Published: 19 March 2017
Words: Andrew Keith Walker
Sooner or later everyone takes an interest in how children are educated (usually once they get some of their own). It’s a deep parental motivation to ensure your children have the best opportunities in life, and a good education plays a central role in that. But it’s a complex topic, how do you judge what makes a good education?
Politicians are faced with selling education policies to the electorate, and most governments have spent decades boiling down the debate into the sound-bite simplicity of measuring policy success with exam grades. But grades aren’t the only measure of good education systems. Successful people tend to get good grades, there’s lots of data to support that view, but there is surprisingly little data for the assumption that good grades are a predictor of future life success. Which sounds like a paradox, but it isn’t. It illustrates the issue that an education system that prioritises good exam grades might not be attending to other key variables that influence how well an education helps children achieve success in later life.
Everyone loves stories about the likes of Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, Thomas Edison, Richard Branson and other big names who dropped out of education. But those people are statistical anomalies, significantly rarer than your chances of being struck by lightning. All studies agree that your career success equates to educational success. But the definition of success in that context is very nuanced.
It illustrates the issue that an education system that prioritises good exam grades might not be attending to other key variables that influence how well an education helps children achieve success in later life.
Take earning potential, for example. On average, lawyers earn more than scientists and engineers, and doctors earn more than lawyers. But an ambulance-chasing personal injury lawyer can earn a lot more than a brain surgeon, and a top engineer or research scientist could earn more than both. And all of them will earn less than the CEO of a listed company. Of course, earning potential isn’t the only measure of life success, but it is central to social mobility, and social mobility is what most people mean by giving a child opportunities in later life. But making the most of those opportunities depends on a range of factors. Personal fulfilment, emotional intelligence, and happiness also play a part in social mobility and earning potential, regardless of your exam results. Consider the following grade-agnostic factors in a successful education:
Everyone intrinsically understands the career importance of personal qualities that grades can’t measure, otherwise we wouldn’t need job interviews. Job interviews are psychological and social assessments, not exams. People who enjoy what they do, exhibit psychological maturity and have active social lives tend to do well in life. They also tend to get good grades, but even when they don’t, those non-academic outcomes of schooling will carry them further than socially undeveloped, psychologically immature people with good grades (which explains most of the successful drop-out stories we love to hear about).
This begs an interesting question. Studies suggest children have never been more stressed, or swamped with academic work. Meanwhile the creative, social aspect of schooling is in relative decline. So are schools that produce good exam results delivering a good education? Not necessarily, because exam results alone are not a reliable way to measure an effective education system.
At Renegade Inc. we’re all about giving people space to make up their own minds. If you want to explore this topic for yourself, here’s a bunch of interesting links we found when researching the topic, that make a good starting point for your own research. Stay curious…
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