By Kasun Kamaladasa –
When looking for smart dog to be your next best friend, what kind of traits would you consider the “best”?
Would you go for a golden retriever that blindly obeys your every command or a Husky that could understand boundaries but will not play dead to be fed a cookie?
Even though you most probably never owned a golden retriever, a Husky or any kind of dog, depending on your life experience and upbringing you’d probably pick one of these dogs because of its obedience or independence.
All dogs have their perks and quirks but the interesting thing about choosing a dog is there is no absolute “best” dog. Depending your needs, we can choose a playful partner for our children, guide dog for our blind aunt, sheep herding dogs for our uncle at the farm or a guard dog to guard our houses and riches.
Why did you pick the Husky or the Golden Retriever?
I may have misled you with my question asking about two dogs instead of asking simply which dog breed is the smartest. I attributed qualities normally people would have very strong opinions about further blinding you to the fact that these dogs might have other good or bad qualities. I also withheld information about possibilities of training a Husky with a dog trainer or that even a golden retriever might be disobedient depending on its upbringing. Most importantly I mentioned an ambiguous quality, “smarter”. Which is a quality that is hard to measure objectively.
Asking the correct questions when addressing a problem could shape the way we perceive our world. So ask yourself, who do we consider smart in society? what is our measurement stick? How has this measurement stick tainted our perception of children and students? How could you be smart in different ways? what other questions do you need to ask when we pick a candidate for a University or a Career?
Benchmarking “intelligence” (Who is smart)
Most of Sri Lanka seem to be convinced that sole measurement required for a University or Job is intelligence and that intelligence can be measured accurately with A/L and O/L. Countless trade unions keep trying to use this excuse to Limit representation in their fields from people with different experiences and abilities. From university entry criteria to entry in to professional circles and even the requirements for government positions all point to the same fact. A/L and O/L marks are inexplicably significant.
You could argue that A/L results do really give a proper intelligence rating and that is sufficient for entry criteria for Universities or Jobs. The trouble is our society is taking it a few steps further. We are equating A/L results to absolute intelligence and black marking students with lower grades.
Doctor’s unions, Engineering student bodies and other groups claim that private universities are bad for the country because they will allow “less intelligent” people to get degrees in Medicine or Engineering. They are convinced that this as a selfless act and only way of preserving ethics and standards of their profession but time has failed to prove this hypothesis.
Coming back to our question “are A/Ls really the cut-off criteria we should use to grant access for higher education?”
A lesson from our neighbors
The same way you would choose a Husky or a Golden retriever depending on what kind of traits you would like, lot of countries have multiple criteria to fulfill for university entry, in hopes of making their admissions reflect a broader range of social qualification. Some have exceptions for people who have not had the luxury to do A/L properly when they were young, to qualify for jobs and higher education. Back to school initiatives in US, second career programs in Canada, Pre-bachelor courses in Australia and Foundation courses in UK are a few examples.
Some universities value progress and success in workplace; for example, if you worked as a technician in an engineering company that would translate to earned credits in state universities in the US. Performance in athletics and sports which showcase a students’ resilience and adaption will grant the student athlete into prestigious “Ivy-League” colleges.
So dear reader, even if the dog you dream of is a one with a golden coat, you don’t always have to limit yourself to a Golden Retriever, you will find that you may as well be happy with Cocker Spaniel or Finnish Spitz just by understanding what the real requirement is.
The real requirement
So how can we broaden our success criteria so that students with a wider range of intelligence get a chance at higher education without risking the quality of enrollment? That is obviously up for discussion by the experts, but here are a few things that can be used to distinguish whether a student is accomplished in other ways than just plain old A/Ls.
- Work experience that would give an insight on to the practical skills of a student
- Volunteering experience that would show the compassionate side of the student
- Individual projects that showcase project management skills as well as communication skills
- Standardized and specific aptitude tests like GRE, MCAT, GMAT that would give the student another chance at redeeming themselves
- Inclusion of interviews that showcase the communication and presentation skills of the student.
All the above criteria are measured in countries such as UK, Australia, Germany.
Because you don’t want an ordinary Poodle or a vicious Wolf guarding your sheep nor would you choose a German Shepherd who cannot run due to an accident or old age.
In other words, we as a society have to ask what good is a doctor with good grades who cannot arrive in time to their own appointment. Or a doctor that talks over a patient or tries to prescribe medicine before you even tell him how you feel? What good is an engineer who has a gold medal in his studies but can’t communicate his mathematical understanding to his construction crew? What good is a salesman who can’t sell a single car but has A+ in marketing strategies?
