By Vega Schools’

Vega Schools are pleased to welcome Padma Shri Awardee Gowri Ishwaran as our Leadership Board member. Mrs Ishwaran is one of the most influential educators in India. She has been the Founder Principal of Sanskriti School, New Delhi and is currently the Vice Chairman of The Global Education and Leadership Foundation. She is also on the Advisory Board of the Shiv Nadar Foundation,a real mentor, and someone that educators, principals and teachers alike, like to follow and learn from. Her mission is to mentor and nurture young people to evolve into ethical leaders of tomorrow, and be the change makers that the world so desperately needs.

Here in this conversation with Sandy Hooda, Co-Founder, Vega Schools, Gowri decodes the all important question:  WHAT IS THE CORRELATION BETWEEN EXAMS AND SUCCESS IN LIFE?

Sandy Hooda (S): A warm welcome to Mrs. Gowri Ishwaran, wish you a very warm welcome to the Vega Schools? Leadership Board. We are delighted to have you. You are probably one of the most influential educators in India. You are a Padma Shri Awardee. You were the Founder Principal of the Sanskriti School which has such a wonderful reputation, across the country really. You are also an Advisor to the Shiv Nadar Foundation and I think above everything else, you are a real mentor, and someone that educators, principals and teachers alike like to follow and learn from. So we are really delighted to have you.

Gowri Ishwaran (GI): You are too kind, really. 

S: And today, we are going to be talking about a really important subject that most parents think about and wonder where the real truth lies. And the subject is, What is the correlation between exams and success in life?

Question and Answers with Gowri Ishwaran

Q.1) You have taught a large number of learners and have been responsible as a principal for scores more. As you observed your students go from education to careers, what are the things you felt led to their success in life? 

It would be great if you could help us decode some of these things.

GI: The first thing I would like to say is that I have never correlated success with grades and marks. After all, what do grades imply? They just imply what the content is, that you have learnt. But it is a question of how you learn that content. In India, by and large, it has been rote learning. So, the kind of content you develop through rote learning, it doesn’t really give you any indication of the level of understanding. So therefore I have never looked at grades as an indicator of success. And secondly to succeed in life you don’t always have to be an ‘A-lister’ where marks are concerned, you have to be an  ‘A-lister’ in other fields as well. And to succeed, just the content knowledge is not enough. It is how you communicate, how you deliver, what your thoughts are and most important of all, ?Are you happy doing what you are doing?? It’s not easy to find success if you are not happy with what you are doing, if you don’t have a passion for what you are doing. So success has many factors attached and it is a false impression we have in our country that it is when it is 100% or 99%, it is only then that you will succeed. 

S: Yes that is very insightful. This is something that really does confuse and flummox a lot of parents – should I focus on all-round development for my child, should I introduce my child to a variety of things or should I let my child focus on one thing, that is, studies or a particular vocation? Many years ago there was this concept of ‘tiger moms’…

GI: Let me tell you, ?tiger moms? have not disappeared, not in our country! Not just tiger moms, I think I find a lot of ‘tiger dads’ I tell you.

S: Or ‘helicopter parents’ and other such terms. I remember when this famous book on tiger moms? came out and people actually talked about them in a very positive way and it’s only since the past few years that there has been a push back. People are saying no there has got to be more to a child’s life than just mercilessly expecting them to perform in a very narrow scope. 

So, nothing speaks better than real-life examples. There is theory and then there is practice.

Q.2) Could you share some examples of your students you consider successful and the things that led to success? What is the correlation between exams and success in life? 

How their career and growth tracts evolved. 

GI: When it comes to high achievers, where marks and grades are concerned, I would not say in a blanket manner that none of them do well. There are some of them that do well, but then they have other qualities and talents as well. What I was trying to emphasise was that success is not achieved only through marks. There are children who are academically inclined and will get good marks and there are other children who are not academically inclined but have other talents. So you have to actually judge a child by the kind of ability or talent that he or she has. Students who have done very well for themselves, who have been academically bright and risen to the top of their career have always been very innovative and creative, even in school. 

I will share one example with you. In CBSE, once upon a time, they would make you write a paragraph of 50 words, things like. How to make tea? Quite ridiculous actually. So in class I had given a topic. A Circus Show? and there was this one kid who came up with this story about how he took his brother out one day, to the parliament and the brother was very puzzled as to why he was brought there as he had thought they were going to a circus and he replied. Well, look down there, that’s the circus and we are still surviving. That’s magic. What could be better? Now that boy, look at the creativity in him. And I am not surprised that he has risen to the top of his profession today. 

There are other students who have struggled and worked and mugged, who have done okay in life. But they haven’t lived up to the promise of 99 percenters? so to say. They’ve just plodded along. Children who gave me nightmares, by getting 8/100 etc. But I always had a policy of not holding back children from the Board exam. I knew that the CBSE didn’t really like to fail children, so I was fairly confident that they would get through. Once they cross the barrier of the class 12 exam, I am sure they will find something to do. 

An amazing example is of two sisters who were constantly in my room because the teachers could never understand why they never got double-digit marks. So I had a pact with them, I said to them look I don’t expect you to get 80-90 percent marks. Forget it, not so important. Just get through the exam? which they did. Today the two sisters are amongst the most successful wedding planners in the city and they are earning ten times the amount that any ‘A lister’ is earning. So that was creativity and innovation. And they were great communicators and they were great salespersons. So that was their talent.

Another incident I remember is when we were admitting children to our first grade 11, and so many people told me, Be careful, take the best. If you don’t get good results in the 12th the school will sink.? etc. So there was this lady who came in and I had the marks of her son, dismal marks to put in lightly. So I thought, I just will have to say no to her. But before I could open my mouth, the mother told me ?Well if you say no, I don’t mind because I know my son is useless.? And  that hurt me so much that I decided that I am going to admit that kid. How can a mother say that her child is useless? So we took him on and we learnt that he had a learning disability and we helped him get through the 12th. But again, an extremely creative child. And the mother did take my advice and sent him to university and put him into graphics and this boy is a millionaire today. 

Success therefore cannot be equated only with marks. The important thing, from the marks context is, are you hard-working? Are you persevering? Do you have the stomach for taking risks? Are you willing to stick your neck out? You know these are the qualities that eventually determine whether you are a success or not. And to have confidence in what you are doing is important. You always have confidence, if you are passionate about something. We have to teach our children that failure is a part of life. I used to tell my kids that if anyone comes and tells you,  I’ve never failed in my life he/she would be the biggest liar on the planet, because none of us go through life without failing somewhere or the other. But that’s how we learn and that’s why they say failures are stepping stones to success. So along with their academic progress in school, children need to be nurtured in these fields as well. It depends on the talent they have. There may be somebody who is going to be a great painter who may get only 25% in his maths, but he is a great artist. Or they are good in dance or writing. So every child is born with a talent. Unfortunately, we stamped that out and we only look at what marks he/she has got. And the worst thing with parents is that they say, Oh our neighbour’s child got 25