Category Archives: education

When our education system cares only to final outcome, why should I do my project before the deadline?

One of my friend has posted this TED talk recently on her Facebook page. I enjoyed a lot by watching this talk. The procedure is the same as what I have  been doing during my education from as early as primary school till today! It seems, almost all of us, if we don’t learn anything from education system, we are master and proficient in “procrastination.” There is a joke that says, we have no PhD graduates and  no tenured professors without deadlines! God don’t get deadlines from us!

But the question is, why all of us, are used to procrastinate our tasks up to the last minutes? My question is how much of this behavior results because of the system?

Part of this behavior, I believe, can be explained by our education system. The education system cares only to outcome and not to procedure. The procedure does not matter for the system and the system does not reward people based on the procedure but it only praise them based on their outcome. I understand that there is a problem in most cases to identify the procedure, however, there are various conditions that the process can also be measured and rewarded.  For instance, in primary education, students tend to attend in lecture based classes and they mostly evaluate based on test scores (midterms and finals). Students know this fact that their final grades depend only on their test scores and the learning process does not matter for teachers. In this situation, a rational behavior will be procrastinate your learning process for the tests’ nights. But what if the learning process is also matter? If instead of only tests scores, the students’ grades depend on the learning process, such as class participation, class activities, and projects that they have to do during a semester with weekly reports, then, we may expect students put efforts and times for their course not only at exams’ nights. Using online platforms such as class forum also can help students learn do their jobs on time instead of procrastinating them for last minutes. During higher education (college education and graduate school), instructors have more freedom to give more weights on learning process rather than sticking to test scores. However, I think the exercise should be started from the beginning of someone’s education. Paying attention to learning procedure just when a person enter to college is too late for changing in his/her behavior. I am aware of the fact that most of us, regardless of our education system, tend to procrastinate our duties based on “Parkinson’s Law.” This law simply said that “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.” however, I think with correct system that rewards the process rather than the outcome, we can alleviate the procrastination behavior. If we have a system that teaches us that life is a marathon not a sprint ( as Professor Duckworth told in her ted talk), then we learn to do our duties in a precise schedule rather than doing it at the 11:45 pm of the due date! I am not expertise in education policy but I believed we need to think about redesigning the current education system. In this current world, procrastination does not work and work has been done in last minutes does not have enough quality to solve our complicated problems. We need to learn to change our views and learn to be motivated and passion for our long term goals. This paradigm shift needs an educational system that teaches kids to be gritty and passion, to look at the whole life as a long procedure rather than district moments, and to do their exercises every day like a marathon runner!

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Grit, a key to success?

I have watched this TED talk during weekend for the second time when I was browsing TED to find a good talk for my free time. In this talk, Professor Duckworth of University of Pennsylvania presented her research about the key success in learning and education. The idea of her PhD dissertation came to her mind when she was a teacher in New York public school for seven grader in mathematics. She learned that the thing matters in success of her students is beyond their IQ and their talent. She later on called that thing as “grit”.  Dr Duckworth’s research is looking at learning from psychological and motivational perspective. Through her research in various contexts, she finds out that one characteristic is a significant predictor of success which she called it grit. Grit, as she defined, is a motivation, passion, and perseverance for a long term goals.  Grit means working hard to get future into the reality. She describes grit as a point of view of “life as a marathon not sprint. ” Her research currently is to find new ways to make people specially kids to be gritter.

As a graduate student interested in education issues and working on inequality in education achievement, I think her idea is a novel approach to think about learning. In my research I try to measure inequality of opportunity in education outcome. I try to decompose the effect of various circumstances such as gender, parental education, socio-economic background of the student, and his/her community characteristics from his/her effort/luck. The idea is, your outcome should only be depend on your effort and not your circumstances such as your race or gender. The index I have calculated is called  inequality of opportunity (IOP) in education. Using Dr. Duckworth terminology, grit is a characteristic of a kid which is under her control, the same as effort, and as a result it is not part of IOP index. My point is, our current education system is not a system which is encouraging kids to be gritty. In fact in a system which your success measures with standard test scores and your grades for midterms and final tests, getting bad score in one test, can easily kill your motivation and grit. We live in a world that we need to have solid motivation for a long term to obtain our goals. In this world, it is important for every person to empower herself not to be disappointed very easily, however, neither in school nor in college, kids have no chance to learn about motivation and grit. We trained our kids to care about their test scores. If you got 95 in a course, you would call successful. While getting 95 is not necessarily means you are a gritty and motivated person. Maybe you have good IQ and could learn stuff very easily but without strengthening your passion, your perseverance for a long term goals, and in one word, without being gritty, could you be successful in long term both in your life and in your career? It seems the answer is “no” and unfortunately our education system not only teach to be gritty, it sometimes kills our motivation too.

