First, I have to make this clear. I truly believe education is extremely important and getting educated is the single best investment you make in your life. While your academic success will help you to get admitted to reputed academic institutions and then to a great career in the future, you should also focus on gaining the knowledge and not only the grade.
In Nepalese culture, I believe we overvalue good grades. Students who get good grades get section promotions, top ten listings and perks around the school and in the community. I do understand the point of rewarding good students for their hard work but, what about the students who perform averagely in class and the students who are not good at test taking. Students are grouped in sections depending on their grades and this creates an imbalance amongst students in the same grade level. Also the society indirectly contributes more pressure to those students who are not always the best in their class.
I studied in Little Angels School in Nepal from 3rd to 7th grade and remember memorizing notes and lectures to get good grades. Yet, I don’t have much knowledge now of what I learned because the focus was on the outcome (grade) rather than the process (knowledge). I was driven to get A’s because the “school system” valued students who performed well in class and grades were the single factor that determined your class promotion. Factors such as leadership skills, presentation skills and interpersonal skills took a backseat to letter grades.
Also in hindsight when I think about the education system in Nepal, I was applauded for having the right answers and not on asking the right questions. The education system didn’t inspire me to imagine or question the dogma. Thus my knowledge of the subject was secluded to books and teachers. There was not much room to play around with my creativity, reasoning and arguments.
Then for my higher studies, I attended a public high school in New York City. At the high school, I quickly experienced some sharp contrasts in the education system in Nepal and the US. The discipline and work ethic that I learned in Little Angels School was valuable in succeeding in the classroom. However in my high school, there was no system where an individual who did really well would move to another section. If one did very well, you gained the eligibility of taking Advanced Placement (AP) classes, which can give you college credit while still being in high school.
In class, I had more questions rather than answers because the professor credited class participation and critical thinking. For example in my AP English class, my grade on papers and exams depended on content and critical analysis. If I wrote down everything I had memorized, it would have been called plagiarism. I was driven to think outside the box. The knowledge I gained from the class was important as was my grades but the emphasis was on the first rather than the latter.
What school you attended does matter when you enter the job market in the US. However, no matter what school you went to, your knowledge in your subject of interest is more important than the letter grades you get in school. Your grades will help you land the interview and then a job but it’s the knowledge that will allow you to advance your career, ask the right questions in your line of work and keep the job.
So, my point is that your grades do matter but they are not everything. Grades are only part of your personal achievement. The fundamental point behind getting an education is the knowledge. I believe taking the best of both worlds the discipline and work ethic taught in Nepal’s school systems mixed with the practical and out-of-the box thinking and emphasis on asking the right questions would be an ideal education system in the US.