Words

The Grading Game

Since elementary school, I have always known grades to be important. I was a keener most of my young adult life; chasing after A’s and beating myself up over anything less. Looking back, I was more concerned about winning this ‘rat race’ we call the grading system than learning anything. Many will argue that higher grades do reflect the ambition and the desire to learn, but, looking at the bigger picture, it is more of a distraction from a deeper learning process. If we want truly to create a sustainable and equitable education system, we need to move on with this generic grading system and end these grade wars.

The classic grading system has been around for since the 19th century and is the only tool used to measure a student’s achievements and award them on their efforts. Students who stay bound within the confines of this metric system, through assignments and tests, earn the benefits of a system that treats grades like some currency. This rigorous system leaves students with suppressed creativity, reinforcing a negative climate with nothing but competition, academic dishonesty and anxiety.

It would be entirely unfair to say that the grading system is the root of all evil. As a student who has benefited from good grades (not phenomenal grades), I couldn’t have imagined where I would have been without them. As a child, I was an average student who struggled to maintain a high average through elementary school, and as I moved to high school and on to postsecondary education, focusing on maintaining a high average did give me an opportunity to attend the DeGroote School of Business at McMaster University; one of a number of prestigious Universities in Canada.

This article, however, is trying to turn the focus on students at the other end of the spectrum; students who may have had a bad year or just have not had the chance to recuperate from said bad year. That is unfair. This has created an emergence in learning avenues such as Udemy, Coursera and MIT’s OpenCourse. These programs do not necessarily benefit students through credits; however, it does give people a chance to learn. An ideal avenue for individuals looking bounce back up from their slump.It is also irrational to imagine an education system entirely without a grading system. What can change is the attitude our teachers and professors take to ensure the material is being passed on to keen learners in the most efficient way possible.

It is also irrational to imagine an education system entirely without a grading system. What can change is the attitude our teachers and professors take to ensure the material is being passed on to keen learners in the most efficient way possible.

Alternative forms of assessment do need to be in place such as written feedback, one on one interactions and peer collaboration. If teachers/professors want to ensure students are prepared for the future, students need to understand how they are developing, how to keep improving and how to work with others. Transitioning from a place where the grading system turns into a worthwhile investment in learning. We need to find a system to turn the ‘well-trained’ into the ‘well-educated’.

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“Sell me this pen…”

“Sell me this pen…”

Most of you might have heard this question from the famous scene of Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street. The funny thing is I was asked the same question four years ago at a sales job interview where I was stunned just as much, as those extra’s in the movie, were. Acting naturally, just as people from the scene, I went on rambling about the merits of the pen…”This is an amazing pen!”, “This pen lasts longer than the rest”, “It’s the cheapest pen you’ll ever find”. And just like the scene where Leonardo DiCaprio playing walks away disappointed, I was overlooked for the sales job to better suitable candidates.

Watching the scene for the first time since being asked the same question, I was eager to find out what the answer to that question could be. As I saw Mr. DiCaprio extend the challenge to his friends he just hired to work at his startup firm, one man takes the pen and tells Mr. DiCaprio, as Mr. Belfort, to write his name down. Having just handed over his pen, Mr. DiCaprio, replies that he doesn’t have a pen. Exactly, the man replies, “Supply and demand.”

Feeling foolish and sort of satisfied to finally learn the answer, I few days later I find out, through one of Mr. Belfort’s interviews that it’s not  the correct answer. Frustrated and determined, I have spent quite some time seeking the answer to this mystery and thanks to an exclusive interview of Mr. Belfort by Grant Robertson of The Globe and Mail, I am pleased to (finally!) share it with you:

“It’s sort of a trick question. Because when you say to a salesman, ‘Sell me this pen,’ you might find some will say to you, ‘This is a great pen, this pen writes upside down. It defies gravity, this pen is the cheapest pen on earth, this pen will never run out.’ They’ll say all the reasons the pen is good, they’ll start telling you the features and the better ones will give you the benefits too. But that’s not what the real answer is.

“The real answer is, before I’m even going to sell a pen to anybody, I need to know about the person, I want to know what their needs are, what kind of pens do they use, do they use a pen? How often do they use a pen? Do they like to use a pen formally, to sign things, or use it in their everyday life? The first idea is that when you say ‘Sell me this pen,’ I want to hear [the salesman] ask me a question. ‘So tell me, how long have you been in the market for a pen?’ I want them to turn it around on me and start asking me questions to identify my needs, what I’m looking for. And if you do that, people don’t know what to do. Next thing, he is answering, and now I’m controlling the conversation, finding out exactly what he needs.

