In my professional life I spend an extensive amount of time engaging with the decision makers of academic institutions across Western Canada and the Middle East. That’s right, when I am not busy writing tirades about what is wrong with the world, I actually have a job.
Recently, I attended a meeting at a very professional, forward thinking private career college based in downtown Vancouver. We spent the meeting discussing the development of new programs that will provide their (overwhelmingly Canadian) students with the skills necessary to acquire jobs in new fields like Green Technology and Alternative Energy.
The two individuals that I met with on this occasion work as consultants with this private career college, while maintaining full-time roles as teachers in a local BC school district. It was during this meeting that I made an astonishing discovery about our education system. In response to a comment I made (which I cannot remember for the life of me), one of the teachers responded by saying:
“Well this is what happens when we pass students with 38 percent”.
I didn’t quite understand what this veteran teacher meant by that comment, and so I asked her to elaborate. What followed left me flabbergasted. Historically, students needed to score 50 percent or higher in a class in order to pass and receive credit for course completion. A student who failed to do so would be given an F or one of its variants (I, IE, upside down elephant, or whatever your school system used to denote your inability to acquire credit for that course). 50 percent, logically and mathematically, seems like a fair cut-off point for a pass/fail decision.
In the past, a student who fails to achieve this score would be required to attend summer school, repeat the course, or (if they are in grade 12) attend night school in order to graduate. This, however, is no longer the case. Students who are now acquiring scores as low as 38 percent are called into a meeting with district representatives and their parents, often without the knowledge of their teacher, and are bumped from a fail to a pass.
The motivations for this clearly foolish manipulation are numerous. But the consequences are clear; the incredibly high graduation rates that Canada boasts, and that I have boasted about in other articles, is disingenuous. It is easy to say that over 90 percent of your high school students are going on to graduate when the bar is consistently moved lower, and lower. It is easy to boast about increasing enrollment in post-secondary institutions when the standards for admission are consistently broadened to include people who, in previous generations, would not have qualified.
It is easy to state that your population is one of the most educated in the world, when your education system is devoid its meaning and substance! The sad truth is that allowing everyone to graduate from high school/college, even when they don’t deserve it, has the same effect as printing more and more money in the hope of creating more wealth; all you are left with is inflation.
One thing is for certain, Gen-Y’s are not to blame. Every generation has begged for shortcuts. Shortcuts are like a drug that humans have been addicted to since the beginning of our existence, and that addiction is programmed deep in our DNA. It is a normal part of the human experience to try and find shortcuts in order to minimize the amount of time and effort needed to complete a task. If necessity is the mother of all innovation, than laziness is its deadbeat dad.
In the case at hand it is the enabler, not the addict, who is to blame. For the sake of our future, the generation currently in charge of literally almost everything (except Facebook, Zuckerberg is one of us) needs to stop capitulating to the natural demand for an easy ride. I am reminded of a story my father told me about his elementary school experience, which captures the importance of this point quite well. When my father was in elementary school a boy in his class was called up to the board to solve a math problem.
Not only was this boy unable to solve the problem, but he was unable to even begin attempting the problem. Puzzled, the teacher put up an easier problem, and the student stared back with the same blank expression. The teacher continued to press at the issue, giving him easier problems to solve, short sentences to write out, and ANYTHING to prove he was processing what he was learning in school. Sadly, this boy was unable to fulfill any of the teacher’s increasingly easy demands.
The teacher then leaned to the boy and says “I want you to go home and tell your father that school is not for you, and that you need to work because you are not learning anything in school. Ok?” The boy did exactly that. He became a store owner, and eventually grew his small business into a supermarket of sorts.
Whether the teacher’s course of action was right is an issue for legitimate debate. Issues such as learning disabilities (which this boy probably suffered from) were not on the top of people’s minds in the developing world in the 1960s. However, the teacher was certainly right in not simply allowing the student to continue floating along from grade to grade with no meaningful future possibility of success. Baby boomers take note, and stop giving into our demands, for our sake!