Through my work, I've had the privilege of interacting with thousands of students.
Many students I work with are stressed out and anxious. They're low on self-confidence, and they constantly feel like they're not "good enough".
As I work through the issues that these students face, I'm always struck by the profound influence that the school environment has on students' overall well-being.
Schools are institutions of losers?
"Schools are institutions of learning." I don't think you'll disagree with that statement.
But what else are schools institutions of?
Schools have become institutions that produce losers. That might sound drastic, so allow me to explain.
Ironically, schools produce losers by over-emphasizing the importance of winning. In fact, schools often emphasize winning over learning!
If you're not a winner, you must be a loser
These are the kinds of things that schools pay attention to:
- Who got the best grade?
- Which team won the competition?
- What proportion of the cohort scored straight A's?
- Which students received scholarships?
- Who won the award?
For the students I work with who aren't getting the best grades and who aren't winning awards, it's understandable that they feel like losers.
After all, if schools are doing everything they can to produce winners, then those students who don't meet the mark must be losers, right?
My personal story
When I was a student, I achieved a lot of academic success, and I was eventually awarded an overseas scholarship.
But all of this came at a high price.
I was constantly sleep-deprived; I neglected important relationships; I was obsessed about my academic performance; I suffered from low self-esteem and depression.
As a teenager, I reached a point where I was acing every test and exam, but I felt like I was failing life.
I was pursuing all of these things that I thought would make me happy, but I was becoming more and more unhappy.
Other people saw me as a winner, but I saw myself as a huge loser.
Real world competition, real world concerns
Yes, the real world is a competitive place where results and performance matter. As a society, we're preoccupied by what's measurable:
- Net worth
- Market capitalization
- Number of cars you own
- Value of your home
- Monthly income
This preoccupation manifests itself in schools too, in the form of an obsession with grades, class rank, diplomas and degrees.
Facing the world vs. changing the world
Some people might argue that the main role of schools is to prepare students for the real world. Hence, it only makes sense that students are taught from an early age about the importance of beating out the competition.
Schools aren't just meant to prepare students to face the world. Schools are meant to prepare students to change the world.
Schools ought to equip students with the mindset and methods necessary to shape society, instead of merely conform to it.
Imagining a brighter future
Imagine a future where we grow together as a community, where each of us is focused on being the best that we can be, rather than trying to be better than other people.
Schools shouldn't just be a representation of our flawed society. In contrast, schools should be a representation of what society could be like in the future—a brighter future.
Focusing on what is most important
Let's show students that everyone has intrinsic value, no matter what their educational qualifications or social status. Let's show students that it's important to serve and to contribute and to care for others.
Let's redefine what it means to be a winner: someone who finishes well, not someone who finishes first.
I'm not saying that results, achievements and rankings aren't important. But I am saying that there are other things that are even more important.
It's Albert Einstein who once made this wise observation: "Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts."
Service, contribution, love, kindness, generosity, commitment, courage, perseverance… These are just some things which can't be counted, but which definitely count.
Embodying such "uncountable" traits—that's what being a real winner is all about.
Let's win together. Starting today.
Daniel Wong is the author of "The Happy Student: 5 Steps to Academic Fulfillment and Success". He is an Education & Personal Excellence coach and speaker. He offers a mentoring programme to help students to maximize their education and to find happiness and success. He writes regularly at www.daniel-wong.com. Download his FREE e-book, "The Unhappiness Manifesto: Do You Make These 150 Mistakes In The Pursuit Of Happiness?", here. Download his other FREE e-book, "Singapore Scholarship Guide: The $500,000 Decision", here. Together with his team of experts, he conducts The Exam ExcellenceTM (TEE) Programme.