Didn’t get the grades you were looking for? Well, maybe it doesn’t really matter.
Last Thursday, 25th August 2016, marked another day where hopeful 16 year olds received their marks for the dreaded GCSE results. Some people received news that they’ve got the highest grades possible and a number, received grades that land them down the middle or even below average.
First of all too, I want to point out, education does matter, but standardised testing doesn’t, or at least it shouldn’t be as dominant as it is; it’s purely a method of assessment to see how things are going — not the final product.
You’ll have read that the results this year displayed the sharpest decline in results year-on-year since the exams began in 1988 or that those achieving A*-C dropped to their lowest levels since 2008.
Another statistic being thrown around is that boys are ‘underachieving’ compared to girls with the BBC reporting that “The gender gap has widened further — with 71.3% of entries by girls getting a C grade or above compared with 62.4% of boys.”
Here’s why I believe we’re starting to miss the point about grading, and it’s at the peril of our children’s futures.
Education is a fire to be lit, but parents will have you believe it’s to be filled.
First of all, I’d like us to acknowledge why public education exists.
Schools are challenged with the task of developing young humans from 3 years old to when they are young adults. They are tasked with the job of ‘educating’ young people throughout their introductory years to the world, in the hope, that when they leave formal education they are equipped with the abilities they require to make a positive contribution to society.
Fair enough, makes sense, but there’s a small hitch with this.
We’re not sure what we’re educating our young people for, especially at 16 years of age.
The idea that you can be accredited a score as to how “good” you are in a subject taught in a classroom that defines your value in society is ludicrous. This model of education is too final, at best it should be diagnostic, not definite.
True education continues way beyond 16 years of age, in fact it should continue for life, so what you’re celebrating or mourning is really your parents’ perception of how you fit into society.
These grades will certainly not be the defining factor of how you actually do fit into the modern world.
Strive not to be a person of success, but rather a person of value
The big wide world
Consider the biggest corporations in the UK today, and the world; the FTSE 100. It consists of companies such as:
Unilever and more (90 more to be precise)
They’re pretty much household names, businesses that you’d say can’t be touched — right?
And yet, over the last two decades, 50% of FTSE 100 companies that existed in 1999 have dropped off the index, most within the time frame of these young hopefuls being alive.
Today is very different to ten years ago and I’m sure the next ten will bring even more disruption (aka innovation).
The advent of technology and the ubiquity of the Internet have meant that innovation has been supercharged at a rate that seemingly no one can keep up with, not even the businesses whose job it is to protect and the true achievers don’t concern themselves by societal norms, they constantly innovate [RIP Blockbuster, Woolworths, Kodak… etc].
In 2011, Netflix, which was founded in 1997 selling DVD’s, started to move towards streaming video and 2 years later in 2013 it proved too much for the giant movie provider of the day, Blockbuster, as it forced them into administration.
A small company you may have heard of worth $350bn, Facebook, was conceived in 2004 (by a college dropout) and within a mere 12 years it is the biggest media agency on the planet, connecting 1.71 billion users, it’s had a movie made about it and now employs over 25,000 people.
The largest taxi firm on the planet, that doesn’t actually own any vehicles, Uber, started in the last 5–7 years, has 6,700 employees and is serious about creating driverless cars.
Airbnb, is one of the biggest hoteliers in the world, doesn’t own any real estate and yet operates in 34,000 cities throughout 191 countries and is valued at $20bn and employs 1,600 people (Oh, and he was studying design when he set up the company).
Now, I hear you, these are the big boys, these are the unicorns of the world. These companies are not a solid representation of the overall economy. However, they are blinding examples of the innovation that is disrupting old markets and creating new markets. Couple this with the fact that 100 million businesses are launched annually, that’s 11,000 every hour (or 3 a second) and with research suggesting that the average person will move careers at least 3 times before their 30’s, you have to admit that’s a lot of people leaving academia and not finding the promised land of job satisfaction.
Is the degree really the prerequisite to enter the jobs market?
Although nor should you expect to, there’s a long road ahead for every school leaver whether that’s GCSE or PHD (but perhaps your teachers and parents forget to tell you that?).
Self belief, attitude and determination is success, not grades
Between 1950’s and 90’s, formal education was the answer, where achieving GCSE’s (O levels), A-levels and degrees earned you a secure and well paid job. One you’d work in for decades, retire and claim a pension.
That model has been irrevocably damaged and is disappearing, even if you achieve excellent grades you’re not guaranteed a job. According to research from the Office of National Statistics, 47% of recent graduates in the UK are in non-graduate jobs where a degree was not usually required as part of the job specification.
And also, failing grades isn’t the end of the world, sometimes it helps you find the path you should be taking.
Here’s 10 jobs that don’t even need a degree, plus they’re good money, offering more than the average graduate earns.
However, I don’t believe jobs are all about money either.
Do what you love and success will follow. Passion is the fuel behind a good career.
You need more to succeed in todays market, and usually they’re more vocational or intangible assets.
Things like emotional intelligence for the ability to effectively collaborate with others, you need to take risks and apply creativity towards problem solving in order to innovate in a world desperate to change, you need to know how to add value in a variety of new ways to assist businesses. Especially in businesses who are tearing up old models for a future far different to the past, that (with all due respect) most of your parents can’t fathom.
Even school leaders have recently said ‘parents may not always know what is best’ for their children and that their needs may fall ‘outside of their own experience’ (cue the swath of over 40’s calling me patronising 🙄).