 

In addition to this issue, I think about motivation and grit as a tool to help students who leave behind to improve their situation and outcomes. My idea is, if in a community race or gender (for instance being female and being black) has a great influence on a student education outcome, training female students or ethnic minority students to be grittier and be self-motivated can help them to improve their learning and education outcome and decrease the gap in their outcome with other students. In this view, encouraging kids to be passionate about their  goals can decrease IOP in education outcome.

 

 

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Lessons from learner-center syllabus and thinking about critical pedagogy

Last session in GEDI class we talked about learner-centered syllabus. I have been teaching a large class this semester and from the beginning of semester I think about learning process and how I can stimulate learning environment in class.  The problem in a large and heavily lectured class is most of the evaluating process determines by tests. In a class such as principle of microeconomics  where more than 100 students sit in a class and there is no final project, assignments and exams are only the available tools for evaluation, learning will immolate and the mindset of students become all to get good score rather than learn stuff. It makes sense and it is a rational decision for student to get the good score which means to be good in tests in this situation. I think writing a syllabus using learner-centered is not enough in this situation. The problem is even you emphasize on learning and try to give some roles to students as the learner of the class, at the end of the day students will evaluate based on their scores on tests and everyone knows this game and as a result the rational decision asserts that students just focus on materials which tend to be part of the tests rather than learning in a general way. From the early of the semester I have this challenge and I could not solve this problem yet. For me, learning is more important than the grade. I think my responsibility is to teach in a way to construct knowledge of microeconomics theory and give a chance to my student to think critically about what I teach to them. As Freire said in critical pedagogy “To teach is not to transfer knowledge but to create the possibilities for the production or construction of knowledge.” however, in a large class, teaching in a way to construct knowledge rather than transferring that is always challenging.

However, even I emphasize on learning and not memorizing a lot, students know the rule of game and the rule of game pushes them to get the best point as much as they can. For some students the shortcut to getting good points come from memorizing the materials and this strategy unfortunately works partially. I try to solve this challenge both in class and mostly during my office hour to bring examples from every day life. I also refer students to their intuitions as they ask me questions. Although these strategies  work, the challenge  still remains and in a heavy lecture based large class with having tests and assignment as only tools for evaluation, preparing learning community environment in class becomes a great deal.

 

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Iran Education system needs a huge reform-2

In my last blog post, I talked about several problems in Iranian educational system. In this post, I want to clarify some of my points.

The first problem regarding to admission process for college studies in Iran is high inequality of opportunity in the system. As the country becomes richer and developed after the end of Iran-Iraq war, inequality increases in the country. One of the aspect of inequality which is harmful for economic growth and development of a country is inequality of opportunity. Inequality of opportunity means inequality in outcome due to circumstances beyond individuals’ control. For instance, inequality in outcome due to gender of individuals is unjust.

The university entrance exam (Concur) is one of the institutions in Iran education system which causes improvement in inequality of opportunity. Based on “Trends in Mathematics and Science Studies (TIMSS) test (which is again a standard test but at least it gives us a measure to compare students worldwide!) Iran has great index of inequality of opportunity (IOP) in education outcome in the Middle East. This exam is held for students in eighth grade both in mathematics and science and Iran’s score in IOP is one of the largest one in the region. Although we don’t have access to data of Concur, the education system mechanism stimulate IOP in education outcome as students move forward in education system from one grade to upper grade. I try to explain the intuition behind that mechanism here.

All families and students know that if they want to be successful, they should be good in multiple choice exam and they should understand all high school materials in a way to answer entrance exam questions in the shortest time. So having a good skill in taking an exam with lots of multiple choice questions is vital. In addition, if a student gets admission from top ten university, she/he can be hopeful to get good job after graduation or have a chance to continue her/his education abroad. So those students who have educated parents or their parents can support them financially to go to good private high schools have more chance to be successful in Concur. While we know parental income or parental education is beyond an individual’s control and as a result it causes IOP.

The second problem related to Concur system is killing innovation and creativity among high school students. Those talented and diligent high school students prefer to study as much as they can during high school to get good points in Concur. At the end of the day, they will rank based on their scores in Concur, so there is no incentive among high school students to be creative, do innovative research, or be active in sport, art, and other extracurricular activities. I don’t want to say that high school students do not do these activities at all, my point is, ranking students just because of one score, give them a signal to be prepared for that exam only rather than doing other activities where they don’t have any point in their college admission.