“Once I have that, I say, ‘You know, Bill, based on what you’ve just said to me, the pen I have here is the perfect fit. Let me tell you what it’s about…’ Then you can tell them about what you have because you’re filling a need. Most average or newbie salespeople think that they’re supposed to sell you the pen, when a really seasoned salesperson will actually turn it into a qualifying session to find out what you need. That’s the truth of it. It’s like trying to sell someone a house, and you don’t know if they’re in the market for a house, what kind of house they want, how many kids – so how can you sell someone a house? That’s the point.”

wolfofwallstreet

Net Neutrality

The Internet, since its inception, has created a relatively level playing field for users to empower individuals in sharing their views with the world, exchanging data, and enhancing modes of communication over the years. It has also paved the way for small start-up companies to conduct transactions over the cloud and to streamline the service industry to the whole new level. It is the internet that has been responsible for massive startups like Facebook to supplant Myspace, Netflix to supplant a painful declining Blockbuster, the birth of exciting new startups such as Uber and Snapchat, and the rise of new competitors in the e-commerce industry like Alibaba. The concept of the ‘free internet’ is referred to Net Neutrality, a term coined by Columbia University Professor Tim Wu.

Net Neutrality, a principle that suggests that all traffic on the Internet should be treated equally, may seem logical to the average person. However, this policy has recently sparked numerous debates since the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in the United States. Novel regulations have been proposed that, if implemented, would eliminate net neutrality. These new regulations would allow the internet service providers to administer a “fast-lane” for corporations who can afford to pay more, as well as charge for services differently depending on usage.

This issue affects Canadians because, even though the FCC is technically based in the United States, majority of day-to-day web traffic in Canada passes through American servers; therefore, Canadian use is naturally subjected to American regulations. Also, should this two-tiered system be implemented, it is a sure bet that monopolistic Canadian telecom giants like Rogers and Bell will push for some innocuous -sounding ‘regulatory adjustment’ in order to advocate similar policies up North. This would lead to the Internet Service Providers (ISPs), like Bell, discriminating against consumers by charging excessive amounts for access to non-Bell content through their service.

Current Practices Vs Proposed Changes

At the moment, ISPs provide consumers with unlimited access to the internet access. While they can limit your speeds, ISPs primary motive for this is to slow down illegal downloading. All data goes through a single connection and consumers are charged a monthly fee.

Abolishing Net Neutrality would enable ISPs to manage consumers the internet access and charge based on usage. As a hypothetical example, Bell could block services like Google Maps, in favour of their Bell-branded version of the application. Imagine trading a(maybe avoid calling it lagging if you want to make it sound better than the alternative). Netflix accounts for an inferior television streaming service that doesn’t even have the shows you want to binge the watch on a Saturday night!

Abolishing Net Neutrality will allow corporations to pay for priority ‘internet traffic space,’ leaving small startup businesses lagging behind their competitors because they simply cannot afford to beat corporate giants with millions of dollars in reserves. Bar the limitations in the entrepreneurial ambitions of the Canadian public, discrimination and blacking out websites that the ISPs disagree with would be a standard practice. For example, when its workers were striking in 2005, Telus censored all access to a site run by the Telecommunications Workers Union (TWU) on the grounds that their views posed a threat to Telus’ business endeavours.

Above all the censorships and limitations to access, something Canadians need to worry about even more is that, internet access in Canada, may be surprising to some, is one of the slowest and most expensive in the world. Canada is placed in the middle of the pack in terms of speed fared poorly in pricing, ranking 18th out of 30 in current-generation internet and 18th out of 19 in next-generation internet speeds, which are 35 megabits faster. Despite how neutral or non-neutral the internet might be in the future, some Canadians cannot even afford to access or utilize the Internet to its full potential in the first place!

2015 promises to bring more into this debate, and it is important to remember that the status quo is not of a neutral net, but one dominated by gigantic tech supremacy and dictatorial ISPs. Furthermore, should we want an Internet that exceeds our expectations and truly be the pinnacle of our unbiased visions, we the users will have to come up with a lot more than just a few angry letters, tweets, and online petitions.

