Are those honors well deserved? | Inquirer Opinion

Are those honors well deserved?

May, according to the schedule of the Department of Education (DepEd), marks graduation season for the 2024 academic year. Meanwhile, some state universities and colleges will hold their commencement exercises in June. This year, a significant number of graduating students have achieved high academic marks, prompting schools to generously award students who meet the general average quota. However, this raises a crucial question: Does the number of awards and recipients reflect the quality of education we provide?

Awards as pseudo-motivation. I asked several teachers at DepEd about the plethora of awards in senior high school (SHS). Most indicated that they feel compelled to give awards because parents often ask why their children didn’t receive any. Some parents are extremely grade-conscious and view their children as trophies to be showcased on social media. Other teachers pointed to the grading system, where performance tasks, weighted at 50 percent, are a significant determinant of grades.

This shift in the grading system raises the question: Have awards become the primary indicator of being a good student? Nowadays, students are motivated to get awards without exerting much effort. This trend might be a remnant of the pandemic-era learning mode, when teachers became overly lenient in grading students. But this avalanche of awards fosters pseudo-motivation, where students are driven by awards rather than genuine learning. Many students who received honors in their lower years do not perform well in college. Complaints have come from former SHS awardees who mistakenly believe that the grading system in college would be similar to that in junior high, leading to a loss of motivation when faced with a more rigorous academic environment.

Parents as the “meta” for obtaining awards. The term “meta” is an acronym for “most effective tactics available,” used by gamers to describe the best strategies in games. In schools, however, parents have become the new “meta” for obtaining awards. There are two main reasons why parents pursue awards for their children: social standing in society, or simply being stage parents. During my time in private schools, I witnessed parents barging into the principal’s office, questioning teachers’ capacities and teaching methods, and wondering why their children weren’t excelling. They often bribed teachers and asked for favors. This behavior is not limited to basic education; it also occurs in universities, where parents confront deans, question teachers, and often negotiate over students’ grades, citing their children’s mental health suffering due to a one-point grade deficit that disqualifies them from receiving a “laude” award.


The mental health card. While I am an advocate for student mental health, I am disheartened by how it is sometimes exploited. I overheard SHS students in a coffee shop, with one saying, “I always tell my teacher my mental health is currently suffering, so I can’t pass my output.” While there are genuine cases, this excuse is often abused. When a teacher sets high standards, and students are in danger of not achieving academic awards, they may invoke the mental health card to lower the standard. This is evident in some teachers giving high grades and generously awarding students, claiming, “It’s to ensure the student is not left out, or for their mental health not to suffer.”

To what extent will this practice go? This excessive generosity in awarding academic honors does not contribute to improving our international educational ranking. In the 2022 Programme for International Student Assessment, the Philippines ranked 77th out of 81 countries globally, placing fifth in lowest scores despite a high rate of awarding graduates. This raises the question: Does the number of recipients of academic awards reflect the quality of our education, or are we merely masking a dysfunctional system with awards to create the illusion of quality graduates? Similar to a Potemkin village, I recall an applicant bragging in her letter that she graduated cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in psychology. Despite this accolade, she could not write a decent letter on the spot with perfect grammar. It appears that quality graduates are becoming increasingly rare.


Sensei M. Adorador is with the faculty of the College of Education at the Carlos Hilado Memorial State University in Negros Occidental. He is a member of the Congress of Teachers and Educators for Nationalism.

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