time: 4 minutes

“Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”

– Albert Einstein

As children, we’ve all learned that the only formula to succeed is to study hard, get into a good college, score good student grades, and get a good job.

I learned no different from my parents. I was an outstanding student, but not in the way you think. I was always made to stand outside class for my mischievous behaviour.

But I wasn’t alone. There were quite a few out-standing backbenchers who kept me company. Our teacher kept telling us that we would regret our behaviour.

But her words never came true. Not for me, not for my other partners in crime.

The frontbenchers and toppers in our class have done okay in their lives. But the backbenchers have thrived. One of them, who is writing this article, is the founder of an IT company that employs over 100 people and has over 6,000 delighted customers.

Thus, the quality of education at school didn’t dictate who we became.

Your education at school does not dictate who you’ll become in life.
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Ours was not the only class where this trend occurred. The more I looked around, the more I saw it repeat itself. The toppers got good jobs, but the students who got average or bad grades were the ones who changed the world!

What’s going on here?

Why Average Students Do Well in Life?

In a previous article, I outlined three types of qualities that define our careers and lives. In a nutshell, they are:

  • Quality 1 (Q1) – Technical Related. These include skills like accounting, programming, and engineering.
  • Quality 2 (Q2) – Soft Skills Related. These include skills like communication, body language, Emotional Quotient, and so on.
  • Quality 3 (Q3) – Character Related. These are values like empathy, integrity, the ability to lead and face failure, and so on.

Here’s the problem. Education in India focusses 90% of its curriculum on Q1. Q2 gets 10% mention, but there is no place for Q3 at all.

The result is that while toppers score more marks, they’re poorly equipped to handle real life. Consider the following aspects as examples:

1. Knowledge

Our obsession with grades has led us to believe that knowledge is all about what we learn at school (Q1).

This is why toppers believe that they know everything. When we think we know everything, we don’t want to learn. When we don’t learn, we stop growing. The same goes for many toppers. They only do what they know and prove Andy Hargadon’s words right: “For most people, twenty years’ experience is one year’s experience twenty times.”

But knowledge is so much more. Average students learn a lot more outside school from personal experience. And since experience is the best teacher, their knowledge expands into diverse fields, presents them with multiple career options, and prepares them better for life.

2. Adaptability

A hidden reason why toppers get placed faster is their ability to adhere to the status quo. Throughout their education, they did what teachers expected. Corporations know that such students won’t rock the boat when they join the corporate world. They’ll do what’s expected of them. (This tendency is why the industrial revolution was successful but the knowledge revolution is faltering.)

But this comfort zone makes them less adaptable. They can work hard but not smart. They need conditions to be perfect (or good at the least) to perform at their optimal level. No wonder their career options stay limited.

Average “rebellious” students, on the other hand, learn to be street smart. They learn to make best use of available resources. They know how to manage people and get maximum returns for their effort.

Thus, while most students become efficient at doing their work, average students become effective at delivering results. And results lead to progress.

One of the hidden reasons why companies select Toppers is that toppers are the people who are most obedient.
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3. Failure

Failure teaches us to appreciate what we have, take nothing for granted, and keep moving forward. But society doesn’t look at failure like this. It looks at people who’ve failed as if they’ve committed a sin. This is why the usefulness of the occurrence gets missed.

Most students learn by rote in school. This puts them into the habit of waiting for someone to tell them what to do. Even if they try to explore something new (a project, a startup etc.), it’s often “copied”.

The fear of failure gets so deeply imbibed in most students that they refuse to think outside. They keep fearing what people might think about them. They cannot display resilience or handle frustration if they get passed over for a promotion in favor of someone not as qualified (meaning educated) as them.

Less studious people, on the other hand, are less afraid because they have a good appetite for it. From experience, they learn that no failure is final. In the process they also learn to stop worrying about people’s opinions, which is a key trait for success.

Imitation stifles innovation. Failure fuels it. This is why “average” and “bad” students change the world!

Toppers get good jobs, but the average and bad students change the world!
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Summing Up

You have noticed the above aspects too, isn’t it? They prove that grades are not the final thing in life, but a small portion of it. While Q1 education is important, Q2 and Q3 play crucial roles in deciding how successful the youth will be when they step into the real world.

Should we still focus only on students’ grades? If not, what are your suggestions to increase focus on smart workers?

I would love to read your comments.

Other Interesting Reads


  1. Manish Panday

    Congratulations, to touch this topic, I agree and my own experiences and feeling reflect in this article.
    Thank you for realistic article

  2. Yogi Udgire

    We have an enormous task of educating parents, teacher’s and all adult’s.

    Al of them are systematically damaging our Future…. Our children.

    Still engineering, medical and CA are ruling the head’s and Hearts of society. Few are willing to stop, think and analyze what is best for the Children.

  3. Naresh Sheladiya

    Live article. I think nothing more to add in this article related to this topic.

  4. Mahendra Kapadia

    Well said. Absolutely agree. My Mission to ignite their passion to experience and discover themselves. Yes, rather it is Q2, Q3 that really matters. All have reasonable Q1, and that’s what one needs for work for majority.