One of the best cases for how honoring work experience could be rewarding for both individuals and society comes from a man name John Hunter who was born in 1728 in the Scottish Isles. He suffered from dyslexia hence performed poorly at school. He could not get entry to Medical school but was able to learn anatomy by assisting his elder brother William with dissections in William’s anatomy school in Central London. Hunter later became the pioneer in experimental surgery. Hunter’s approach to experimentation in surgery was novel for the time, and remains the standard for surgical research to this day.
Responsibility of Educators when having an adaptive Educational system.
There is a possibility that somewhere down the line you realize you can’t maintain a Husky because you failed to ask the correct questions and that you are better off having a Golden Retriever. You have to consider giving the Husky up for adoption or getting help looking after it or maybe exchanging it for a Golden Retriever instead.
Setting new criteria would mean that educators should always double check if they achieved the expected out-come from the students they picked. At least every 5-10 years we should see whether the new engineering graduates we picked can really communicate as we expected. If not, we need to make extra effort to train them on these skills or allow for a career transition and make arrangements to figure out how to assess communication skills in future candidates.
There are countless examples in the world which show integrating people from different professions and backgrounds have made breakthroughs and advancements in fields that would never have been possible with people within the same profession.
One interesting example is Professor Alison Marsden. She graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering in 1988. In 2005, she was able to work with a fellow professor in developing “Fontan reconstruction” a method used to treat Heart Defects (ventricle defects in children). Now she is an associate Professor of Pediatrics (Cardiology) and of Bioengineering who has published more than 80 peer reviewed journal papers.
Make belief self-value. You are not your A/L results.
Perhaps the greatest tragedy that our younger generation face, is the public humiliation when they receive their A/L results. The examination is such a cornerstone of coming of age in Sri Lanka, that everyone who goes through it have to involuntarily disclose their results to friends, relatives and even coworkers or general acquaintances they meet in later life.
The inevitable inferiority complexes or superiority complexes that result in part of this public display of examination results, leaves a burden on students that cannot be redeemed. It is on par with persons who are physically or sexually abused that associate themselves as partially to blame and cannot escape the guilt of the incident. Modern society accepts that dressing inappropriately or getting drunk doesn’t put the blame on the raped victim. Yet people who do poorly at examinations are made to feel that they are not capable, and do not deserve a second chance.
The beauty of a dog is in the eyes of the beholding owner. If you picked the Husky because you thought she was pretty, does it mean that the Golden Retriever was ugly and worthless? Our education system and society seems to think so.
Chihuahuas – a lesson in classification
Thanks to our innate human ability to seek resemblance and classify things most of us, if we were even shown a Chihuahua would never consider it as a real dog. Whatever we may feel looking at this small toy like dog, a Chihuahua in its own right is a dog. A dog that many people who live in flats could enjoy thanks to its small size and uniqueness.
How does this apply to education you may ask? Think about the times that you’ve pictured an ideal student. Are they constantly getting A+s on quizzes and obedient and well kept? The classification of a “good” student that deserves a higher education is ever changing with the requirements of the industry. An unorganized student with limited long-term memory but with a slight OCD, might be ideal for debugging code. A compassionate, attentive student with higher emotional intelligence might be better suited for a managerial position or a HealthCare worker.
The excellence of an educational system should be measured by how we capture both these qualities and expand our classification of a “good student” so that they can pursue satisfactory careers that contribute to society.
As we found out in the previous paragraphs, finding the perfect dog for may turn out to be a ridiculously difficult task. But it gets even more ridiculous if you limit yourself to a box and ask “Chihuahua or Poodle?” rather than looking at the traits that you really want in a dog. No matter which dog you choose, you will always have a pet. You will have to look after them and they will have different problems during upbringing and different solutions depending on where you live, how you live and what you can afford.
Sadly, not all your friends and family will like the same dog that you do. They might need a different breed or even a cat.
There are no absolute benchmarks to assess the value of a student. The requirements of society change and our education system should broaden its
enrollment criteria to offer students a fair chance of redeeming themselves
according to their own merits. By changing the narrow classification of a perfect
student, we should bring back the dignity and respect that most people seem to
lose in life after A/Ls. After all, higher education is our great social leveler. Perhaps the only thing that allows a person to change their level in society other than marrying a rich spouse or winning a lottery. Are we really in the right by denying all these students admission by saying that someone who has “bad” marks in A/Ls do not have enough intelligence? After all, when it comes to the great social leveler, we should at least give it the same amount of thought that we would when choosing our next dog.
This is a complicated metaphor and I hope most readers are capable of understanding this. It’s high time we understand the limitations of our measurements and learn how to implement better ones. If not, we will remain slaves of our own senseless creations forever.
*Kasun Kamaladasa physician graduated from Stavropol State University, Russia