The Topper Theory
An Honour or A Mental Barrier?
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The following blog is about the academic pressure and consequences on some and does not define toppers as a whole or even try to undermine the importance of academic excellence.
“Toppers” – the existence of the term begins from school and ends in college. It is widely used as an academic honor to describe students based on their scores. However, this term does not mostly go beyond one’s academic life. There are achievers and there are greats, but toppers do not usually end up being these greats. In an ideal world, that should have been the case. Toppers are supposed to be the best of the lot and are touted to be the future achievers. Though it is quite true that toppers show an amazing potential at a young age but sadly, that is rarely the case later on. More often than not, it’s the mischievous ones who up their game in the future. This sheer contrast makes us wonder what goes wrong along the way. How does a bright kid end up being just average in life? The answer to that lies within being a topper itself.
It Begins Here
Competition is an inherent part of our life right from the beginning instilled in schools through scoring and ranking systems. It does act as a source of motivation for a lot of kids. However, there are two sides to every coin. At a young age, getting high scores is not just about ranks, but also about the recognition that comes along with it. Being termed as a smart and clever kid is always a moment of pride, plus the pampering from parents and teachers adds to our happiness. The feeling of being distinct from the rest has its own dopamine fix. At times, there are special recognitions like awards and certifications, and favorable treatment from teachers as well. And once we land in this territory, it is difficult to go back. There is always the added pressure to live up to these expectations, a benchmark we set for ourselves. We cannot afford to let go of the special treatment we have been receiving and the happiness that comes along with it, like one getting used to a rich lifestyle and unable to go back to normal life.
The additional pressure to stay at top narrows down our vision to this one goal, which prevents us from exploring other relevant things. Creativity and experiences are cut short, as they stop to matter, and the overall growth is stunted. Even though education is meant to develop the student as a whole, the focus is almost always limited to academics. There is no fault of the child here, as he/she is just doing what any other human would have done at that age – seek appreciation and approval. The little things that are missed out in the process are neither noticed by teachers, nor parents. The pressure of not letting down one’s parents at such a young age, or sometimes the fear that comes along due to the consequences of it forms the personality for our adult life.
The past reflects the future. In the same way, spending the first 15-20 years of early life with the never-ending burden of pleasing others has some marks left on us. The psychological effects of growing up with limited experiences may have a lifetime effect. Qualities like decision-making skills, self-discovery, creativity, social skills, etc. do not bloom like they are supposed to. The inherent need to be better than others is carried forward to our workplaces, and the search for the appreciation of teachers is found in our bosses. Our existence itself then revolves around the same things in different forms, in an endless cycle. Happiness is defined by these few things, or sometimes happiness is never truly attained.
A lack of will to explore other possibilities or to break out of the shell within which we are nurtured throughout our life. Having a limited scope to excel in also leaves us devoid of failures in life. Life beyond schools and colleges do not care much about our academic skills but are more receptive to our overall personality. The adaptation to such a world might be difficult for some. Dealing with different kinds of people and situations could be a cumbersome task, a complete contrast to life before. The books we studied from are constant entities whereas life outside these books is variable. The lack of exposure leaves us with limited opportunities and vision. Our ambitions have just been as big as defined by our mentors, and now there is no time to figure out ones of our own. Experience is the biggest teacher, the teacher we never paid heed to. We followed naively where we were led, and could not forge our own paths, ending up one among many. The potential shown in early life was never built upon, again due to no fault of our own.
The Way Ahead
The fault then lies with the way children are rewarded. Scores being the sole basis of appreciation would naturally make one feel that it’s the only righteous achievement. Declaring a child as a failure just because he failed at a subject is not just demeaning but has long term implications. Not everybody needs to excel in academics. There is a wide range of career choices out there. Teaching the same subjects to all, irrespective of the interests and talents of a child, and then expecting them to excel at it is like expecting birds and fish to perform equally well in a swimming competition. Life is much more than topping at something just because it’s a norm. This must be first understood by parents and teachers, to whom we look up to for guidance and approval. Every person has different capabilities, and even though education is extremely important, it should not be the sole criteria to appreciate kids. Encouragement, motivation, and love will then play a much deeper role in our life than a childhood based on the ranking system.