Why do students get lower marks as they get older?

THESSALONIKI – Why does the number of top-mark students in primary school dwindle in junior high and end up a minority in senior high? Why do most students learn by simply parroting their textbooks? Who is to blame for parents’ obsession with good grades and who for the significant number of children who are unable to keep up in school? Almost all senior high school students (97 percent to be exact) say that their parents are constantly urging them to study. Does this urging sometimes border on haranguing? According to a recent study by the National Center for Social Research (EKKE), the culprits are the educational system’s one-track approach, which is aimed solely at higher education and not at producing well-educated individuals, and the dysfunctional manner in which the system is run. The study’s conclusions – drawn from 10,000 questionnaires and interviews of state school students, parents, teachers and representatives of educational organizations – were handed over to the Education Ministry (which funded the years-long study) in 2000, but appear to have lain forgotten in a drawer somewhere rather than having served as the basis for new plans and policies. The bitter truths that emerged from the abovementioned study and other reports on the dwindling number of successful students, drawn up by academics, sociologists and teachers, were presented at a one-day conference held earlier this month in Stavroupolis, Thessaloniki. «Our education system is burdened by specific problems and an unacceptable percentage of failing students, while particular groups of the student population suffer from accumulating obstacles that weaken their chances and potential to effectively capitalize on their academic qualifications,» noted Ioanna Tsinganou, deputy director of the Political Sociology Institute of EKKE, in reference to students’ performance. The findings make reference to «a crisis of confidence in the evaluation and grading system, which manifests itself in the mass production of top students in primary school (students who score 9-10/10 number 83 percent among girls and 76 percent among boys) and the ensuing decline in junior and senior high school (only 10 percent of final-year junior high students score top marks), as well as in the knowledge – of students and teachers alike – that the grades do not reflect reality. «We can also surmise that the grades are achieved by the mechanical memorization of textbooks (known as learning by rote, or parroting) and the absence of critical thought, while they reflect and reproduce the socioeconomic situation of students rather than their real potential and skills. In the final year of junior high, history, for example, because of its incomprehensible textbook, came in after mathematics (30 percent) as the lesson with the greatest number of students having to resit their exams (20 percent),» said Tsinganou. «The problems are compounded by the behavior of Greek parents, who project their anxiety onto their children and cultivate an obsession with achieving good marks,» she adds, noting that 97 percent of senior high school students said they were constantly urged by their parents to study, 34 percent said they felt «pressured» to achieve high grades, and 75 percent of parents said they wanted their children to pursue higher education. «The education process,» stressed Tsinganou, «appears to be mainly aimed at preparing students to graduate from one educational level to the next until they reach university. The study shows that not only has this goal failed to be achieved within the context of the nine-year compulsory education system, but it is further widening the gap of educational inequalities. «Furthermore, the grading and evaluation system currently used to assess students’ academic achievements has been proven to lead to the marginalization of the weaker members of society and the lower social strata, not just from tertiary education but also from completing secondary education,» said Tsinganou. Indeed, the study shows that 55 percent of junior high students feel they will not make it to senior high because they find their lessons too hard. Tsinganou continues: «The country of origin, the parents’ profession and their educational level play a decisive role in the educational course of every child, while what is interesting is that the role model of a working mother seems to have an encouraging effect.»

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