Friday, March 18, 2016

Education and Success


In all probability, most of the richest people in the world today were not exceptional academicians at school.  Most of the powerful political leaders might not have scored very high marks at school.  Conversely, the top scorers at school need not become highly successful in life. 

In short, academic brilliance particularly at school seems to have little to do with success in life if we associate success with conquering certain quanta of wealth or power (or both). 

More scandalising is the possibility that many of the best scholars at school did not achieve anything much in life by way of what is normally meant by success.  I don’t know if any detailed research has been done on this recently.  I know that psychologist Lewis Terman (1877-1956) carried out a very detailed research on a large number of highly gifted students and found out that a good many of the highly gifted students did not really make it big in life.  He realised that apart from high level of intelligence or academic performance, a lot of other factors such as hard work, luck, social contacts and other skills were involved in achieving success.

More recently, Malcolm Gladwell in his book, Outliers: The Story of Success (2008), vindicated Terman’s findings. 

Success in life is not much related to the academic achievements at school.  It depends on many other factors like the support you get from your family, your inheritance of certain advantages socially, politically, economically, and so on, sheer luck, your willingness to work hard, your attitudes, willingness to make compromises, readiness to pay bribes or flatter or whatever is required...

Then why do we still attach so much importance to the students’ performance in exams?  Why do high scores matter?

The answer is simple: the scores are given much importance in the various selection processes which are perceived as the stepping stones to success.  Change the selection processes and you will see a whole paradigm shift taking place in our schools.  For example, include certain practical sessions in the selection procedures to medical colleges.  Observe the candidates interact with patients in a hospital.  Make them go through situations which test the skills required of a good medical practitioner.  Stop giving undue importance to the scores obtained in written exams.  Instead, assess the skills and knowledge really related to the profession.

The whole academic process at school will undergo a sea change if we start making such changes in the assessment methods and techniques. 

Bookish knowledge alone matters little in the march toward success in life.  Then why do we give so much importance to such knowledge in our assessment systems?  This is the question raised by the Indispire Edition 109 #EducationSystem which inspired me to write the above paragraphs.

But I hasten to add that a good lot of bookish knowledge is essential at least in some professions.  Let it not be thought that anyone can make it big merely because of luck or support from others or even the aptitude.  Knowledge is the real power.  But there is much more that is needed to be successful. 


16 comments:

  1. True..I also thought of same ideas when I see some successful people around me..!

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    1. Books are shrines and bookish people are the devotees who don't want material success! :)

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  2. wonderful Tomichan, I like your reading you blogs because you are so precise.

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    1. Happy to hear that. After all, failures are the best teachers :)

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  3. We know it sir that even great academicians have to have 'that something' apart from their bookish knowledge, to be able to make it big even in the field of education:)
    A great write as always!

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    1. Your very presence here is a great feeling, Amit ji.

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  4. A very good post with some food for thought...

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  5. I like how you've added an important disclaimer in the last paragraph. Rounds off the article in a great way !

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    1. I wanted to avoid a possible misunderstanding.

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  6. Awesome post.. I like the way you put your observations. Yes, there are some profession where bookish knowledge is more needed.

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  7. So true. Books are essential. Knowledge is must. But there are loads of other factors too that lead on to what is called 'success'. Good scores do not matter much in the long run. It is experience, life lived through actions and interactions that matters a lot.

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    1. Parentage too, as Gladwell shows in his book. Bill Gates was lucky to have parents who could afford to put him in a school that had a computer.

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