An Academic Paradox

C minus (C-) grade written in red on notebook paper

Phillip Kong


Few things boggle my mind more than the mindset of UCC students towards academics. How can one put so much emphasis on a single aspect of school life and then relegate its importance beneath other activities just moments later? I must admit, I often find myself part of this endless academic paradox that is so common in these halls. So what is the answer?

 

My sense perception as a way of knowing suggests a few things. First, UCC (both faculty and students) puts a huge emphasis on academic success. We are constantly reminded of the success of others and our own mediocrity at Prize Day and those sneaky assemblies with Principal’s List presentations. Comparing test marks is prevalent in classes and you face tons of peer pressure to reveal your results to classmates. Moreover, with the expectation of a lot of students to gain admission into prestigious post-secondary institutions, the academic environment is highly competitive.

 

The second conclusion I reached after observing the behaviour of students before and after assessments seems to contradict my previous point. Weirdly, we seem to care very little about our assessments. Picture this: a flustered UCC student furiously types away at an English presentation while muttering to himself how much he still has to study for an upcoming Biology test. Scenarios such as this are common throughout the college, where students delay their work until days, or even hours, before their assessment. In addition, when I ask such students why they have procrastinated to this point, I am usually met with the response: “I didn’t have time.” So why is it that academics is such a low priority when we put emphasis on academic success?

 

I think it is due to UCC’s ultra-competitive atmosphere. As a prestigious institution with long-standing traditions, the College attracts boys from across the world who are usually high-achieving and competitive as well. More often than not, these students are also from a privileged background where they are involved in several co-curricular activities outside of the many already offered by the school. Students are now left with a choice: those activities or academics. Most people would probably not choose academics because they simply don’t have as much fun doing them. The outside commitments, such as athletics, music, or clubs, are chosen by students. This means that they generally enjoy those activities. Academics, on the other hand, are perceived as forced upon us. One does not get to choose when or what type of assessments are assigned. Thus, there is usually a lack of interest in prioritizing academics. (Obviously, procrastination plays an integral role in perpetuating this paradox as well, but that varies too much on an individual basis.)

 

How do we resolve this paradox? Frankly, I don’t think we can and neither should we. The busy lives of UCC boys will remain regardless of the academic rigour that our school is so proud of. Moreover, it is hard to prioritize academics mainly due to their rigid structure. Most assessments are tedious and inflexible rubrics have to be followed (especially TOK). It is certainly possible that students will enjoy parts of the academic program of the College, but I don’t think it will ever be enough for them to prioritize school work over their other commitments. However, the vibrant experience of being a part of the UCC community, which includes many co-curricular activities, necessarily entails the slight neglect of one aspect of a student’s life: academics.