I failed in grade one. It was in 2035-2036 BS. I failed without understanding what it meant to fail or pass. The failure itself was so ephemeral and so vulnerable that I passed the grade the following day. In the evening of the day I failed, Father made me learn such things that bestowed me with enough competence for passing. These, among others, included writing my thoughts in plain sentences, solving fundamental problems in arithmetic, and some general knowledge on the then Nepal and the globe. So, the following day I had to face Mr. Basnet, the headmaster, for a quick interrogation and test (probably) of my growth potential. A couple of funny dictations in Nepali, a couple of simple numerical puzzles, and a few names of people and places sufficed for them to escort me to grade two. It was all surprising, a little romantic, and dubious at the same time.

But I had made it. All the stigma had vanished within minutes. Awkwardly though, I joined the ‘former’ classmates who had been in grade two one night and some hours more than I. The tension borne for about twenty hours, at least, revealed to me the talents of my father. He was after all a one-time teacher at the same school and a couple of others before he had quit teaching to be a full-time family man. And it revealed to him my potential and his future responsibilities as a tutor.

If failure was the law of my life and I had failed repeatedly, I would not have been able to narrate this incident today. It is the least complex story of how I grew up to become an Associate Professor at a University of repute. But, at this moment, I am inspired to contemplate the future. Will there be a school of this type? I mean, is there any that fails a grade one child? Will there be a kid who will fail without knowing the meaning of failure and success in school? What about a father like mine, who would tutor his son for hours on his results day, negotiate with his headmaster the following day, and get a supplementary test arranged to raise him to a higher class through fair evaluation? If I go by the mass complaints about public schools today, I may say that there will be even worse such institutions, even more ignorantly irresponsible kids and parents, and deliberately unresponsive teachers and headteachers in the days ahead. Those who attend public schools will not be like I used to be. Nor will the parents be like my father was. Nor will there be any need for a serious re-examination intended to help a kid rise with motivation for hard work and consistency. I have heard that grade one students do not fail these days because they are legally safe from failing.

What if Father had not bothered to teach me, faced the headmaster, and waited patiently to see me promoted? What if I was to repeat grade one? Would failure induce me to study harder or become a more intelligent child? I would indeed have been with a new group, those at least a year younger than I was. I would gradually understand that the detention was due to ignorance. Would I then blame myself for being so stupid, my family for leaving me as I was, or the school for not guiding me properly about examinations? I would not have been better by repeating. It would not make any difference if I had passed without failing. In fact, passing by failing, after Father’s soulful intervention and the headteacher’s generosity, I became adequately aware of and responsible for my schooling. My conviction about good schools, good teachers and good parenting stemmed from that incident of failing after going to school and passing after being tutored by a responsible parent. I have this beautiful story to share regularly with many folks. If I had passed without failing or failed without passing, my life would have been minus one lesson.  

This narrative represents those days when dull kids failed and smart ones were allowed to jump classes. A few of them did so when they scored highest marks in the final examinations. When I began to ‘stand first’ from grade four, some relatives advised Father to put me a class higher. He did not budge, and I had no desire to join my brother, sister and cousins and probably outsmart them. Their being one level higher continued to remind my position to have been very appropriate. The pace was manageable. My classmates were just as good at allowing me to stand comfortably above them in the pass list each year. Since I did not lose anything by not jumping a class, I would also not gain anything by this audacity. My senior siblings’ group was filled with kids far older than I, and there was a more acute sense of competition between the boys. I would probably be a victim of crossfire if I could not arm myself as one of the warriors. I would easily lose motivation for hard work. And in the given circumstances, a more competitive environment would be suicidal.

I failed in grade one for about 20 hours. And that was enough to steady my steps.

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By hkafle

I am a University teacher, with passion for literature and music.

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