UPDATE: The FCC ruled against the motion of introducing a ‘fast lane’ system to the Internet. Net Neutrality stays!

UPDATE #2: As anticipated, in light of the new net neutrality rules in place ISPs are suing the FCC to fight these rules. Last time Verizon sued the FCC, it knocked down the FCCs previous net neutrality protection laws. (source: Bloomberg)

UPDATE #3: As of Friday June 12th, 2015 new Net Neutrality rules come into effect! This means a free and secure net. A statement from FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler:

“This is a huge victory for Internet consumers and innovators! Starting Friday, there will be a referee on the field to keep the Internet fast, fair and open. Blocking, throttling, pay-for-priority fast lanes and other efforts to come between consumers and the Internet are now things of the past. The rules also give broadband providers the certainty and economic incentive to build fast and competitive broadband networks.”

#winning

How’s your German?

If Germany can do it, why can’t we?. That is the question every student in debt nowadays is asking. A few years ago, Germany’s supreme court declared that tuition fees were essential, after years of having no tuition for their post-secondary educational system. This paved way for seven states to experiment with their tuition fee structure, many charging tuition at a modest €500 to €1000 which amounts to around CAD$690 to $1385, though waiver systems in some states meant that as many as a third of those students end up paying nothing.

Gradually, the government in Germany reversed its decision to charge tuition fees and this fall abolished tuition fees for post-secondary education, thus raising the question: “could Canada do the same”? And answering this question has led to a string of controversial debates on abolishing tuition fees in Canada.

There are various arguments supporting tuition fees for post-secondary education. Some suggest that there is not enough social cohesion in place in Canada to create a successful “tuition-free” system. Many believe that a free education system is a gift to the economically privileged and does very little to contribute to the lower classes. This view is shared by economist Stephen Gordon of The Globe and Mail, who suggests that tuition fees should be hiked, government money should be protected and a system of grants that offers financial aid to students who are less well off and are qualified to attend post-secondary education should be established. This system would contribute to a redistribution of wealth and see the economically privileged subsidize the indigent.

To dismiss this theory would be completely foolish. A further exchange on this point would, however, open the likelihood of some lacking presuppositions that led to this conclusion. Mr. Gordon argues that “people from the top quarter of the income distribution are roughly twice as likely to go to university as those from the bottom quarter”, trying to illustrate that the correlation between family income and university participation is fixed. There is of course a considerable measure of explanations behind this other than the expense. A classist analysis arguably points out that there are a number of inherently practical mechanisms that prevent less fortunate students from pursuing post-secondary education. Practices such as ‘streaming’ – the practice of grouping students based on abilities only – officially ended in 1999, but is very much alive in our school systems today. This fortifies pragmatic and attitudinal hindrances to higher learning for average workers kids.

In contrast to Germany’s views on education, “Tuition fees are socially unjust” argues Dorothee Stapelfeldt, President of the Hamburg Parliament, as quoted in The Times.

“They particularly discourage young people who do not have a traditional academic family background from taking up studies. It is a core task of politics to ensure that young women and men can study with a high-quality standard, free of charge in Germany”.

This is a view shared by many, including the Canadian Federation of Students currently protesting a rising $15 Billion student debt as of October 2014. Countries like France, Finland and Norway all have a no tuition education system, in contrast to the United Kingdom which has been an example of “what could be” should Canada continue to raise its post-secondary tuition. Raising tuition fees has ended up costing more than it brings in, with graduating students leaving university with mountains of debt, gradual drops in overall university enrollment and higher student loan defaults.

Financial support for students, these days are primarily in the form of student loans. It is not terribly surprising then that a student from a background of less privilege is reluctant to acquire large amounts of debt and essentially mortgage his or her future. Even those, who manage to cover their costs, end up choosing specializations that lead directly to jobs (engineering, pharmacy, accounting etc.) instead of studies in liberal arts, for example. This creates a fine line between students who graduate as either ‘well educated’ individuals or ‘well trained’ individuals leaving our society overburdened in particular professions.

This eventually narrows the debate to a point between the redistribution of wealth and the universal access to education as a long term solution. A system of providing grants to the less fortunate paid by the well-off would ideally have a similar effect on universal access to education would, but is that a better solution in the long haul?