The third problem is due to inefficient resource allocation due to this system. Part of this problem as I described in previous post is due to cultural problem but the other part is because of education system. When the system gives a signal to high school students that engineering and medical science is good, and then most of good students prefer to go to engineering school or medical school. Since each student can register and take Concur in only one field (Math, biology, Humanities, Art) even if the student finds engineering or medical studies boring and beyond his/her interest, he/she has long and hard time to change his/her major. If the student wants to quit the engineering college for instance and studies in sociology in the middle of his undergraduate studies, he should take Concur again in humanities field which is very risky and stressful. So if a person becomes disappointed by his undergraduate studies, most of people will decide to finish their undergraduate studies and earn a bachelor degree and continue in a field he really likes in graduate school (in Master’s level) which means that person loses at least 2 or three years of his life and his precious youth time. In addition, some of excellent universities in Iran do not offer courses in all fields. For instance Sharif University which is one the most prestigious and well known universities in Iran, is a polytechnic university and courses are offered only in Math, Physics, Chemistry and engineering fields, so if a student is in Sharif University, which means that student is really talented and diligent, s/he does not have any chance to be familiar with sociology, law, political science or even biology and business majors. As a result, that student might be very successful if s/he had a chance to study in business majors, but due to education system, s/he ends up with mediocre outcome!

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Iran Education system needs a huge reform-1

As an Iranian who was born during a huge baby boom after the revolution, I have experienced how wasteful and useless is the standardized test.  The university entrance exam in Iran was held since 1969 and it continues till today. Iran education system suffers from lots of deficiencies. The education system in Iran mostly copied from France and it faces few reforms since early of twentieth century. In my opinion, Iran education system needs a revolutionary change. It wastes time and energy of students in a most ineffective way!  Here in this post I try to describe some of the problems of this system and how the university entrance exam kills creativity and innovation in my country.

The first problem in this system came back to tracking. As of lots of other countries such as Germany, France, China, Hong Kong and so on, Iranian students also tracked in different branches when they finish 9th grade. Students should choose between academic track and vocational track. In academic track there are four theoretical branches: Mathematics and physics, Biology, Humanities, and Art. In vocational track there are lots of applied branches which have a goal to provide technicians for country. The government tried to encourage more students to choose vocational track back to early 90s but the reform program in high school at that time was totally failed. Students who choose to go to vocational track could get vocational diploma and they only can take associate exam and earn associate degree. Although after they earn associate degree, they can attend in another exam and if they earn good points at that exam they can enter to college to earn bachelor degree, the total process is both time consuming and risky. In addition, traditionally, more talented students choose the academic track since they will have chance to go to the best colleges of the country. Families don’t like their children choose vocational track because they think it is risky, time consuming, with less social prestigious as well as lower peer effect during high school. As a result all reforms have been made to improve the situation of vocational track has been failed.

 

At the beginning of grade 10, student should have chosen their field. Again, another sorting happened among students and it causes lots of troubles for them in future. Most families in Iran have a desire for kids to be either engineer or medical doctors. The situation is much better now due to high unemployment rate among engineers and doctors in Iran but in my time, lots of families forced their kids to choose either mathematics or biology branch in high school to have a chance to be either engineer or medical doctor. I have seen this phenomenon among lots of my friends and later on in university they faced with depression, having a reluctant feeling to continue their education, wasting their times and energy and so on. Other than families’ forces, there is not enough clear information regarding to different path of that important decisions. Teachers in high schools encourage talented students, especially those with higher grades in mathematics, to choose mathematics and physics branch. Those who are good in math and biology encourage choosing biology, the rest of students choose either humanities or Art. Because of this sorting, the resources (students) may allocate inefficiently during high school. Even if a student is free to choose the branch based on his/her own interests, since s/he faces with weaker peer groups in humanities or Art, s/he may prefer to choose mathematics in high school and then take art or humanities entrance exam for college. These cultures along with the system itself cause wasting time, energy, incentives, and resources.

The second problem of the system came back to national university entrance exam. Best universities in Iran are public universities and the private universities (where Azad University is the largest of them) are not as good as public universities. The problem I try to explain here is not as severe as my time because the student population declines drastically due to family planning run since end of 1980s. In my time, more than 500,000 students participated in mathematics exam and less than 50% of them would be eligible to choose major/college and among those 50% qualified students, less than 50% of them went to college. For instance in 2003, the year I took that exam, about 1,400,000 students participate in entrance exam in all branches and less than 250,000 were admitted for college (about 17% of them). As a result, lots of students would take the entrance exam again or go to job market. Those who went behind the exam would not have good situation. For boys it is not good because they should go to military service and put two years of their lives for that task. For girls, it is not good because few job opportunities are available for them as high school diploma. It is essential to note that in general women face with lower job opportunities in Iran than men and in addition, whiles lots of unemployed women with bachelor degree are in job market, the situation for those with high school diploma is even worse. High competition in this exam causes lots of social problem. One problem came back to rising inequality of opportunity. The second problem is related to killing of creativity and innovation among high school graduates and high school students. The third problem is students again sorted based on one number and if you were a good test taker specially performed well in multiple choice exams, you would be the winner: you can choose the best university and the best majors. If not, you will end up with the worst results. Since this post is already too long, I would like to explain in details in next post.

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