While dropping Nadi and his friend M to a party, they were both full of little tidbits of news and information from the very hectic and fun week they had just finished in school. Not only were the first set of tests in class 4 done, a mini concert was in the works and Science week underway. Nadir mentioned his friend got full marks in Math which she shyly acknowledged and said it was the “first time ever” and then Nadir told me he got a 40/50 and that he was very happy with it, even though he knew he made a few silly mistakes. Then they both exchanged a glance and told me about another friend of theirs who lost 2 marks but had been crying in school because of that. I made the appropriate muttering sound, which I hoped conveyed both remorse and also surprise and I hoped they would leave it at that. But lots can be said about the tenacity of the 8 to 9 year old mind, and they insisted on asking me why she would be so upset at what was obviously SUCH a good score. “Mama why am I not unhappy at my 40/50?” he asked, quite genuinely curious.
It’s really hard when kids ask difficult questions. Obviously one doesn’t want to say the wrong thing but honestly at that moment it all can sound quite wrong. I didn’t want to make it appear that their friend was overreacting because truth be told, if you are used to a certain standard of achievement, anything less is a bit of a kick in the gut. You take hits hard and even two marks can seem like you have fallen and will not get up (for that moment at least). And of course, I don’t want to give Nadi the message that he has lower standards for himself or was any less of an achiever than someone else merely because of a few marks. I am not at all the person who thinks that how you perform academically is the only indicator of how smart you are or how well you will do. What I need to know is if he is happy and learning. As he grows it has become harder to stay away from this marks race and competitive attitudes, but I figure I can do my part by telling him (repeatedly) that if he truly knows what he is learning, then eventually that is what will matter. I hope.
We all know life is easier when you are great at something. Whatever that thing may be. Not only does it give you something to run to when things are wobbly, it genuinely fosters a feeling of belonging and ownership, two things which people underrate in my opinion when growing kids. But learning what you are good at takes time. So when an 8 year olds worth gets tied to what they get in their exams, it makes me a little scared. Life comes with all sorts of tests (most of them will not get graded by the way) and how we emerge is truly what matters. We need to fail (read: do not as well as we expect) to be able to know that there is life beyond that, and mind you, a good one at that which has nothing to do with your academic knowledge but rather your how intelligent your heart and brain are.