Exam HallContinuing with my aim of investigating hard lessons to teach, today I had a discussion with a class about the fact that good grades aren’t the most important thing in life. This is a tough topic in any school, but especially so in Hong Kong where grades are considered to be supremely important.

In approaching this question I did not just want to preach to my students, I wanted them to try and come to a conclusion through discussion. To do this, I wrote the word “Life” on the board, and asked students to tell me what they wanted from their lives. How would they know that they had been successful. The answers were interesting, especially as the students did not mention “love” or “happiness”. When I wrote these on the board and asked them “who here wants to love, or to be loved” they all put their hands up.

I next wrote the word “School” on the board, and asked them the purpose of school. Again, lots of good ideas, this time highlighting the rote nature of schools, the focus on learning “useless stuff” (their words). We summarised the three priorities of school as good grades, certificates and social skills.

Grades Arent It

Finally, I asked students how much they thought these school priorities would impact their potential success in life (as defined by our first list). The consensus was that school can help you succeed in terms of getting a good job, and obtaining material rewards. However, they agreed, it was the social side of school that would help students achieve the other aims in life (love, happiness, relationships, etc).

I related to students my own experiences: I studied very hard through the final years of school and then again through university. I got very good grades and made my parents and teachers happy. However, I came out of university very unhappy, with no idea how to live my life or what to do. It took a lot of struggling to turn things around and to start finding successes that I really valued (e.g. love, doing meaningful work, having great friends). So, where did good grades get me? Well, they are useful to have, but by no means do they make for a great life.

Maybe this is all obvious to you…but I think to students stuck in the system, it is far from it.

Credit: Exam Hall image by Milford on Wikimedia Commons, PD.