  5. Parthiv Kinariwala

    Nice one. Really true in real life.

    No one is Useless we have useless..

  6. Chirag Joshi

    Apart from education skills, cognitive skills should also be assessed as it’s essential skills.. Article is good and need large attention..

  7. प्रमोद डालमिया

    Grades in education are allowing you to rise further in your education and career of choice, specially in high profile job world.
    However you rightly said

    Back benchers are the one who learn from experience.
    Ready to learn.
    But how many back benchers are successful like you.
    It’s the zeal or zindagi me kuch kar गुजरने की लालसा उसको आगे ले जाती है।
    As it’s true not all toppers want to or successful in startups.
    It is also true not all backbenchers are interested or successful in startups or in business.
    Yes it’s the survival Instinct, which is more inthis category, takes and pushes them forward.
    This survival instinct is not visible in toppers.
    So once they are stuck or fail , they find it miserable.
    This Instinct gives you power energy and thoughtfulness that now or never.
    I have to do it any how.
    And the result is that you plan to do business that employes toppers to perform you to the hard work that these toppers are designed to and are capable of performing.
    Great thoughts by you li.esh by bhai.
    My congratulations to you.
    Though I am late in asking.
    How ever I would like to be associated with you in your work both commercial and social.
    I am sure it will be fun and rewarding too.

  8. Krishna

    Very good article, but today if you consciously take steps not to push your kid in the rat race as you rightly mentioned in your article our education system focuses on technical part only and kid is then labelled as Special kid or learning disability kid etc…Even today if kid opts for Arts there are people who say “why not science not interested in engineering?”

  9. Suhas Marathe

    Perfect topic to be study for parenting and lot of things rolled out in my mind while reading this
    Sharing this with my peers

  10. Shreyas Vyas

    Very well analysed

    Earlier it was the teachers duty to find the niche skill the student has and hon that skill and push him in his area of interest. This will only make the person a genius in his/her area of work.

    Unfortunately , the education system is run to rot and let individual loose on their fate.

    Thanks Limesh Bhai

    Hope our education system is rejunevatded

  11. Vivek Krishnarao Surve

    We in NYCS are working from past 2 years on tenth grade fail students in Maharashtra, learnings have told us the same story, this year we have planned on counselling parents n apptitude tests with reflex measures of students, one step ..

  12. paresh Shah

    Good topic but don’t generalise that all toppers are failure and all backbenchers are successful.

  13. Amit Sharma

    Awesome article on our Indian Education System

  14. binod

    Can’t disagree with the story even one bit. But, felt there’s another class as well- just average students who never were backbenchers. They still struggle to find jobs and are reluctant to innovate with their tasks. What about them? We all have such friends who were just about average or mediocre.

  15. Shreyas Kapadia

    Your article is very good. Yes I agree that grades in exams are not everything that matters. But parents have seen that many backbenchers have to remain satisfied with a mediocre job and mediocre life style. Moreover today world has become much more competitive compared to what it was in our times. But what is needed is that parents should assess the potential and area of interest in their child rather than pressing for the grades.

  16. Amiit Dabke

    You see, intelligence is not all about one’s ability to learn new things or see bright possibilities, but one’s willingness to learn. … Grades can help you realize things or show how diligent or lazy you are, how much you put your effort into things, but grades can never define your intelligence.

  17. Jeetendra Ashara

    Hello Limeshbhai. I liked this topic shared. this is more of what I believe it. in fact all of it. just one thing which I do not agree onto is that parents asking more marks from the children. After all my experience into communication, being a communication specialist and also a trainer and on top as a father or a parent I can now understand the lacking of parents with the words. I do not disagree 100% but 99.99% is only the lacking of words been delivered. All parents face this challenge. Those who suffered and those who succeeded all because of lacking and capabilities of using the words. Good to chat with you after a long time. Rgds

  18. Rajendra Khale

    Well written and thought provoking article. Though not all the toppers end up doing mediocre jobs and not all the backbenchers succeed like you. It is the ability to convert the data and information into the knowledge and then into the wisdom to utilize it into our everyday life rather than just reproducing it into the exam and then giving it full stop. Today, the ability to learn lifelong and utilize the learning effectively rather than just scoring in the exam that happened many years back, has now become very important with the technology and the business environment changing very fast and keeping pace with it, is must for the survival.

  19. Jayesh Shah

    Just read this article today…while I totally agree with you on Q1, Q2, Q3….what I have observed is that definition of success almost everytime & everywhere, is measured through monetary achievements…there is no mention of Happiness anywhere and therein lies the problem…
    Last week, I came across my Dr. friend (both husband & wife are FRCS opthalmic surgeons) who is based in UK and it seems over there students when they complete school, are encouraged to follow what they like without any focus on job prospects/demand…the minds are conditioned to pursue what they like. Do what you like and you will excel..back bencher or not. Yes, an under dog/back bencher can always work stress free.

    Incidentally, my friends son has chosen Philosophy & Linguistics and got selected in Oxford some time back.

    Can any of us as parents even dare to think of such subjects as a career for our children?

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