The trouble with school exams, and the “testing” model for education in general, is that they ingrain a very destructive idea, in the minds of students. They ingrain the idea that perfection ever existed, and moreover, that it was actually attainable. Why is this such a destructive idea? Because it gives people an “inner” focus. It makes people wait to be validated (by others), before doing what we might envision. It ingrains (on the periphery) in the mind, and invisible “judge”, to whom we might present our efforts, whereafter they might be validated or not validated. The trouble is, that judge doesn’t exist, (certainly not after school), and so the mind ends up projecting this judge onto many subjects AFTER the person has left school, university. This could be a boss, or “the market-at-large”. We become obsessed with an impossible dichotomy between success and failure, asking “will this action succeed? Or will it fail?”. Often, obsession with success and failure can send us into a paralysis, whereby we do nothing, thus learning nothing, gaining zero experience, and remaining stagnant. So asking “will this action succeed or fail?” looks at it the wrong way — because 9 times out of 10, action, in of itself, is better than no action at all. Furthermore, in the real world, people must have an outward focus (as well as an inward one). If we cannot look beyond ourselves, then we cannot understand what other people might want, we cannot understand their problems, we may struggle to relate to them, and we may struggle to analyse markets and deliver to customers.

A second problem, is that it’s mostly knowledge-based. A bare minimum of subjects offer some, if any, practical related aspects to courses. Assessment is usually done with papers. And almost never, are there any creative, positive sum aspects to examination (apart from art, but even then). Everything is given via a syllabus, and a “correct answer”. The trouble is, “correct answers” assume perfect information, which rarely happens in the real world. In most cases, everybody is “making shit up as they go along”. It’s not about “choosing the right answer”, but more about “doing the best action”. If we take the same attitude as is promoted in school, i.e. “that there must be a correct answer to choose from”, then we would never get anything done, for we would always be striving to achieve perfect information, before making any decisions.

Thirdly, it also punishes students for trying, when they make a mistake. Students then can become error-conscious, trying to “limit mistakes”, instead of trying to maximise growth. Needless to say, introducing a growth mindset into students BEFORE they got to workplaces, instead of after, would reap huge, huge benefits in the long run. Instead, students end up being hampered by a serious of delusional, limiting beliefs. And everybody loses.

The system that we built to assess students as to their proficiency in the relatively short-run, ended up damaging their proficiency in the long-run.

Apart from anything, it also makes students think “I can’t get experience yet, I don’t have my degree!”, meanwhile, employers are saying “yeah, that’s great about your degree, but what’s your experience?”. Enterprise, and the Education system are fundamentally disconnected. And like any disconnected relationship, it usually produces less-than-optimal outcomes, and there’s a lot of pain involved for both parties.

A better system might involve learning integrating work experience into daily parts of children’s education. That means one day per-week spent on a task, of some kind, or in a job, or working on something practical, utilising the theoretical knowledge learnt in the classroom. As students progressed, they could get more responsibility, and integrate into deeper roles within the business (in a way that delimits any potential risk to the organisation). At a base level, students could even contribute ideas to projects created by businesses/NGOs, in a similar way to how hackathons operate. Here, there is absolutely no risk to businesses, and what’s more, they get free ideas, at zero-cost. Perhaps students producing ideas that the organisation liked could go on-site to work on them, with the team, gaining even more valuable experience.

Further, we might scale back, or completely remove, exams. This might sound crazy, but quite honestly, do you, if you are an employer, really give a shit about somebody’s grades? And do grades really reflect on an individual’s ability? Only sometimes. My thesis is that exams do more harm than good.

The central tragedy is that learning is meant to be fun. Learning is always so enjoyable as a pre-schooler, learning is the essence of life, and personally, I’ve fallen back in love with learning after finishing school. While in school, I always loved learning, although it was seldom what I was being taught in a classroom, and usually something extra-curricular, that I’d just found. If we instil a boring, depressing, punishing, judgemental and narrow system of learning upon kids, then what will their relationship be to learning, by the time they leave school? They may look on it with dread. And who could blame them? And moreover, when you think about it, does it not seem extremely odd to you, that children might dread learning? Does that not seem extremely dystopian in some sense, especially given that a child is a learning being? If a child does not learn, then they do not survive (at least, not 500+ years ago). What I’m trying to communicate, very poorly I might add, is that learning is interwoven in our DNA, it’s part of who we are as human beings, and if a system has managed to make learning something depressing, then it is a very bad system indeed. Instead, we should seek to make learning a more personal endeavour. This means allowing students more flexibility, choice, and individuality in what they study. Lifelong learning is a very personal thing, and learning at school should be no different. Further, if students are learning different things, instead of the same syllabus, then that intrinsically increases incentives for them to communicate, and to share their knowledge, in ways that Tedx speakers generally encourage, as if it’s some new thing. They learn to value each other, as sources of information, therein, recognising the benefits of collaboration, and instilling an attitude of sharing.

This isn’t rocket science, and I’m really surprised that I have to say this, and that this hasn’t been implemented already, but hey, who says that dinosaurs no longer exist?


You can’t fail

There is no perfection

There is no judge

Education needs an overhaul

Children would benefit from aforementioned overhaul

Businesses would benefit from aforementioned overhaul

the end