Conditions of Worth

Simran considers why her average grades affect her self-esteem so badly. Is there a better way?

I have never been academic. C grades have been a pretty consistent feature in my life. It’s a painful and haunting shadow I am yet to come to terms with.  My performance has never been attributed to a poor work ethic or lack of pushing myself. I just could not get that A or B.

Like so many others, I have days where I can’t help but stew. My mind ruminates on my inferiority, which is fuelled by social comparison. It can be seen how a culture of academic elitism is created through grammar and private schools having entrance exams and certain universities having Redbrick status.

Sometimes I have to remind myself, is not being academic actually a problem?

Sometimes I have to remind myself, is not being academic actually a problem? The answer of course is NO, but I have to repeat this to myself like a mantra. Whilst my self-perceived lack of academic success is contributing to my self-esteem issues, being the child of immigrant parents adds another complex layer.

As a second-generation child to Punjabi parents, I feel the pressure of their initial struggle. They have tried to do well in a land so foreign and far from their own, and that bears a weight on me to be successful. It is a weight that will be lifted when the success of mine matches theirs.  My mother, with her broken English, struggled to navigate 1980s Britain, and an environment of hostility towards black and Asian immigrants. Despite hurdles immigrants in Britain faced at the hands of Western nationalism, my parents climbed up the social ladder, rung by rung. My father become the first in my family to earn a degree, paving the way to his success as a lawyer.

As a second-generation child to Punjabi parents, I feel the pressure of their initial struggle

The challenges faced by my parents have served as my own motivation to do well in educational establishments that promised their help for blossoming careers. It’s important to note that being academic isn’t the only route to gaining success. As someone of the South Asian diaspora however, I have to navigate Western cultural ideals, alongside stereotyped South Asian professions (doctor, pharmacist, engineer…).  Furthermore, I feel that the culture at present, fosters a need for academic elitism. In further confirmation of this, the BBC aired the series: Grammar Schools: Who Will Get In? Upon watching, I was disappointed but not surprised to find that for one selective school, the only requirements for getting in were securing top grades. Students taking their GCSE qualifications who wanted to attend this particular institution were stripped down to the point where their academic success was to be the sole weight required to get themselves into the selective school.  Elitism within education raises the issue of structural inequality.  Consider the clear consideration between academic achievement and social class. Families with a low socioeconomic status may be not be financially stable enough to provide children with the educational resources or extracurricular activities needed to boost achievement and entry chances into top schools. The educational inequalities become even more heightened when you consider the average income of families of colour (for instance immigrants) in comparison to their white counterparts.

Elitism within education raises the issue of structural inequality

I have this warped idea that because of academic, those who attended prestigious institutions bask in perpetual smugness. Even writing that feels ridiculous – but I’m being honest. As a non-academic, it’s disheartening to see certain skills and qualities not being championed. Shouldn’t leadership, commitment, cultural sensitivity, emotional resilience (all of which were relevant to my parent’s experience of immigration), earn the same, if not more weight than grade attainment? The challenging of these skills would also create the opportunities to include practical examinations alongside traditional paper ones, appealing to those who may be less academically minded and prefer a hands-on approach to being tested. I would love for there to be more examinations by way of mock interviews, group presentations and creative writing exercises at school and college level.

As a non-academic, it’s disheartening to see certain skills and qualities not being championed

I have to remind myself that my self-esteem shouldn’t be moulded by academic achievement, despite the societal and cultural messages I am exposed to. I am in a process of learning to love myself unconditionally and to appreciate that whilst getting top marks will never be guaranteed. I am someone who has utilised a great deal of energy for the greater good – whether that supporting independent publishing, or practicing my feminist activism by volunteering for domestic violence charities. For me, academic success will always be outweighed by other, more wholesome factors.  Whilst at times, my dissatisfaction with my academic attainment interferes with my sense of self-esteem, I’m learning to accept that there’s so much more to life. Slowly but surely.

Do you excel in school, or outside of it? How much of your worth is dictated by your grades? Let us know on FacebookInstagram and Twitter