Grades Simply Cannot Define Every Child’s Success

As 22nd-century education discussions progress, there is increasing awareness for students being nurtured to be life-ready and not simply acing the examinations that define their learning story in schools or universities. This is particularly true in the current economic scenario that these students find themselves battling with when graduating from colleges/universities – the markets are competitive, job opportunities limited with increasing automation and businesses that are letting people go simply because they cannot sustain the journey anymore and losses pile up. Educators are recognizing that there are appreciable “gaps” between the text-world and the real-world and content that has been taught and examined gives these students very little to work with when they have to adapt to industry life that is demanding and currently, facing its challenges. Those that make it, therefore, must demonstrate ‘out-of-box’ thinking, extraordinary ability to be creative and innovative – things that unfortunately our curriculum does not necessarily focus on, given its desire to cover knowledge. I am not for a moment suggesting knowledge is not important – it surely is, and the rules of games in different subject areas must be “taught” but perhaps the assessments that follow should also test them for understanding and not simply a mastery of memorization. AI today – take what Google created programs are doing – already replacing diagnosis and treatment available to patients for their health concerns using deep learning! IBM’s Watson app is the same. Medicine was a profession once regarded as a craft that only a few could master. Not anymore. 3-D printing has changed the way the retail industry operates – costs are brought down and “art” is widely available and not simply as skill at the hands of a few. Level playing field??

Conversations with HR Heads or top-level management over the past few years have indicated that they worry about the caliber coming through the ranks. Their concerns are related to the candidates producing a paper-perfect score-card but the mark sheets are devoid of skills, attitudes that are required to cope with the workplace pressures. ‘Too much investment in training” is cited as a number one reason by many for refusing candidates that have the perfect resume in terms of marks but are found lacking when it comes to basic conversational skills, ability to generate solutions, inability to make decisions or take initiative without direction. There are shout-outs by top management for those that have a desire to create, who can collaborate, develop and build, who can think like entrepreneurs and generate solutions despite the negative variables – those that could survive. Unfortunately, none of these skills are graded in a mark sheet.

Not all exam-takers are limited in terms of them succeeding in the real world. But the statistics suggest that more than 60% find it a challenge as their learning was driven by the questions in the examinations and they did very little to inculcate the right skills. Their time and effort and indeed a lot of money were invested in making sure the model answer was exam perfect. Education remained a means to an “end”, the end is the mark sheet that would allow them a ticket out of their learning days. But what about life beyond?

One can argue that students know no better and as adults and educators, defining their foundation in school, college, and university, we need to think through the changes we have to make to give these students a more well-rounded perspective and honing in the important skills of exposure, understanding grey areas (the world is not defined as black and white), the importance of ethics, and strategies, the significance of time management and project management, work-home balance, managing relationships, complexity and conflicts and the ability to switch gears when the situation demands.

There is also a strong case to be made for converge of disciplines – while I understand that all students cannot be “acing” all subjects, a deeper understanding of some of these core subjects is necessary from a functionality point of view – today an architect may not be concerned with law, but a bird’s view would not hurt; or a mechanical engineer would find financial management and literacy useful should he/she have to shift careers depending on the job market. The world cannot operate in silos and therefore, exposure remains the key for higher education especially with non-specialisation subjects to enable these students to be ready to adapt and cope in the industry as the industry is seeking – allrounders!

The rate of growth that has been exponential is already on course for a heightened space in the next decade, it is, therefore, time to ring in some fundamental changes, recognizing that marks alone do not define success. And it is also time, changes happen as a parallel process given, we have lost so much time already – lawmakers, decision-makers in boards, school leaders and teachers. And yes, the onus will lie on the students as well to make the best of the exposure provided.

A perfect score is better when it leads to deeper understanding and creation. And it surely helps to be well rounded with life skills.

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