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Instilling the Norm of Excellence: The Zagre Award( Part I)

The Zagre Award that is yearly given to outstanding performers in the matriculation exams has already become one of the major rituals in our country. The fact that it has been one of the rituals to colorfully celebrate the achievements of relatively outstanding students who score 4 (while the magnitude of the reward may differ, it has to be noted that those who score 3 and above are also included) in their matriculation exams can have a considerable inspirational effect on the society as a whole and one can not underestimate the stimulating role of such a ritual. What other students will aspire to do and to be as the result of the influences of the ritual is really important. Undeniably, the award can serve as a potential source of inspiration for the students who will sit for the same exam next to the award winners, for parents who are more concerned about the performance of their children in education and who accordingly invest as much as they can, and for all students at all levels of education, especially little children.  We come to realize how inspiring it is for little children because we observe many children discussing it among themselves, and exchanging solemn promises with their parents that some day they are going to be awarded the Zagre Award. To this effect, we may say that the Award has far reaching positive influence. 
The joy one reads from their facial expressions during the marriage ceremony of their children and what they feel during graduation of a son or a daughter, when a son or a daughter receives a medal of any sort (e.g. awards related to distinction achievements in colleges), one can easily note how the parents feel. In such situations, if we try to closely observe how the parents feel, while the achievement is that of the child we can simply see that their joy may outweigh that of the son or the daughter. For this reason, whenever the Zagre Award comes to my mind, I visualize the joy felt by family members in general and that of parents in particular.

While so far I do not have any child, I can see what a child means to a mother or to a father. Sometimes I feel that words can hardly tell how much parents are concerned about their sons and daughters and what happens to them. I strongly feel that the concerns that parents have about their children cannot be expressed adequately – you just feel it. There is a commonly shared saying in some of the communities in Eritrea that adequately signifies thisWelidka fetno. When roughly translated, this means you really feel how much a child means to a parent when you become one.

What a friend told me about one father and how much concerned he is about the achievements of his children shows how parents in Eritrea are concerned about the school performance of their children. His son was a great achiever in his high school years and still he is. The expectation of the father (in fact the expectation of the entire family including the son himself) was that he would score 4 and ultimately he would receive the Zagre Award. Very unfortunately the son marginally failed to score 4 during his matriculation exam – actually he scored 3.8. This normally happens as there are many factors that determine the end result of such an exam.  The household was not a well to do one. Even though the family was not rich enough to buy a laptop for the son, the father felt that his son has to be encouraged in any way so that he might not be disheartened when his peers received the Zagre Award. When there is a will, there is a way; if a person is adequately committed, he or she can achieve what the mind conceives. In the end, the father bought a laptop for his son and this considerably heartened the child.  The above example shows not only how parents are concerned about the school performance of their children, but also the motivation that the Zagre Award has cultivated in the minds and hearts of many students and families.

My brother also told me a similar story about a relative who marginally failed to score 4 in this year’s matriculation – he scored 3.8 like the student mentioned above. Until he was finally calmed down, he was not willing to give a call to his parents. 3.8 was not that much satisfactory for him – by his standards that prevailed at the moment, this was shameful. Comparatively thinking, in our case (in the 1990s), when we were told that we passed matriculation, this was considerably good news. But these days the burning desire that has been instilled in the minds of students and their families appears to encourage and uplift the confidence of the students to aim beyond the pass point. It is good to be able to instill the desire to be successful in the hearts of learners. The only thing we need to be careful about is the benchmarks we employ to measure the performance of the students so that we can make the students further competitive and competent. The standards have to be continuously revised and improved so that they can have impressive quality.

All these are strong indications of the extent how much the Zagre Award has become motivational and the burning desire that it implants in the minds of many students. The award has enabled many to harbor a norm of excellence and/or spirit of  competitiveness in their minds and will cumulatively and significantly enrich such a norm in the long run provided that we are committed enough to make it much more sustainable and further progressive.  The good thing is the desire that is being instilled in the minds of the parents as well as the students. And this is a basic ingredient of successful achievements because as it has been emphasized by Khera the motivation to succeed comes from the burning desire to achieve a purpose. The following story from the Khera’s book shows relationship between success and a burning desire (37-38):A young man asked Socrates the secret to success. Socrates told the young man to meet him near the river the next morning. They met. Socrates asked the young man to walk with him toward the river. When the water got up to their neck, Socrates took the young man by surprise and ducked him into the water. The boy struggled to get out but Socrates was strong and kept him there until the boy started turning blue. Socrates pulled his head out of the water and the first thing the young man did was to gasp and take a deep breath of air. Socrates asked, ‘What did you want the most when you were there?” The boy replied, “Air.” Socrates said, “That is the secret to success. When you want success as badly as you wanted the air, then you will get it.” There is no other secret. A burning desire is the starting point of all accomplishment. Just like a small fire cannot give much heat, a weak desire cannot produce great results.

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