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Your grade isn’t everything

  • Published at 12:01 am September 18th, 2016
  • Last updated at 02:19 pm September 18th, 2016
Your grade isn’t everything

With my hands clasped behind my back and gaze fixed on the starry décor of the roof, I contemplated eternity and infinity. And tried to work out the reasoning behind a very well-known law of astronomy whose statement I was familiar with: “The apparent brightness of a star is inversely proportional to the square of the distance between the star and Earth.”

I was curious. Why the square of a distance? Why not the cube or any other arbitrary number for the exponent? So I set forth to solve the mystery right there and then; undaunted and intrepid, I pounced onto the problem. Never mind the fact that I was a sixth grader who struggled with numbers.

Realising how a torchlight casts light on a wall, and figuring out that the same principle applies to stars, only at a much larger scale, I worked out the principle from the ground up, just needing to recall the principle of conservation of energy and elementary geometry. And Eureka, I thought.

Though I did not do anything as fittingly dramatic as Archimedes, it was a powerful moment for me. One that left a lasting impression on me. A moment that I owe to my dad, who urged me to never simply copy and paste all that a teacher chalks up on a blackboard, to use my own thinking and go that extra mile to learn a thing or two beyond the syllabus. Hence, he taught me to think.

A handy skill, I tell you. One that allowed me to overcome my math issue and, a few years down the road, crunch derivatives ahead of my peers and get a firm grip on the art of calculus.

Not bad. All without the benefit of dedicated tutors at each crucial step. Something that cannot be said for a large percentage of Bangladeshi students.

There seems to be a tutor craze raging on. That somehow well-intending parents are under the impression that their beloved sons and daughters are to be academically damned if they are not sent away to coaching centres.

Where they are to spend their evening, clinging with a fanatic’s zeal to every nth trick and note the tutor instructions to them. All for the coveted Golden GPA. And that is what we truly seem to have. Not an education system. Rather a grade-earning rat race.

It’s understandable, though. It is the GPA-5 and competitive entrance exam that one braves to get the enviable and scarce admission seats at DU or BUET. Not that the culture of rote learning ends there. Digging the net, I came across a Quora response on a particular query, “What are some things a BUET first year student should know?”

The top response was provided by a former graduate of EE and a grad student at University of Minnesota. In his detailed answer, he did call the teaching methodology archaic, with its emphasis on memorisation of facts, and to have some general knowledge of the world at large, to sign up for courses on edex, Khan Academy, or some other website, or risk knowing nothing even amidst the hectic schedule.

The education landscape is changing. While poverty is holding us back here and there, we are mostly held back by the poverty of thought. So let’s not rot the children’s brains. Give them a novel to read. A documentary to watch. Do not declare grades to be an end in itself

He concludes that the grades are important but the testing system methodology means that good grades and learning are not correlated, so “get the good grades but also learn,” he insisted.

Which I am here to reiterate. Learn.

Yes, there is a difference between someone who learned his way to A grade and one who just studied for the test. It shows.

Eventually, anyway. Say, when one sits for an interview at Google, where they actually state it is important to show the steps through which you had arrived.

It is even more notable that, Google, with its Big Data initiatives, uncovered that, after a year or two at their offices, employee performance only slightly correlated with GPA and so they had entirely stopped asking for grade transcripts save for new grads and the occasional case when someone has been out of school for a long time.

Or so claimed Laszlo Bock, the Senior Vice President of People Operations at Google, in his 2013 interview with The New York Times. He did add that this is perhaps because GPA gauges success in an artificial environment.

The artificiality of the academic cocoon is of course something that modern day pedagogy is becoming increasingly cognisant of. To address it, some are going quite far. Bill Gates, in his blog, tells of visiting Ricky Thacker’s classroom at Betsy Layne High School, where the very classic classroom setup is dismantled and reimagined.

Teachers have no special designated desks, each wall being assigned a white board and the classroom painted in bright orange and yellow to give it an energetic vibe. The unorthodox teaching methodology puts the students first, engages them in creative ways with the course content rather than the traditional shock and awe factor of authority. And so far the school is doing all the better for it.

It is not only rich nations on the other side of the Atlantic applying innovative pedagogy. Right here in Iran, where I just happen to reside, Dr Shahrokh MirzaHosseini serves as the president of Avicenna International School, Tehran.

I was given the chance to attend a faculty meeting, and he presented a very similar vision of what classrooms ought to be like. With charismatic witticism too, I have to add.

Think again of classrooms where teachers are not asserting their authority by having their privileged desks, with monitors assigned to each grade, and promoted with their cohorts until eighth grade, since that is where puberty hits and the resultant metamorphosis demands a new monitor -- healthy snacks being available to students in class to address their nutritional needs and such and not insisting on how to sit, as we are quite fond of doing.

All this is a sign that the education landscape is changing. While poverty is holding us back here and there, we are mostly held back by the poverty of thought. So let’s not rot the children’s brains under excessive private tutorship. Give them a novel to read. A documentary to watch. Do not declare grades to be an end in itself.

And when stuck on a problem, trust their ability to handle it. The human brain is a wondrous biological apparatus. You will be surprised at what it can do.

Syed Raiyan Nuri Reza is a freelance contributor writing from Tehran.

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