Education, is No Longer About Learning, Is it all about the Grades!


Russell Williams – Educator & Entrepreneur

ID-100162245Just a couple of weeks ago, an examination centre in the hitherto anonymous Indian state of Bihar gained notoriety for the rampant cheating taking place at the examination centre there. Many around the world even here in the region scoffed and said it’s not happening here.

Well, I guess that’s what the folks in Atlanta, Georgia, were saying over their bagels or waffles and coffee. That is, until several senior educators and examination officials had been found guilty of what has been described as the USA’s largest ever cheating scam.

So what is the motivation for all this cheating? Could it be that our school systems are no longer about producing educated students who are capable of performing in the world of work? Instead we produce legions of exam passers! We are obsessed by having our children complete school with 12, 14 or 16 CXCs and 5 or 6 CAPE subject passes yet they still know nothing.

My memory of my high school days are as clear as if they were yesterday. I remember the day I came home and told my father I have 5 options at “O”-Level. His response was “woodwork or metalwork?” To which I asked, “what about them?”, “Choose one!” he retorted. I was rather aggravated to say the least that my father would waste an option on a subject I had little interest and just a little more ability.

What I didn’t realise at the time was that it wasn’t about obtaining a pass in the subject – which was just as well as I got an F! It was about learning and gaining skills and an understanding of the processes involved in making things. These are concepts and principles that seem alien in today’s modern education system, where the emphasis is on attaining high pass rates and teaching to the test.

In an age where students at all levels can pass everything, even with high honours such as Magna Cum Laude, yet possess little or no understanding of the true essence of the subject studied and not even jot about how to apply it. They lack key requirements of what the world demands and has always required, such as analysis, problem solving and critical thinking. This is where the quest to excel at tests and the reliance upon grades and certification has led us.

I guess like most youths, I didn’t always see eye to eye with my father, though the stark reality is that I have noticed myself sounding more and more like him as time goes on. One of my teachers wrote on my report card, something to the effect that “Russell has the makings of a scholar.” I felt pleased with the compliment and couldn’t understand why my father had an issue with it.

A scholar can be defined as a distinguished academic, and one definition of academic is “lacking practical relevance” or “of only theoretical interest”. My father could make or repair pretty much anything, from a coffee table, bike parts or a watch and he knew in this world one must be able to do more than write a thesis.

Despite all the talk of the “Knowledge Economy”, I think it’s worth noting that the only valuable thesis’ are patented and that’s because they have a practical application! So I think we should take a moment of pause and cease the seemingly insatiable quest for grades and education for merely academic purposes and return to a practice of equipping students with essentials skills such as analysis, questioning and reasoning so that they can make a contribution to their communities and society.

Image Courtesy of Free Digital Photos.net