Blogbox | Education

Farewell, fives!

By - 26.09.2023

I gave up fighting for grades and started seeking knowledge.

I was a fourth grader when I got a grade that wasn’t a five for the first time. I felt an unprecedented terror in the moments leading up to the moment my teacher wrote a four in the grade book. This feeling of terror stayed with me over the following months, despite the fact that the grade was just a number, which would later be replaced by another.

The feeling of being given the four did not go away. It was like breaking a binary sequence of zeros and ones with another number. The whole system was breaking down. And it was all happening inside my mind.

In reality there were five scores and only a one was considered inadequate. But in the narrow reality where I and many other students lived, there were only two grades: fives and non-fives. 

Getting a grade other than five disrupted the way our work was evaluated by family and society. This evaluation method was created by parents and teachers, who do not have time to assess everything that their children or students have learned for each subject. If you don’t get all fives,  this method of evaluating students is useless. 

Surely thousands of Kosovar elementary school students have felt like me over the years. Grades did not only represent your achievements in a particular subject or topic. They were viewed as a way to assess your essence as a person. Perhaps forever. They affected almost all our relationships: with teachers, with parents, with the friends we were making, with ourselves. They also shaped the way we saw ourselves in the mirror.

I realized I felt this way after reading my childhood diary, in which I wrote about my daily levels of happiness. It was a strange experience to read about my experiences as a child, how I’d feel bad simply because I didn’t get a five.

Why shouldn’t I feel bad when I knew that my teacher would treat the students that had all fives better and I wanted to be one of them? Wasn’t it to be expected that I would feel bad knowing that the four I got would disappoint my parents? Why didn’t anyone talk about how these numbers affected our mental health?

We are more than numbers

Every September, a letter circulates online that the former American president Abraham Lincoln wrote to his son’s teacher in 1830 at the start of the school year. We make fun of how we always see this letter circulating online, but maybe we shouldn’t. All of the requests in the letter, two hundred years ago, were to help his son build his character, not to help his parents satisfy their egos.

Sounds cliché? Maybe it’s okay to be cliché sometimes.

I remember when the Minister of Education, Science, Technology and Innovation, Arbërie Nagavci, mentioned two years ago that they aimed to remove numerical scores for students in the first four grades of elementary school. By doing so, they hoped to discover children’s talents and subjects where they needed more help.

This prompted many reactions from educators. People were worried that if differential grading was removed, students might feel too comfortable and would learn less.

I didn’t get it. Why would they learn less? Maybe it would be better if they learn less given the way that students are taught now. Is it time to consider whether students should be motivated to learn for reasons other than achieving a five? Maybe we need to talk about the quality of education and not just grades.

Seeking fives has made us lazier. The world is much wider than that of textbooks. In elementary school, I found it impossible to read extracurricular books. My curiosity has always been curbed: focused on school and achieving fives. 

Recommendations for me to read other books were useless. The comfort I got from fives was all that I needed. I wanted to be completely faithful to my studies and not focus my energy on anything else. It is probably unnecessary to say how much this damaged me and how much it hindered my ability to think freely and critically until high school.

I experienced the same feelings during my university years. Apart from the fact that the grades were important, the assessment, which I had already seen in primary and secondary school, continued from the teachers. This time it was based on the number of students who did not pass the exams. The more students that failed the exam, the better the teacher was thought to be.

However, at this stage I was able to stop the cycle. I started with myself and asked why I was fighting for grades. In fact, even my family members understood the irrationality of this struggle, yet they had taught me to approach education this way since childhood.

We are more than our grades. We need to expand the way we understand learning. The focus should not be on a continuous struggle for grades, but on striving towards knowledge.

Feature Image: Majlinda Hoxha / K2.0.

This blog was published with the financial support of the European Union as part of the project “Diversifying voices in journalism.” Its contents are the sole responsibility of Kosovo 2.0 and do not necessarily reflect the views of the European Union.

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