Thursday, 13 February 2014

Has Education Given Me a Black and White View of What Is Right and Wrong?

If you follow me on twitter, you will probably know that I have quite strong opinions about the education system. Having studied for 16 years, I finally gained a degree in English and Creative Writing last year.

I was always a high achiever and received top grades; from early on teachers believed I would go to university. And for the most part, I enjoyed learning. Even now I would quite happily go to a museum or read a book to learn something new, for enjoyment. Personally, I was never really grade driven. I only ever strived to get the grades I needed for the next level, rather than worrying about getting the highest possible marks, as some do. I always felt as if I had quite a healthy attitude to my education.

However, since leaving university, having a full time job has made me realise my concern for doing tasks in the right and best way. I continually worry about getting something wrong and making a mistake. The biggest problem I find is that there is no definitive ‘right’ way to do a job.

I stumbled across this problem when I first started negotiating sales prices. When I asked my boss for a benchmark price I should aim for, or a budget I should stick to, I was told, ‘Just get the price as low as possible’. Well, the cheapest price something would be is 0, but that is obviously unrealistic, unfair and insulting. Asking for that may even turn the sales people off from doing business with us. So the best I can do is impossible; it might not even be something I should aim for.

What if the lowest possible price was £1 cheaper than quoted? My bosses would hardly be happy with that. Or would they? The problem with negotiating is that there’s no right way (as long as the price doesn’t go up!). Any money off seems to be a success of some kind. That’s my guess anyway.

Having worked so hard for grades all my life, I expect targets and feedback that I can measure myself against so I can improve. I imagine if negotiating was an academic subject, we would evaluate average prices, what it costs to produce a product, our budget, competition etc. before we began negotiating. After agreeing on a price, a tutor would say whether you did well, or if you should try a bit harder etc.
But in the real world, I pluck a number out of the air and see what happens. I receive no feedback as to whether that’s a good deal, only whether we wish to go ahead and accept the offer.

This is a really difficult concept to adapt to. Education should prepare you for this, by focusing on the learning process rather than the assessment process. It is actually a much more valuable lesson to accept mistakes and work a way around them rather than try to re-take them until we get them right. I know a lot of teachers that would agree with this; they want to teach their fantastic subjects rather than how to pass the exams.

The government’s obsession with assessment is getting in the way of our children’s learning and many people’s attitude to work. Something needs to be done. 

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