Don’t let exams decide your fate

By Benjamin Chiang

This morning, I saw the video above. It was a rant about how we should not let exams results decide our fate. In short, the song presents a world where students learn things they never use in life (“How many equations, subjects and dates did you memorize just before an exam never to use again?”), where kids are judged because of things they are forced to learn (“So that means Cherrelle thinks she’s dumb, because she couldn’t do a couple sums”) and where school never prepares you for life (“Test us with tests, but the finals are never final, Because they never prepare us for the biggest test which is survival!”)

The validity of the message in this song depends strongly on the tenacity of the individual. If you are clear what your interests, motivations, directions and career compass point to – then school may be more of a hindrance than an aid.

More often than not however, school is the fertile soil where people grow, mingle, encouraged to think critically. In this environment, a general background of global issues are taught and more importantly, skills in numeracy and literacy are imparted. These are all basics an individual needs to grasp, before one can embark on greater self actualizing projects.

Even with skills you think you’ll never use, like the Pythagoras' Theorem and arcane Chemistry formulas, these things train the mind to become more agile and even build the basis for three dimensional problem solving.

The rapper sings about how emerging new technologies such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter are all inspiration for their potential future. But to build systems like this require a tremendous amount of logic, mathematics and application of algebra, and guess where you’ll be learning all this? That’s right – school.

Schools and exams may not be the best gauge of an individual’s talent and character, but approach it objectively – it is a far easier way to open doors and to discover your calling.

To an employer, he needs to know if you can do the job. He can only assess you in two ways: through your academic qualifications, or through track-record work and experience. The later being a path laden with risks, uncertainties and require gorilla strength discipline.

The Zuckerbergs, Gates, Bransons and Johnny Depps of the world are outliers (and there is a book on that if you’re interested).The social condition they were born in provided them with opportunity to hone their skill away from the academic route. They have put in the hours from a young age when opportunity cost was low. But statistically, these personalities are rare.

I’m not saying that the school and exam system is the best system, but there is no other framework to manage the billions of young minds and/or provide society a means of assessment.

What employers should do however, is to divorce academic qualifications from wage structures. Your grades should not determine how far you can go, and what you can earn.

The ownership of a degree or a masters, merely mean that you’re trained to do a piece of work. It doesn’t mean you actually can do the work. It also is no guarantee of how far you can go. It is no measure of how much people like you. It is merely a point on a chart in your life and it takes a whole lot of other skills to carry on the trend.

So let’s stop being so obsessed with academic qualifications.

At the same time, let’s stop dissing schools and exams, because it has proven to have armed billions of young people across the globe with enough skills to defend their own asses, to be independent and to be socially mobile.

This article first appeared on Five Stars And A Moon. It is reproduced with permission.


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