Universal access to education based on merit would change the overall demographics of post-secondary education over time. We have already seen the effects of gradually increasing tuition fees. The argument that “we have never done this before, it might not work” is a rather weak claim to a proposal that might alter the landscape of post-secondary education radically.

Education is a public good and should be available to everybody, regardless of class, gender, race or status. An equal opportunity based approach would serve the purpose of narrowing the gap between the rich and poor, while providing a universal education system that is preferred over the long run.

However, it is also critical to note that education is not free; rather the issue is who pays for it. For our previous generation, when the government heavily subsidized post-secondary education, a greater share of the cost was borne by future taxpayers since it was all debt-funded. Today’s student loans are not that different in terms of the total debt burden except for the fact that now the debt is held by individuals (and only those who attend university, and not paid for by high school dropouts) as opposed to it being a part of the government debt or charging higher taxes. In fact, the main imbalance today is that students have to pay for their personal education debt – and through their taxes – the historical public government debt from the previous generation’s education as well.

The funny thing about failure…

Ever tried avoiding failure? How’d that turn out for you? I’m guessing not so good. The fact is, at some point or another, you will encounter failure. It could be personal, academic or professional; there’s no way you can avoid it!

After months of hiatus, a little despair and a lot of reflecting I realized something looking back at my life, and I felt it would be crucial to share with all of you…

Failure is the most important catalyst to your success!

You might be asking yourself “really?! What a load of B.S!” Nobody loves to fail, but often those who do come back and win. Frustrated? Annoyed?

Well, you shouldn’t be, it’s the truth.

Earlier in life, failure was often viewed as a taboo and something to avoid at all cost. Growing up, I recall comments like “if you fail, you’ll be left behind”, “you better be studying, or you’ll fail!” and my personal favorite, “if you fail, everybody will think you’re an idiot!”.

We’ve all heard these phrases at some point in life, be it at home, school or even the workplace. Society has led us to believe that failure will result in your extinction from society, that if we fail, we will amount to nothing at all. It’s a scary thought to know that our society continues to kill off creativity, hope, curiosity and at the same time reward people for conforming to the status-quo thinking, obeying orders and coloring inside the lines.

Let’s get something completely clear here, I am not advocating the idea of embracing failure and essentially failing at everything we do in life. Rather, I am advocating that we change our view of what failure is, and seeing it as an essential part of learning, which ultimately leads to success.

I believe that failure has a direct link towards success. It’s a common perception amongst us all that success has an upward trajectory with nothing but sunshine and daisies, warm breezes, and smooth sailing. I’m sorry to burst your bubble, but it’s not.

It’s often a messy road, filled with tests, unexpected results, unwanted decisions, compromises, unexplainable fear, nausea and occasionally a lot of crying as you venture on a journey towards unchartered waters. What separates the winners, the people who want to succeed in life is their ability to change their view about failure.

The fact is; successful people fail way much more than we do. Don’t believe me? Well, here’s the proof:

After being cut from his high school basketball team, Michael Jordan went home, locked himself up in his room and cried.

Jordan

Albert Einstein wasn’t able to speak until he was four years old. His teachers believed he wouldn’t amount to anything.

Albert

Walt Disney was fired from his job at a newspaper for lack of imagination, and having no original ideas.

mickey

Steve Jobs found himself crushed and devastated, even depressed after being fired from the company he started.

Steve Jobs

J.K Rowling, before publishing the series of novels, was nearly penniless, severely depressed, divorced, trying to raise a child on her own while attending school and writing a novel.

Harry

And, of course, one of my favorites, Thomas Edison…a man who I’d consider a specialist in failure. It is stated Mr. Edison failed 10,000 times before he successfully created the world’s most reliable light bulb. He later said, “I haven’t failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” It’s the tenacity and never say die attitude along with his ability to take an unorthodox view on failure that ultimately led to his success.

EDISON-BLOG

You don’t fail when you fall; you fail when you stop picking yourself back up. The secret is to keep trying, whether you’re an artist, a musician, an athlete, a friend, unemployed or just hungry for an opportunity to shine. In the end, it’s up to us as individuals to shape our future, and letting failure best you will only feed the status-quo. Although it is easier said than done, we need to change our definition of failure and see it as a vital step towards our inevitable success.

At the end of the day, nobody remembers your failures, so go out there, face your fears, and eliminate the hundreds, no…thousands, no…millions of ways that won’t work and always remember to enjoy this bumpy ride we call life!

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