Good Education Is About More Than Top Marks

15/08/2016 16:50


Lots of people assume that getting the best marks leads to going to the best universities, and from there to the best jobs - but this isn't entirely true.

In the past, when business was still heavily based on an old boys' network, there was probably more truth in this view - but times have moved on. Only a handful of universities make you really stand out in the crowd, and that is no guarantee for a high-flying career.

Smart employers nowadays are much more focused on the potential of the individual rather than their university. Eagerness and ability to learn are important for success in our knowledge-based economy.

Unless you want to pursue an academic career, attitude tends to count more than the name on your certificate - but that's no excuse to skip studies!

The role of education

One of the main roles of education is to find out what you really enjoy: there's an obvious correlation between what you are really good at and what motivates you. The answer might be a subject area, but it could also be an activity - for example, sports, music, or theatre. It might even be aspects of life, like working with other people or saving the environment.

The best schools help students to discover their interests and strengths, building up a positive attitude, determination, and self-confidence. These things are crucial for improving your ability to deal with tough challenges and setbacks, which is what makes people successful in their work.

The mechanics of mainstream education force teachers to focus on getting students high scores and access to top institutions - but it's doubtful that this is what society really needs, let alone whether this is really in the interest of the students themselves.

Success and failure

Grades and assessment scores are much too simplistic for measuring success, and being too obsessed with them can cause an impulse to hide bad marks.

We all know the feeling: you did not do well at a test, so you try to keep your parents in the dark. But when you get a top score, you tell everyone who might reward you - whether it's with praise or hard cash. It's a very human story.

The problem is that what is normal for a child still survives into adulthood, which can result in massive losses - even bankruptcies of companies. Good news travels quickly up the corporate chain of command, but bad news gets filtered out and rarely reaches the top managers. That's seriously dangerous, and something that well-organised companies need to prioritise.

But what can be done about it?

Dealing with failure

The first thing is to create an atmosphere of trust, making it clear that any failure is only a failure if it is hidden from management. Failure is an opportunity to improve, so it is valuable for any organisation committed to development.

More importantly, lack of failure shows lack of ambition - so contrary to what you might think, lots of success stories in a row should ring alarm bells. It's important to celebrate success, but not at the expense of experimentation, innovation, or trial and error: these things can drive future success.

This is where education comes in again. How can we deal with setbacks or disappointing results? Education isn't just about winners and losers: it's about personal development. Creating a culture of embarrassment for low scores and shame for failure is not in the interest of society, employers, or individual development.

This brings us back where we started: the role of education in terms of personal development is not to be underestimated. Recognising your strengths and building up your confidence is about much more than being the best in the class.

Ultimately, a good all-round education that does more than achieve the top grades is in everybody's interest.

Professor Maurits van Rooijen is Rector and Chief Executive at London School of Business and Finance (LSBF) and Chief Academic Officer of Global University Systems (GUS)