The costs of a grade-obsessed mindset | Inquirer Opinion

The costs of a grade-obsessed mindset

My friend recently organized a creative arts workshop for a class of public school students. During the activity, one of the kids asked if their drawings would be graded. The child explained, “Kasi kung may grade po, gagalingan ko. (If there’s a grade, I will do my best).” Stories like this highlight how the premium put on high grades has overshadowed the intrinsic value of learning and the true purpose of education. However, it is hard to fault the student for choosing to be pragmatic. In an overly competitive world, especially for a child with limited resources, high grades are still the golden ticket to a good college, scholarship opportunities, and, eventually, high-paying jobs and successful careers.

While the pressure to obtain good grades is not new, students now also need to prove that they are “well-rounded.” Apart from a high-grade point average, prestigious universities often look for proof of excellence beyond academics. This holistic approach to evaluating students was a well-intentioned effort to cultivate diverse talents and interests among young people. The unintended result, however, is that students are not only striving for high grades but are also cramming their schedules with extracurricular activities, sports, and volunteering programs. The shift in metrics for success has not reduced the emphasis on grades; it just added more layers of expectations.

The relentless pursuit of academic excellence can be quite overwhelming. Various studies have found a significant increase in the rates of depression and anxiety among Filipino students, citing difficulties in coping with their studies as one of the leading causes. According to the Department of Education, at least 404 students died by suicide in the 2021-2022 school year alone, with 2,147 more attempting to take their own lives during the same period.

Apart from being more susceptible to mental health challenges, excessive academic pressure could also lead to the erosion of one’s social skills and compassion. When children are hyper-focused on achieving high grades, they often miss crucial opportunities to develop empathy and other interpersonal skills, compromising their ability to create and sustain healthy adult relationships.


There is a local Reddit thread of Gen Z and Millennials exchanging advice on overcoming the long-term effects of being overly grade-conscious. They discussed how the pressure to get perfect grades when they were younger led to unhealthy perfectionism and an overly competitive attitude toward their peers. As one commenter shared: “I want to understand when we started to think of B or a line of 8s as equivalent to failing?”

I was struck by this question. Back when I was a student, having straight As was a dream and a goal for many students, but getting a B was not considered unacceptable. In the past year, there have been increased efforts to establish mental health programs in Philippine educational settings to improve students’ mental well-being. However, if we do not change the problematic focus on grades, I worry that we will just constantly play catch up with the rising number of students overwhelmed by pressure. Parents and educators need to reexamine the apparent and inadvertent ways we reinforce the idea that a student’s value is based on their report cards.

Some schools are addressing this issue by shifting toward teaching methods that encourage mastery of skills and emphasize understanding and applying knowledge rather than just focusing on a numerical score. Many schools have also stopped publishing class rankings to foster a more collaborative environment where students strive for academic merit awards without seeing classmates as competitors. More college admissions are also putting more weight on the applicant’s personal statement and student portfolio to get a better sense of their character and overall drive versus just relying on grades.

Of course, efforts by educational institutions will not matter if students receive mixed messages at home. Parents who scold their children for getting low grades rather than understanding what may have caused them will teach them to associate a lack of high scores with feelings of inadequacy. Similarly, children who constantly hear their parents brag about their academic achievements may develop grade-obsession and performance anxiety in the long run. Research from Arizona State University found that children who perceived their parents as prioritizing achievement over values like kindness experienced more negative outcomes, including depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem, resulting in lower grades and poorer academic performance. Encouraging children with a balance of support and realistic expectations is crucial for their holistic development and long-term well-being.


Academic success is undeniably important, but it should not be the measure of a person’s worth. We are failing our students by making them think otherwise.



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