“Children have never been very good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them.” James Baldwin

Our school’s slogan of Veritas (Truth), Integritas (Integrity) and Humilitas (Humility) now seem like relics of some forgotten past. Or perhaps like the unborn children of a distant future.

These guiding principles, essential for a better society, seem to be followed by few. We have reached this unfortunate realization in part, from our experiences with the program of Academic Probation that we introduced at the beginning of this year.

Academic probation is not our invention. It is common practice abroad and it is based on the principle of individual responsibility. If you want something, then it is you who must make it happen. Under AP, students are required to meet minimum academic standards in order to continue to enjoy the privilege of enrollment at a particular school.

The program was explained to all parents in March this year and they all accepted the terms in writing. Parents were offered the option of withdrawing their children with a full refund if the terms were not acceptable. Under the program, students failing in any one of the four major exams in the year are placed on AP and given one more exam to get out of it by passing. Or face dismissal from the school.

And the program has worked. The number of students falling under AP has steadily declined as the pressure to get out of it has encouraged many students to try harder and succeed. By the end of the year, the number of students on AP dropped from 42 to just 12. This has been its simple purpose.

After this year’s midterms, dismissal letters were sent out to all the remaining failing students’ parents. Several parents understood the inevitability of their situation and withdrew their children before paying their fees. The rest pleaded with the school to keep them and signed another commitment letter that should the students not score at least pass marks in the trial exams, they would not sit for the board exams. On that term, the students were allowed to remain at the school. In total, the parents signed their commitment at least 4 times.

With the arrival of the board exams however, all commitments have been conveniently forgotten. Unrelenting pleading to let them sit for the exams was followed by threats. Then reporting to the Ministry of Education. And then a combination of threats and pleading.

Are commitments, written ones at that, so meaningless in our society?

Doing all of this, in plain view of our youth teaches very wrong lessons. That being a man (or woman) of your word is not that important. That groveling is not that undignified. And worst of all, that integrity is just for losers.

While talking with the students, it seems that the lessons may have been learned already. Looking into the eyes of a student who failed all 4 exams this year and scored 8% in physics at the trial exams, and looking past the insolence in his steady glare, one could not detect a speck of shame for their duplicitous action. Not a hint of embarrassment over the single digit score. And certainly not a grain of humilitas.

As a school that aspires to launch principled and value-driven future leaders of this country, it has been a dark and sobering reality check.

But as these parents celebrate their ‘victory’, they should note that it is hollow. How does a failing student convert 8% to a passing mark? What have they really achieved?

More importantly, what is there to celebrate when so many wrong lessons have been taught?

It is high time for us to take stock of our situation and for the powers that be to re-examine their priorities.

[Note: There seems to be the assumption that schools bar students from taking the exams simply to improve the school’s ‘pass percentage’. The fact is, the pass percentage calculation treats all absent candidates as PCNA. The only way to benefit is by removing the candidates’ names from the BCSEA list through a formal withdrawal. We have not removed any name from our candidates’ list nor have we applied to do so. ]


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