Everybody has genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb, it will live its whole life believing it’s stupid.
Do Schools Kill Creativity?
The big question I’d like to pose, is why are we drilled that without good grading from formal education we are not worthy members of society or we are lesser than our fellow man who has achieved academically?
Multi-billion pound companies can’t even keep up with their own industry, let alone expecting 16 year olds to do so who are in a classroom of 30 reading theoretical literature that’s probably already 10 years out of date.
Sir Ken Robinson, author, speaker and International advisor on education, gives an interesting, insightful and humorous talk on the state of Western education.
If you want it —Reverse engineer it
Do not worry about that which you can’t control.
I guarantee that the reason you didn’t do well in a particular topic is because you either A) didn’t enjoy it, or B) it didn’t interest you and they both go hand-in-hand.
The most effective way of being successful is to reverse engineer what it is you want to be successful in. Understand what it takes to do well at something and then develop the pre-requisites for it.
The education system is there to assess how well you conform to instruction, memory and discipline. And by the way, the people who decide what you’ll learn are either
A) adults who know not of what you are going to face in the future, and therefore not knowing the skills you’ll need
or B) adults who may not even be around to see the future.
The educational curriculum, the way things are taught, is decided for you by voters, and usually the older end of the adult spectrum (aka parents/grandparents).
So, here’s the nuts and bolts of it, politicians will set forth an educational agenda that wins them votes and ultimately it’s to please your parents, not you.
All this stress, anxiety and distain your experiencing is just to please your parents. Just to give them an ounce of relief that “you’re going to be okay”.
Sorry mom and dad but those grades, they’re an illusion, and it’s proven by science.
A Desire to Repeat Long Term Leads to Learning
Neuroscience shows that they’re are 100 trillion (that’s 100,000,000,000,000,000,000) synapses in the brain, and you must pay a lot of attention to encode a memory long term.
How many of you daydreamed rather than listening about Pythagorean Theorem, the 1066 Battle of Hastings or Shakespearean Sonnets?
Repeating information can help turn short term information (of which the average brain can only hold up to 7 items for no more than 30 seconds) into long term, but how much of the information you learn from school will you repeat or will you need to repeat?
A German psychologist tested the time within which we can remember things, called the Forgetting Curve, and found that after trying to memorise 2300 words only 5% could be remembered after 3 days.
Hence why there’s such a thing as revision. Not to learn, but to remember.
And here’s a major difference between learning and passing exams, school teaches us to memorise to pass exams and earn an accreditation but learning is perennial, it is ever changing and it is never complete.
Education is a fire to be lit, not a vessel to be filled
Developing your knowledge so that you can continuously add value to a society that is constantly evolving is something you’re going to have to get used to — hence why it’s important to do something you love, you’re going to have to stick at this for years.
I mean for goodness sake, if there’s anything we’ve learned it’s that no one even knows what the economy will look like in the next 5 years, so how do they know that your A* in Design and Technology is really an indicator of how well you’re going to do in the future!?
You might actually hate DT in practice.
Of course, we can make a good guess at what’s important for a young human to know.
You’re going to need to be able to communicate (English), after all that’s what set us Homo Sapiens apart from the Neanderthals thousands of years ago. Maths is important as it governs the world we live in, but is it more important than the Creative Arts?
The rest of school, is merely an attempt to expose you to a variety of topics that you may find interesting or you may not. And that’s the true value of formal education
(including the social elements of course — friends, advice, protection, security etc but lets take that as a given, we’re on about “knowledge” here).
Who gives a damn if you fail at some of them, do okay at others and excel in only one or two!?
Or did I miss the memo that Einstein was actually a wonderful horticulturist as well as a fantastic physicist? No, he was a normal human, and actually an average student, who just dedicated his life to something he was immensely interested in.
So, don’t get me wrong, schooling is very important but the notion that a person who achieves 16 A*s across the board has more “prospects” to offer the world is based on correlations found in a period of time where there was tremendous growth (hence why you’re parents are labelled the Baby Boomers).
But don’t confuse correlation with causation.
The Crux of the Matter
Find the topics that interest you the most, that you love learning about. Never stop looking for the things that you most enjoy because, to be successful in anything you do, you’re going to need to become fairly obsessed with it.
The only thing that sets apart a human from another is their attitude and determination to bring value to solve a problem, something a lot of diligent students probably possess but which grading can’t fully uncover.
People can demonstrate this in other ways too (and usually more effectively); volunteering, internships, apprenticeships to name a few.
All employers want to know is will you be a diligent and loyal employee and that you can bring value to their business.
Take it from me, in 5 years when you’re probably in a job role that didn’t even exist today, they won’t be asking are you working hard, have you done your homework or giving you performance tests. They’ll just be content that you’re alive and happy.
So focus on finding something that makes you happy and no, you’re not meant to know what that is yet, you probably won’t until you’re 30, 40 or even 50 so stop stressing!
Life should be about doing things that make you feel alive and keep you happy. You shouldn’t be scared of failure or the unknown. They’re necessary parts of the journey to your destination.
As I sit here, after going through University, into a “real job” and now undertaking entrepreneurism for myself, I reflect and realise that good grades may pave the path you’re looking for but they’re just as likely not to.
The key to all the things that have proven fruitful for me (academically and not), are when I follow what interests me, what I can apply myself to 110%, what I enjoy doing and find valuable.
Take every challenge with positivity and a willingness to continually learn and you’ll be absolutely fine. In fact, I’d say you’ll thrive.
— but maybe we should take an exam on that!?