Grades and Self Esteem in the West Indian School System

Let me start off by giving some background information about myself. I am a level two Economics students at the University of the West Indies Cavehill 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 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?”. Be patient, I’m setting up the story.

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 (BTW 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 melt down because he’s 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% of the Vincentian students here attended the top female and male secondary school. 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. (Perhaps I will speak more on this topic in another post)

This HAS TO STOP. We must not segregate students so early based on academic performance. I know CXC and the governments are taking 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 did. 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.

Thank you for reading, please don’t be afraid to comment and add your thoughts!


7 thoughts on “Grades and Self Esteem in the West Indian School System

  1. Firstly, your narrative is very profound and echoes much of what is known and experienced by too many of our young people in our educational system. As a teacher at the secondary level, I concur with your stance and support efforts made by MOE to incorporate CVQs and NVQs into the school’s programmes. However there is still much more reform needed, and unfortunately, “being educated” has been so engrained in the social and mental framework of citizens, that it will take rigorous strategic efforts at a national level to help dispel myths and traditions of success for only academics.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. First of all thank you for your comment! You’re right, the issue is not only with the schools and government we also need to fix our perception of these things. We need construction workers just as much as we need lawyers.
      Though sometimes I feel like I won’t make a difference, as someone once told me “it starts with a conversation”. Simply highlighting these issues is the first step in our attempt to fix them. We need to keep the discussion going!


  2. This, ” My entire life has revolved around how well I did in school.” Yass! School surpasses all other social institutions– the church, family relationships– because it is the gateway to success and that nuh right. I’m around people who are really intelligent on paper but can’t hold a conversation, can’t come out of themselves for a min., they aren’t developed.

    However, this: “We must not segregate students so early based on academic performance.” Nah man. I believe that there should be a filter, students who grasp info. earlier that others should not be held back but I do think that they need to stop telling ‘bright’ kids that they are better than everyone else. Shxt like that spills into the workplace and creates classism and superiority-complexes.

    Anyway, great article mama. I see that this issue really touches you.

    — Bless

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Haha. Thanks for the input and you’re right. Some students are really one dimensional and I’m not sure who’s really at fault. The teachers or the parents? Probably parents as they rely too much on teachers who are already over worked and underpaid.

      Liked by 1 person

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