Karen Arnold, a Boston College researcher, found that of 81 high school class valedictorians whose careers she followed, 95 percent went to college (with average grade point average or GPA of 3.6). Sixty percent eventually had graduate degrees; 90 percent had professional jobs, with 40 percent in top-tier jobs. How many went on to change or run the world, or even impressed the world? None, zilch, zero.
What schools teach
Eric Barker wrote Barking Up the Wrong Tree: The Surprising Science Behind Why Everything You Know About Success is (Mostly) Wrong. He observes, “… what makes students likely to be impressive in the classroom is the same thing that makes them less likely to be home-run hitters outside the classroom.”
Barker feels that schools reward students who consistently do what they’re told. Academic grades correlate only loosely with intelligence; standardized tests are better at measuring intelligence quotient. Grades are at best predictors of self-discipline, conscientiousness and ability to comply with rules.
Students often think their goal is to get high grades, not to learn. They conform, parrot the teachers and give answers that teachers want to hear.
School vs Life
Arnold believes that valedictorians “…are extremely well-rounded and successful, personally and professionally, but they’ve never been devoted to a single area in which they put all their passion. That is not usually a recipe for eminence.”
School has clear rules; life often doesn’t. School is a controlled environment. Like what Forrest Gump’s mama said, “Life’s like a box of chocolates. You don’t know what you’ll get when you open it.”
When there’s no clear path to follow, academic high achievers tend to break down. Shawn Achor, a researcher at Harvard, found that “college grades aren’t any more predictive of subsequent life success than rolling dice.” A study of over 700 American millionaires showed their average college GPA was 2.9. Many are even dropouts.
Barker continued, “The second reason is that schools reward being a generalist. There is little recognition of student passion or expertise. The real world, however, does the reverse.”
This means that if you want top grades, but you’re most passionate about math, you need to stop working on it alone, and try to also get high grades in history, science and civics. This generalist approach doesn’t lead to expertise. In real life, we almost all go on to careers in which one prominent skill is highly rewarded and other skills aren’t that important, although helpful.
Finland’s educational system
In the 1970s, Finland’s educational system was evaluation-based, just like those in other Western countries. More than 40 years ago, it decided to change, and today Finnish students and their educational system are No. 1 in the world, while the US ranks No. 29. According to the Business Insider, here’s why:
Finnish children don’t start school until they’re 7 years old. All children, bright or not, are taught in the same classroom. They rarely take exams, and aren’t asked to do homework. There’s only one mandatory standardized test — at age 16. Students are not measured during the first six years of education.
Here are some quick figures — 30 percent of children receive extra help during their first nine years in school; science classes are capped at 16 students to allow all students to perform daily experiments; elementary students have 75 minutes of recess versus 27 minutes in many countries; 93 percent graduate from high school; almost 60 percent go to college, while slightly over 40 percent go to vocational schools. The difference between the weakest and strongest students is very negligible. Since 2001, Finnish children are tops in reading, science and math.
Teachers in Finland spend four hours in the classroom, and two hours per week for professional development; all teachers have a master’s degree, but are fully state-subsidized. With the same number of teachers, Finland covers 600,000 students, while New York has 1.1 million. Teachers are selected from the top 10 percent of graduates; in 2010, 6,600 teachers applied for 660 primary school training slots. Ten years ago, a teacher’s starting salary is $29,000. Teachers with 15 years’ experience earn 102 percent of what graduates in other college courses make, even if there are no merit pay increases for teachers. Teachers are given the same status as doctors and lawyers.
Finland spends 30 percent less per student than the US. The national curriculum serves only as broad guidelines. The school system is 100 percent government-funded. Finland beats other countries in education with similar demographics.
Education is a great equalizer — only if students learn what and how they ought to learn.
Ernie is the chairman of the American Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines’s Human Capital Committee, co-chairman of the Employers Confederation of the Philippines’s Technical Working Group on Labor Policy and Social Issues and past president of the People Management Association of the Philippines. He can be reached at email@example.com.