School is Not Life

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Credit: flickr / Sagolla

The biggest difference I see between the education system here and in the UK is grading, and that creates some interesting differences in perspective.

In Canada, marks in the 90’s are commonplace. I actually got a 99 on one of my assignments – I was dying to know what caused the loss of a point, but I think it was just symbolic. I got straight A’s for my grad courses, I think 2xA+, 2xA, A-. I never got grades like that in my undergrad – in fact I graduated with a B average – a “2:1” for those who understand the British system. An A was 70, and they were few and far between. I was explaining this to a Canadian the other day, and he asked “what’s an A+?” I replied, “there is no concept of an A+”.

I find Canadian students much more confident, and much less aware of the gaps in their knowledge. At Edinburgh, when every assignment came back with at least 25% (usually more) of possible improvements, you become very aware of what a small part of that subset of your field it is that you have understood. If things come back with less than 10% of possible improvements, it’s much easier to think you’re there. Canadians seem much more entrepreneurial as well – perhaps because of this increased confidence.

Interestingly, grades seem to matter more but be worth less. High school has no standardized testing, so varies depending on the school. In fact someone told me, “if you need certain grades, for example for a scholarship, then you can work with your teacher to make sure you get them” – extra credit assignments, or they can “remark” an assignment and give a higher grade. I was completely horrified by this. But, it explains that attitude of some students I’ve encountered who seem to think they deserve certain grades – not because of their hard work, but because that’s the grades they usually get.

I don’t really buy, “I get A’s therefore I’m good at X” – it seems more, “I get A’s because I’m good at school”. But – school is not life. Life does not give you grades, and you can be sure – in the real world, with all it’s tradeoff’s and constraints, and chaos… if it did give you a grade, it wouldn’t be an A, not every time. I don’t think, even often.

Do you want to get A’s at life? The more feedback you get as to how you can improve, the better you can do next time – relative to the bar you set yourself, not some arbitrary standard.

At the time, during my undergrad, it felt like I was working hard for no recognition. But – since I got that recognition, I realize that it is meaningless. Whether you grade me an A or a D, doesn’t really matter – I have so much more to learn, because it’s infinite, that anything over 0.01% seems vastly overstated.

Edinburgh gave me a B. But – they also gave me the recognition of how little I know and how much more I have to learn. Places to improve on. That’s a gift. I will take that over the A+’s and the lack of feedback, any day.

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