Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Being qualified vs being educated

First off, as an industry insider, I don't believe that our ever-improving exam results is in any part due to grade inflation. If the letter writer is concerned that we are handing out cheap As, it isn't true. We and the kids really do work our collective butts off to achieve those results.

What our industry is highly proficient at is quality control, emphasis on control. We have identified the factors that make the 'A' grade and distilled them into a system that, if followed as prescribed, will give the student every chance of success for a desired outcome at the exams. It's a system that handsomely rewards the obedient student -- the one that does what he is told to the letter. Study this. Do it this way. And when everybody studies the same material and does it the same way, the As come pouring down like manna from heaven. Our children are nothing, if not obedient. And as far as tangible indicators go, the industry has achieved its highest criterion year after year. Everything is transparent and fair, and the customer is more than satisfied.

But if our new acting co-CEO is going to get his way, This system that we've so studiously developed over the years will to have to go.

What Mr acting co-boss has identified is that there is a huge difference between being qualified and being educated. The industry is excellent at qualifying our students. Every factory follows a uniform standard of teaching, learning and assessment, each product follows a uniform assembly-line process and passes through stringent quality control checks before being certified fit for the next level of processing.

The good thing is that the system ensures very little waste. The dropout rate is low, and there are learning and career opportunities available for everyone who leaves the system without necessarily following it through all the way to the end. The not so good thing is that at every level, each individual product is barely distinguishable from another -- being mass-produced within predetermined specs. Totally obedient, but empty; non-functional until programmed, or at least given very specific instructions. And it isn't their fault if something screws up, because you didn't give clear enough instructions. Yes, in the end, the qualified student is very good at taking orders, not half so good at giving them, and hopeless when working unsupervised. Just ask local employers.

The industry hasn't quite figured out how to educate students quite as well as how we qualify them. Education occurs in a much more chaotic environment than we are used to. It requires lots of space and time for unsupervised creativity; for failure; for mistakes; and for problems to be solved by the kids themselves. Not hypothetical problems in class, but real ones in life. Messy problems involving emotions, issues with peer socializing and personal safety which we adults are too anxious to step in and take over before the poor delicate things hurt themselves. Minor bumps, bruises, scratches, blood, mud and tears are part and parcel of the hard knocks of education, and we adults must learn to deal with these problems in proportionality to their occurrence. But as we industry employees have now been made aware, every ounce of prevention is far better than a lawsuit.

We need our future adults to exercise human judgement. We need them to be innovative and adaptable. We need confident decision-makers, who can work with and identify relevant partners in the pursuit of new opportunities. We need brave adventurers who explore unfamiliar paths and rugged individuals who can work around and through obstacles to attain their desired outcomes (preferably legally permissible ones). In order to get such people, they cannot be handed everything they want on a plate when they are young. We can't say to them, if this is what you want, then this is how you're going to get it. Instead, we have to follow them on their own path, help them up when they fall (or fail), discuss with them their learning points, and then let them go again. It'll be one horribly messy school system, but the average grade will be back to a more realistic 'C' since most kids won't be spending their time cramming for the sake of cramming any longer, but rather on their own interests and pursuits, many of which are ungradable except to their own standards of personal engagement. Education can't be manufactured. It's a craft.

For now, it looks like the boss is asking for a paradigm change in the industry-wide mission, and as a result, a major overhaul of our systems. It's a much needed change, but I wonder if we can use the momentum we've already achieved and just change track at the next switch, or whether we have to hit the brakes, come to a stop and completely reverse the train in the opposite direction. Either way, like it or not, change has to come.

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