Why the most brilliant students do not necessarily become the ‘most successful’ in life

Columnist: Nicholas Mawunyah Gborse

Ghana’s educational system has stratified learners into ‘brilliant’/ ‘intelligent’ students and ‘dull’ students based fundamentally on who can better memorize notes and taught contents mostly in Mathematics, Science and English Language.

Such has been our description of intelligence and brilliance that learners who appear lost in these subjects (sometimes due to teachers’ approach to the subject) but are exceptionally strong in areas such as music, arts, sports and culture are considered by the system as being hopeless.

Most teachers tend to love the former and draw them closer to themselves by offering superior advice and mentorship to them whilst giving little or no attention to the later that are considered blockheads and time wasters.

The ‘intelligent ones’ are held in high esteem by teachers. They are even spared some forms of punishments or school tasks. Their answers are almost always the correct ones and form the basis of comparison in the class. They are generally associated with positive virtues and good conduct.

Most teachers hardly find anything wrong with their conduct. On the basis of their ‘brilliance,’ the school and their parents have high expectations for them in life. They are seen as success-personified long before they enter the world of work and life in general. On the contrary, the ‘dull students’ are ruled out of any chance of ‘success’ in life as many teachers hardly find time to mentor them or to provide them remediation.

They are accorded little or no form of love by some teachers. Instead, they are subjected to daily doses of insults and name-calling which sometimes makes some of them to consider dropping out of school.

Meanwhile, true to the prediction and expectation or self-fulfilling prophecy of most teachers, the brilliant ones complete school with superior grades and secure admission to Ivy League higher institutions in the country or outside Ghana to pursue their programmes of choice whilst the ‘dull ones’ often fail to disappoint their teachers.

They score some periphery grades and drop out of school, join the world of remedial examinations or secure admissions to pursue courses not considered top-notch or highly rated by society. At the tertiary level, some of the ‘dull students’, for all their efforts, make do with a 3rd class degree or pass.

But something almost always happens years after the ‘brilliant students’ and the ‘dull students’ finish school and join the world of work. In Ghana, many people have tales about how they were so brilliant in school that they used to teach some ‘dull students’ or allowed their scripts copied by them. They can tell stories about how they used to do assignments and home works for some of those ‘dull students.’ What mostly happens years after school is that some of the so-called brilliant students become unfulfilled about life.

They grumble about their careers and life in general and live in continuous regret and dissatisfaction about life whilst quite a number of the once-dull students are seen ‘enjoying life’ with well-paid jobs or are in self-employment.

The once dull students are either found abroad in search of ‘greener pastures’ or are in the country as political leaders, business gurus or heads of important state and national assets. They formulate policies and programmes for and on behalf of their once brilliant counterparts who see them on television or listen to them on radio and grumble the more about their lack of favour with destiny. Simply, the so-called brilliant/ intelligent students do not always live up to the self-fulfilling prophecies of their teachers. The dull time-wasting students rewrite the script of life and turn the tables in their favour.

But what really accounts for this sudden shift in fortune of the two? The answer lies in the nature and disposition of the two. Most brilliant students are mostly cautious about life. Most are highly respectful and obedient. They are conformists and generally see life as monolithic.

Most fear to take risks and cause positive disruptions. A lot live their life to please their teachers and parents. Some have defined careers based on the advice of their teachers and sometimes parents. They see future success and happiness as products of excellent grades and superior GPAs or CWAs.

At school, they consider things such as leadership training and capacity building, skills acquisition, acquisition of public speaking skills, industrial training, sports, music and even IT skills as distractors to their efforts at making excellent grades. Accordingly, they live very monotonous lifestyles of learning, learning and learning. Most do not cultivate relationships or build networks which they see as time-wasting. A lot of them consider club activities as unnecessary.

Many see politics as being evil and a preserve of their loud mates, so they shy away from it. Still, many fear to put themselves up for leadership contests which they fear to lose. Quite a lot of them prefer narrow career paths in public service and civil service with guaranteed salary regimes.

Many prefer to be led but not lead. Some fear uncertainties and are over calculative in their decision making. Quite a number of them too are not bold. In the end, many live a life of gloom, self-pity, regret and dissatisfaction with daily or periodic grumblings. Some even become frustrated in life whenever they compare their life to their once-dull mates whom they used to help in school.

The so-called dull students, on the other hand, live a life characterized by risk-taking, positive disruption, boldness and easy going. They are likely to cultivate long term relationships which they exploit to their advantage in the future. Most do not take delight in narrow career paths in public/ civil service; instead, they mostly prefer self-employment and business incubation. A lot of them have entrepreneurial acumen or are employable based on the acquisition of relevant skills set and soft skills.

They are not afraid to try leadership positions, so quite a lot of them end up as leaders at all layers of society only to be served by their once brilliant colleagues. At school, they enjoy leadership seminars, club/association activities and skills acquisition. They tend to be well-equipped in IT skills. Most are multi-tasking and unperturbed about failure. They are not afraid to fail, nor try new things. Some tend to equip themselves with relevant language skills. Many are confident and smart about life, hence their ‘success’ in life.

So, to the surprise of their teachers, a lot of such once-dull students become creators of job opportunities and employers of labour which include their brilliant counterparts. Some become political heads to be advised by their technocratic ‘brilliant’ public/ civil service colleagues. Some become the main sponsors of their alma mater or year group activities. They extend helping hands to their mates including their ‘brilliant’ colleagues. But more seriously, they become referent points by their brilliant colleagues who do not cease to tell people that they once taught so and so person Maths, Science or English in school. But there is a caveat here! Not all so called ‘dull and unintelligent students’ possess these qualities nor become ‘successful’ in life. Some become more miserable in life. Whilst acknowledging the basic fact that some ‘brilliant students’ grow to meet the expectations of their teachers and themselves, these revelations appear to be the stark realities in our country. They speak volumes about the philosophy of our educational system. The system lays an overbearing emphasis on ‘brilliance’/ ‘intelligence.’ It defines intelligence in a narrow fashion to include exceptionality in Science, Maths, English Language or fluency in reading and writing of English Language. The system as it operates discriminates against the so-called dull students many of whom are left to their fate or discounted by some teachers.

There is too much of dull-student victimization in our schools. ‘Non-brilliant’ students are seen as less studious and unserious and victims of their blockheadedness although some may just be temporary or permanent victims of wrong methodologies of teaching.

As a solution, we require a paradigm shift in our education space. We need to redefine intelligence and its measurement. We need our teachers to promote equality and love in our classrooms. We need a change in attitude towards ‘less brilliant students.’ We need to equip all our students with confidence, boldness and leadership skills.

We must make public speaking, leadership training and critical thinking very important components of the curriculum. We need to let all our students imbibe risk taking and positive disruptions. We need to teach our students to be obedient and respectful but not in a manner that makes them timid. We need to expose our students to the hundreds of emerging careers especially in IT, TVET, arts and culture and innovation, and stop defining careers in a narrow fashion to include only the traditional ones many of which are being disrupted by ICTS/ digitalization and artificial intelligence.

The education system must be made to remove fear from our learners. We need our students to cultivate relationships and build networks. We need to teach our students that hard work in the form of 8A1’s or First class honours pays, but that life goes beyond First class degrees. We need our teachers to equip all our students including the brilliant ones with all these virtues and skills.

Let us teach our students that good grades are not ends in themselves. They do bring about instant joy, happiness and recognition but they are not necessarily predictive of future ‘success’. Finally, we need to encourage good grades, but we must not continue to project good grades as sine qua non of future success. It is dashing hopes of people.

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