Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Making the grade

Finding a reliable, objective and fair way of quantifying learning is the Eldorado of education. Grades are the standard way of showing how much you learned at school and of showing how well the school has taught you. There are plenty cries today to go back to more standardised tests so that schools' quality and efficiency can be assessed. Parents want to send their children to the best schools; those with the best results.

As a result students learn enough to pass the tests and constantly ask teachers if this information will be in the exam, otherwise it isn't worth learning. Teachers teach to ensure that the students pass the exams and the school remains high in the "league table" and gets generous funding. Students with good grades then naturally expect to get the good jobs.

I admit I was pretty good at the art of passing exams but when I look back I didn't really understand how to apply what I had learned until much later. The CV looked good but did that really mean much? I could have learned so much more if I had been more aware.

Clay Burrell's blog post, Why "academic excellence" no longer cuts it today, claims that mere grades are far from enough today. Passing the exam only takes you half way and Burrell names "withitness" as a vital factor; the ability to really learn and apply that knowledge. It's what gets you the job when there are several other candidates with top grades. It's about having a natural curiosity to find out more and to go beyond the limitations of the set curriculum. In most careers there is no textbook you can learn by heart, no set learning objectives. To succeed you have to go outside the walls and explore, take risks, sometimes fail and above all be open to new ideas.

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