What is success?

L'enjeu était modeste, lire des livres pour enfants, mais l'émulation bien présente.

Success is relative.

You succeed when you reach your objectives, whatever those objectives are.

If your objective is to please your guest, making a good cake is a success. At school you can be successful in doing an interesting presentation or in writing a very smart essay. You’re always successful in doing something. You can’t be successful in general.

The objectives of the students do not necessarily match the objectives of the school or the objectives of the teacher.

Your own objectives will vary hugely during the course of your life. Close yours eyes, and try to remember what were your main goals when you were 6, 15, 20 year old. If you’re courageous enough, try to compare them with your actual achievements.

Typical changes in objectives (may vary):

— at 6: to please one’s parents

— at 10: to make friends

— at 15: to find a girlfriend or boyfriend

— at 25: to earn a lot of money (not a very good one)

— at 35: to spend more time with one’s family (often in contradiction with the previous one)

— at 80: not to die alone

I would propose one main objective: to become a better person. In this, the school can help or hinder your efforts.

A “lazy child” is probably a child who has different objectives than yours, and even sometimes more important objectives. But you’ll find him surprisingly active in other situations. For instance he sleeps in the classroom but is he’s able to organize a very nice party for his friends. It’s rather false to label a pupil as lazy. But you can certainly say that he’s not doing anything in the English class. We, adults, know that the children need to learn English in the long term. We have some experience and can evaluate more accurately the objectives of the students. We can help them to focus on the right objectives. It’s our most profound duty as adults. But we too can mistake the means for the goals, for instance when we put more emphasis on the exams themselves, than on the skills and knowledges that the exams are supposed to assess. A good mark in English at the Bac II exam is certainly an agreable thing. But it’s of no use at all, if the student is unable to guide an American tourist in his town or to read an ordinary article in the New York Times.

There is a very sad complain in my country, in France. We complain that 100,000 students fail at school each year because… eventually they leave high school without any “qualification”, which means in fact without any diploma. Each year you can read many articles in the newspapers on this matter. It’s said to be the common injustice of an inequal society. If you put this fact in an historical perspective, you should be surprised that the French are complaining at all. There’ve never been so few young adults without “qualification”, in all history. There’ve never been so many people with a diploma of some sort. We should rejoice, not complain! In reality, the students fail to match the objectives of the politicians and of the public officers. Nothing more. With all the possible benevolence, the administration puts a heavy burden on the children’s shoulders. Who are those powerful men who can define a good or a bad life?

Or maybe we should complain, not because the number of graduated workers is too low, but because the academic expectations of the teachers have become so low in the foolish hope to give a diploma to everybody. Let me explain a little further why this hope is foolish. When you set a statistical objective to an administration, they will tend to manipulate the measuring tool to match the result with the intended political numbers. It’s very easily done for a school administration, because the officers write the tests themselves. They are both judges and party. And still they fail to bring all the students to the point where they can give them a diploma! In fact, the students adjust their efforts to the expectations. If the administration lowers its expectations, they lower their efforts too. Therefore, the average students get a devaluated diploma, and the low students still don’t get any! Below a critical point, it’s impossible to increase the quantity at the expense of the quality. Such a policy is probably relevant when very few students manage to touch the grail of an elite formation. But when the success rate is already over 85% it’s naive to expect any improvement simply by changing the rules. We end up with a unpleasant situation, where the diplomas’ value is close to the paper’s value but where it is a shame not to have one.

In Cambodia, a lot of students fail to reach the required level at the Bac II. Does it mean that they’ve learn nothing, that their education is a failure and that they’ve spent 6 years in high school for nothing? Certainly not!

There are multiple kinds of successes. Let’s recognize all of them. Can they write a letter without too many spelling mistakes? Can they understand a saving account? Can they use geometry to solve daily problems?

Can they understand how to use electronic devices? Can they read a big challenging novel? Can they draw a beautiful picture? Do they have some healthy habits? Do they understand how their bodies work?

Sadly, an exam is an all-or-nothing system. Let’s see the colors of life behind the paper curtain!

1 Comment

  1. At the end of the year, my students in Ali-Sabieh were able to play football peacefully. It was my greatest educational success. I’m not kidding.

3 Trackbacks / Pingbacks

  1. Les degrés et les nuances de la réussite – L'aigle dolent
  2. My students are too different! – L'aigle dolent
  3. What is a good result? – L'aigle dolent

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