Unreal Education

I returned from India ten days ago, where I talked about advanced credit models at the Institute for Financial Management and Research (IFMR) in Chennai. This was a series of three days of talks, where I had planned to speak for 4 hours a day, from 9:30am till about 2pm. I had not bargained on the extreme interest of the students attending the talks, they were extremely engaged and asked questions all the time. I ended up finishing at around 6pm! So much for a quiet day’s teaching, and then time to myself for writing and dealing with referee reports and other administrative work.

Just this weekend I taught an executive MBA class on swaps and floating rate products, and the same thing happened. I was hard-pressed to get even a reasonable amount of the material covered in the class time. The students had so many detailed questions, and they kept me busy answering many things I had not really thought out before hand. It was invigorating.

I count myself fortunate to have had such experiences two weeks in a row. This is clearly the exception, rather than the rule. Students tend to be tired mostly, and worried about their grades. Education without measurement seems to be the only “real” education there is left. As we get better at window-dressing our vitae, it is leading to an arms race – better grades at all costs.

The true problem behind this malaise is a lack of time. As life becomes more and more hectic, employers and other evaluators of students are failing to put in their own efforts to determine the quality of people they wish to hire, leaving this role to the grading system. The consequences are obvious for all to see.

But worse, is the consequence that students will also believe that their true worth can be measured in their grade. This false notion will lead to a disastrous modification of the education system. It already has surfaced in the grade inflation we see. One reported statistic is that 47% of graduating seniors in California high schools have an “A” average. So of course, colleges will begin to discount this, nevertheless, the presure on students to hit this goal still remains, but in addition they have to do more to distinguish themselves from the others. The end result is to burden our children even more, and rob them of their childhoods.

Hence, there is a vicious circle in place. As students focus more on grades, and less on learning, we will see more grade inflation to keep them happy. Grade inflation means students have to do more to separate themselves from the pack, leading to a huge burden, and no time to truly engage in the education process.

I think we all need to slow down.

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