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Exams: My grades weren't great, the rest is history

East African Legislative Assembly MP Suleiman Shahbal. [File, Standard]

My headmaster was convinced I would amount to nothing in life and that my parents were wasting their money trying to educate me.

Once, I timidly presented my below-average Form Three results to my uncle who glanced at them, grimaced and said, “No problem. If you fail, you will work here”.

He was running a garage. The fear of ending up in a garage made me study a little harder. Despite all, my grades in school were at best, average and when I did excel, I surprised even myself. 

Today, I prefer to let others rate my performance and I doubt whether many would consider me a failure in life. In short, your grades in school do not completely define your success in life. Your success in life does not start and end with high grades.

This is the season of grades being announced and we see primary and high school kids who have achieved “A” being feted. But let’s also celebrate average students who try hard to achieve even average grades.

In statistics, there is a bell curve where 20 per cent are high achievers, 60 per cent are average performers and the remaining 20 per cent are poor performers. In fact, the top 2 per cent and the bottom 2 per cent are the super achievers (or losers) and this elite are never constantly at this level. It is impossible to be a top performer all the time. All of us who went to school encountered students who were always top of the class and never got below a “B” grade. We called them nerds. Today with the hindsight of years we know that not all nerds excelled in life and that very few of them became top performers.

Many of the average students are leaders in industry and in their respective professions today. It is important that we also celebrate the average students who try so hard to lift their standards. Some of them struggle to even get average results. It is important that schools and parents recognise and celebrate average students.

Celebrate the “most improved” students, let them see their efforts are recognised, and we will see more of the 60 per cent average students achieve better results. Our university entrance criteria recognises that most people are average. That is why the cut-off grade for university admission in a C+. This grade falls in the middle of the bell curve again. We need to encourage students to always try and achieve slightly higher than their past performance and to continuously lift themselves higher than their last hurdle.

If your child is not 'A' grade material, do not expect that they will move from a 'C' average to an 'A' immediately. Challenge them to achieve a 'B' and celebrate when they do. Over the years, I have come to recognise that young people need to develop skills other than what they are taught in class. They need to learn social skills, organising, debating, negotiating and entrepreneurial skills. These are the skills that will help them succeed in life.

Identify the small things that your child excels in and whatever that skill is, encourage them to showcase their excellence. They may not be the brightest in class but if they excel in something, that skill gives them an edge and a huge confidence boost. Only confident people exceed in life. What should we do to boost our children’s confidence?

Perhaps the most important thing for a child to succeed is an increased sense of self-esteem. Few parents work on this. Most young people struggle with an identity crisis, and many suffer from low self-esteem. Improving self-confidence is a greater contributor to life success than straight As. For all those parents whose kids achieved average results in KCPE and KCSE exams, please tell them it is not the end of the world. Their future is still bright, and they are still winners. 

-The writer is an East African Legislative Assembly MP and Chairman, Gulf Group 

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