Can Grades and Degrees Measure the Success of Students?

Can Grades and Degrees Measure the Success of Students?

We see schools in Pakistan proudly displaying their biggest achievement as the number of A grades secured or the number of positions obtained in board examinations. There seems to be a mad rush to secure a large number of A’s with the benchmark recently set at some 22+ A grades. The schools as well as students define their success in terms of high grades. Why? Because high grades would get them in to good universities and the graduates of good universities get good jobs. High grades are a ticket for economically weak students to secure admission in public universities where there is high competition because of the low fees. Such high grades for economically strong students studying at premier institutions provide literally a ticket for enjoying the university life in liberal western countries, obtaining scholarships and credit exemptions. Even high achievers  studying in public universities in Pakistan plan to go abroad and construct a lucrative life there. The quest of grades boils down simply to earn a better living through a good paying career job.

High grades are punishment!

This quest for grades would have been OK, if it had resulted in the lifting of mind and spirit of our youth, making them yearn for more knowledge, and enabling them to become a better human being, and to contribute to this society by fighting the evil, here in this country and not escaping abroad to live a life in the lap of comfort. It is a pity to see the brightest and the most talented of our youth being prepared and groomed for serving developed countries. The culprit is our school curriculum and the way it is taught that cuts them off from our culture, our history and our real problems, and which fails to inspire them to take on the challenge of improving the lot of our poor people. This gets done in such a stupendous way, that by the time a bright child passes the intermediate or A levels with flying colors, he has concluded that there is no place for him in this country. His place is somewhere abroad, for which he is destined. Of course, schools and family and the environment are all there to be equally blamed in helping each other create this perception.

But, the cost of this mad craze for good jobs and comfortable life is not just limited to the brain drain. It extends beyond escape behavior, and it actually results in making them lose their spirit, and their humanity.


The biggest casualty of this mad rush for grades is the killing of the soul, individuality and khudi of the student  that enables him to reflect and ponder. As diagnosed by hakeem ul ummat, Iqbal:
       Asr e haazir malik ul maut hay tera, jiss nay 
       qabz ki rooh teri, de kay tujhe fikre muash     —- Iqbal

Men as cogs in the giant wheels of job-machinery

This is the casualty of the high ideals of education. Gone are the days when we used to think of higher education as lifting of the mind to higher levels, and scholar and scholarship were hallowed words. When a scholar would aspire to unravel the mysteries of nature, to explore the nature of man, to investigate why does the man find himself here on this planet, what is his relation to the cosmos, what is the begining and what is the end. These eternal questions about who we are and what are we doing here have been lost in this mad rush to become cogs in the giant wheels of the job-machinery. This machinery views man as nothing more than a human “resource”, not much different from land or capital. A resource whose productivity is measured in terms of man-hours, head counts and FTE (full-time equivalents), and a resource that is dispensible and could be laid off and decomissioned as if it is also a machine part. A machinery where man loses his khudi and individuality. 

This mad rush for preparing for good grades and hence good jobs has now achieved a crazy limit, where parents are intent upon sending their kids to school at around 2 years of age and subjected them to tuitions, not understanding that there is a consensus among all the academics of the world that formal schooling should not start before 6, because it destroys the natural learning ability of the kids.

Will teaching of ethics work?

There are some who naively think that adding a few questions on ethics in each subject paper, or adding a few subjects on ethics and Islamic studies would do the job while forgeting that this is akin to hiding your head in the sand.

No wonder the graduates of our schooling system are confused about the relationship of success in this world with the objectives of their life. They are taught all their school life and their university life that to be successful means getting good grades and getting a good earning job. The grading system does not tell them that the actual and eventual criteria for success is about values, tazkia-e-nafs and purification of the soul.

Purpose of Education?

No wonder we see the greed, corruption, exploitation, and fraud permeating not only in our economy but even more so in the West. Our robbers in Pakistan are midgets compared to the grand robbers of USA such as their big banks and financial institutions that committed robbery of trillions of dollars leading to the great recession of 2008, in which none of the fundamental instigators have been indicted, but have actually landed plush jobs in the US administration. Hard earned tax money of the poor was taken to bail out and give hundreds of millions of dollars of bonuses to the corporate heads responsible for the recession, and while the lower income group saw their life-earnings disappear and their housing foreclosed. Mind you, most of these barons of financial industry are the star performers of the coveted business schools in US.

Is this the meaning of success?

We need to define what is meant by education and what is meant by success in schools. Is getting good grades on exams the only criteria. Should not the schools be held responsible for the bad conduct of their graduates. After all they take credit of the star performers who get into high positions in government or business. They must also take debit of the looters, plunderers, cheaters, robbers, and liars that they produce. The challenge is to define a ranking of schools on this basis and also to incorporate the character element in the definition of an A grade.

We need to measure the success of a student not in terms of his grades (GPA) but his ability to take on real hard challenges. After all, we are talking about the brightest and the smartest of them all! How many students of this particular school graduated with concrete plans for making their society, their country and their world a better place for humanity. Their success should not be measured in terms of how well they were able to sell one brand of shampoo over another, or to sell a particular brand of tooth paste better over another. This may be a job left for the timids and the weak hearted. The success of the brightest and the smartest should be measured in terms of which societal and global problems have they solved or are planning to solve. Are they prepared to taken on and solve the problem of global warming, do they have a concrete plan for eliminating poverty, can they take on the eradication of some disease, are they going to address some societal disease, how are they going to make Pakistan even more corruption free than the top ranking scandanavian country on the transparency index, in which area of social entrepreneurship would they make their mark and so on. We should ask the school how many Edhi‘s, Abdul Bari Khan‘s and Adeebul Hasan Rizvi‘s it has produced. Students’ grades should depend upon the work that would demonstrate that they are following on the footsteps of the great people and have written significant treatise on one of the myriad of issues afflicting our nation and have a concrete plan for its solution and have a successful prototype implementation of the pilot phase. This is how leadership coming out of the schools need to be defined.

A school that professes to be religious and which instills in the mind of our youth “fikr-e-muash” as their first priority actually is making them  forget the repeated exhortations for reflection, tadabbur, tafaqquh and tafakkur repeated again and again in Quran. There is much more serious implications for defining success in terms of A grades. This takes us away from the way success is defined by the creator in Islam. There is no nexus between the success in exams and the definition of success as defined in Islam and Quran.
      Qud aflaha man tazzakka   [He has certainly succeeded who purifies himself. 87:14]


Google Has Started Hiring More People Who Didn’t Go To College

See also:

[Many thanks to for the wonderful collection of Iqbal’s poetry and the image of his poetry here.]


  1. Thank you so much for your great contribution.I like the way of writing and presenting.The author clearly describe all the parts of the article with good language.

  2. The necessary objects and other guides are bringing about all those possible instances for the students which by the time they must needed to observe even. best grammar check

  3. I think it is just a idiotic thing to do so. Well written. Thanks for sharing this. A student's brilliance can't measure using an exam. There should give enough space to work them.

  4. Not always. It is the not the right way to justify a student. We have to replace this method.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *