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The relationship between schooling and professional success

September 29, 2006

Is there any relationship between grades and future success? This is a question that haunts all parents. Parents of school-going children worry about it the most because their children are at their most vulnerable and parents are never sure how much pressure they can take. If they push their children to tuitions and demand high marks they feel they are doing it for the good of their children. Some children cannot cope. But the question we have to answer is whether parents are really doing something that is benefiting the children? Do high scorers, particularly those who fight for each mark, really go on to become super successful? Do they make a lot of money?

However, students today cannot escape the sweat and toil of academics. If high marks are to be scored he/she also has to forfeit time with friends or at hobbies. But after this back-breaking work what reward does the brilliant student get? An equally brilliant career? A career chock-full of quick promotions, society’s accolades or a flourishing business? After all, wasn’t this the aim of all the hard academic work? Some might say that in some professions marks do matter and in others they don’t. Here is some small research which could be an eye-opener:-

The Study: A research study titled ‘Success in life and it’s correlation with early education’ was conducted at the S.M.S. College in Jaipur by Ashok Gupta, an assistant professor of Pediatrics. It reveals that an overwhelming percentage of successful people had in fact scored average marks at school. Dr. Gupta undertook the study because of the swelling ranks of children with ‘behavioral dysfunction’ due to parental and societal pressures to score high marks in school. Dr. Gupta emphasizes that students who score poor marks should not get discouraged as it does not mean that they will be failures in life.

The study revealed that good academic scoring at school does not guarantee success in later life and nor does poor performance in school necessarily mean failure.

The study was conducted by interviewing successful people in ten different professions. They were selected using the ‘reputational technique’ which means that they were identified by their own peers. The professions selected were artists, engineers, industrialists, judges, doctors, journalists, bureaucrats, executives and intellectuals. The study showed that 81 per cent of the people interviewed had a mediocre academic record in school.

Significantly, while academically brilliant students were missing in the study, so were failures.

An even more interesting finding was that 88.4 per cent of the successful people were not products of elite schools. And 60 per cent of them were from a vernacular background. Ironically 95 per cent out of these successful people from vernacular medium schools chose to sent their children to reputed English medium schools.

Interestingly, only 11.4 per cent of the successful people had taken tuitions or extra academic coaching in their early academic lives.

These findings assume great significance in today’s milieu where acadamic success is the only yardstick to measure success of a child. One wonder what parents achieve by depriving children of a normal childhood. Studying long hours means giving up on hobbies and restricting outdoor activities. And for what?

The successful artists who were interviewed revealed that they had received full encouragement from their parents to develop their talents and thus had managed to save themselves from resounding failure in other careers.

Analysis: Dr. Gauranga Chattopadhyay, a reputed counselor who has counseled students disturbed by academic pressure throws some light on the findings of the study. Speaking about the bookworm he says, ‘Here we cannot say which came first. The student’s inability to socialise or his love for books. Whatever the cause, such a student can become distanced from reality and does not develop social skills. Thus he finds it difficult to get along or cooperate with others. Parents encourage this behavior. For example, telling the child not to share his notes. But this does not work in real life, one cannot function as a loner.’ The doctor also believes that a packed schedule where one goes for swimming and music lessons, karate and tuitions can affect a child adversely. ‘From childhood children get used to spoon feeding and when they grow up find it difficult to function as they are not aware of how to choose their own options or how to solve their own problems.’

Dr. Zahid Gangjee, a human resources consultant and a former professor of the Indian Institute of Management (IIM), Calcutta, feels that one should not take the study to mean that academics is not important. ‘In fact, formal education is very important as it exercises the brain and inculcates discipline,’ he says. However he acknowledges that ‘brilliant’ in academic parlance does not mean that the student is brilliant. ‘To score high marks one requires an enormous amount of rote memory, the ability to lean without questioning and the perseverance to study for long hours’, says Dr. Gangjee. He adds: ‘These long hours that the student spends at studying is that much taken from learning life-skills. Skills which teach you how to work in a team, cope with disappointment, and solve day-to-day problems.’ That is why he feels that parents select schools for their children very carefully, choosing schools which encourage development of skills other than academics. ‘A school may be excellent even if it means it’s students are not toppers in the state,’ says Dr Gangjee.

Highlights of the study:

  • An overwhelming majority of successful people surveyed had a mediocre scoring rate at school.
  • Most of those interviewed had their education in vernacular medium, ordinary schools.
  • These very people opted to send their children to elite up-market schools.
  • While brilliant students were not amongst those who were the most successful, failures were not either.

(This survey was undertaken in the mid-nineties (which doesn’t really make it less relevant) and this article, written by me, was published in The Telegraph, Calcutta)

Related Reading: Busting the IQ testmyth
What makes children succeed in school
Choosing the right school for your child
The rote learning in the Indian education system
Different types of schools in India
The parent-teacher relationship in India
The connection between emotional intelligence and academic performance

9 Comments leave one →
  1. Kshama Ranade permalink
    October 3, 2006 2:22 am

    The research study confirms my own observation of successful people. I completely agree that education needs to be rounded and not dependent on rote memory and cramming fact. Problem solving skills and ability to work in groups carries a lot more weight in determining success. As is innovation and creativity.

  2. Daniel permalink
    December 24, 2009 5:36 am

    Hi Nita! I just wanted to say that i’ve read part of your blog and I have really enjoyed it. It is a good collection of notes and discussion topics. Really good! (sorry, my English is not that good).

    Greetings, Daniel

  3. Toya permalink
    February 23, 2012 3:58 am

    Do you have a link/reference for the survey?

    • February 23, 2012 10:58 am

      I’m sorry Toya. I did try to get it, but the link to this research paper is not available. At the time I wrote this article for The Telegraph I had accessed this survey from a newspaper article, and at the time (in the mid nineties) putting things online was not common.

  4. September 4, 2012 11:27 am

    ok wish all success in life academic rather than in academic alone.

  5. May 26, 2019 9:03 pm

    a link to the study you mention please

    • June 4, 2019 8:56 am

      I am sorry Bhanu. I read this in a newspaper a long time ago, and I had kept the clipping, but do not have it now.


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  2. SemutRaksasa as a humble wayfarer in this world :)

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