Saturday, May 24, 2008

People get upset when their kids fail tests and exams. They get especially upset when they find out that their kid is just one casualty among many others in the cohort. They question the school practices, the competence of the teachers, they feel the pressure to get the kid some private tuition, everything except tell the kid to go study, or get his life under control or something.

What are parents really expecting when to the vast majority of them, perfection = 100%? They expect their kids to hit a target that high at primary and secondary level, and raise hell when the kid falls short within a 5% margin or so. At college level, how do we convince the same parents that because an 'A' grade describes the band from 75% and above, the pass mark actually works out to 45% and even then that's erring on the conservative.

Speaking from the experience of a foreign education, it certainly encouraged me that my profs never did pressure me for an 'A' performance. We all had the understanding that a 'C' grade was entirely satisfactory. 'C' stood for 'competent', a decent level of proficiency in the subject so that I didn't have to be shackled to my desk and textbooks all day and instead did other things with my life that weren't necessarily academic or even intellectual. I still turned in a "B+" average in the end, which meant I did spend some time studying, but my studies were never my life.

Having said that, things are quite different back here. Here people study to live, and our education experience tells us 'A' or die. We have a very penalizing attitude to our tests and exams, which filters down all the way to our setting of papers and our marking. Our papers are necessarily difficult because we hold our kids to very high performance standards. We often teach beyond their syllabus requirements, making them stretch to grasp our material. And when we mark, we usually have very high expectations of them. When they don't quite live up to our expectations, our marking reflects our disappointment. But we are loath to 'dumb it down' because no one is prepared to accept lower standards, and so the hamster wheel just keeps going faster with every subsequent batch of kids.

Wonder how many (if any) of the kids who, on entering university, suddenly realized that we were already trying to teach them the same stuff a couple of years earlier? Just asking.

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