An idiot who deserved A+

Can a comedy play affect the education in a country? Unfortunately, it already happened. In Egypt, the educational system drastically changed because of “Madrasat Al-Mushaghebeen” (The School of Mischievous) play. The play was released in 1973 and was adopted from the the American movie “To Sir, with Love”. In this play, a group of five rebellious students kept failing and retaking their last year of high school. The students’ constant pranks led all the teachers to a mental breakdown which forced them to quit the school.  The play was first performed on a theater but due to its major success, it was recorded and broadcast on TV . For older people, the play was very funny. However, they did not notice that smaller kids got affected by this play and began mimicking these actions in their classrooms to gain their fellows praise. Alas, today teachers in Egypt are not much respected as in the past. I do not mean they are humiliated in classrooms, but they no more have the previous prestigious look from their students.

I remembered this sad story while I was preparing to write about a movie that discuss a great  educational pedagogy. 3 Idiots is an Indian movie which was released in 2009. In this movie, one of the actors was called “an idiot” by his professors in the university as he did not like the way they were teaching and assessing students. In a famous scene (you can watch by clicking the link), a professor asked him to define “the machine”. He gave a good definition and examples one of which was pants zipper. The professor got angry and asked “Is that what you will write in the exam?!”. The professor asked another student who gave a long definition as memorized from the book. The first student is an example of a creative mind which understands and relates things, and the later is an example of  who studies only for the exam (grade). The movie in other scenes also discussed the teaching philosophy of learning under pressure and learning for exams (grades). Finally, the movie shows what each of these students became in the future. It is needless to say that who was called an idiot became very successful in his life and that he deserved more than A+ in the college.

In his article, “The case Against Grades”, Alfie Kohn discussed the same problem of learning for grades. He mentioned that previous research has discovered that grades tend to reduce the quality of students’ thinking.  Students are less likely to wonder, say, “How can we be sure that’s true?” than to ask “Is this going to be on the test?”. The author gave good solutions for the case of grading and suggested that instead of giving letter or number grades to students, it is better to give them narrative reports about their progress. This could be hard at the begging especially for students and teachers who are used to use grades. However, experiments show that these descriptive reports helped student to learn better and not to feel pressure at all.

He also suggested a good way of giving grades, if the system insists on using them. The teacher could grab each student alone and discuss with him, according to the narrative report, the grade this student think he should get with the final word being for the teacher. This type of self assessment is being  used today in some school as a reference for students before getting their actual grades. Therefore, I think it would not be hard to apply the de-graded system using narrative reports while the self assessment could be used as a transition period.

Thinking about college, I think this type of assessment is not hard to apply at some fields like engineering. Many subjects now do not depend on exams as a source for grading. They depend on projects where students use their creativity to apply what they have learned. However, I think in some other fields this type of assessment might still not be applicable where students have to take exams.

10 thoughts on “An idiot who deserved A+

  1. Thank you for this information. Yes, some people in Egypt believe that the play has destroyed several student generations as wells as the teachers’ reputation. However, I completely disagree with this. Of course you remember this play “Shahed Mashafsh haga” or “The witness who didn’t see anything”. You remember also the court scene. The protagonist (Adel Imam) made a lot of jokes with the Judge and the prosecutor. Also in many Egyptian films and serials, police and army officers were insulted for people to laugh (Of course you remember Ismaeil Yassin movies). But do you think Judges and officers are not reputable in Egypt? Of course not!!! They are taking the highest wages in the country and they are enjoying a lot of virtues that other poor Egyptians are deprived from. Education in Egypt is bad not because of a play or a film but because of the wrong foolish policies of the military based leadership over 60 years that is putting education at the very bottom of its priorities list!!!!

    1. I totally agree with you that the education in Egypt is reeling because of the policies taken by the consecutive governments in the past 60 years. I was only mentioning the student’s look to teachers which got affected by the play. What differs this play from the others you mentioned, is the audience. Kids, especially in a young age, cannot completely differentiate good and bad behaviors. They are more likely to get affected by what they watch. Older people are more rational, they know that they should not humiliate judges or police officers or more precisely they know the consequences of such actions. Believe me, they would not be happy at all if they did so :).

  2. I like the idea of narative reports. I had a class that the instructor gave us a narrative report for each question and it was very helpful for me. I think this way was my best experience about the assessment.

  3. Thank you for the post! I think you make a lot of great points about the potential for grades to reduce the quality of student thinking and alternatives to traditional assessments. I too like the idea of narrative feedback because I think it is more beneficial for students. But then I thought about those large classes with several hundred students in each. Do you have thoughts about how narrative feedback can be incorporated into these large classes? Are there other alternatives? Maybe in some of these large classes, students can work together occasionally and give each other feedback. But I would be curious what other ideas you may have about giving meaningful feedback to large numbers of students.

    1. Thanks for your comment. I read this dilemma in a blog post this week and made a comment there. I think this type of grading is mainly for strong education systems that we seek to improve. In such systems, even with a large number of students, you still have the ability to hire teaching assistants that will help in making these reports. In schools, helpers are usually there with students, they also could help teachers in making these reports. However, in a developing country with many students per class but with a lower quality of education, I think grades still play the main role.

  4. Thank you for your examples from Egypt and the Indian movie. There is no doubt that the much contemporary education rewards memorizers who simply regurgitate textbook sentences. The pant zipper as a “machine” is certainly not textbook, but I do wonder how “machine” it is!?

    I also wonder how Kohn’s narrative assessments and talking grades with students would work out. I taught English abroad where both grades and narrative assessments were mandatory on us teachers, about 2-3 sentences weekly on each student in class. Sadly, the narrative assessments were simply used as a way for parents to check in on the performance of their children. If the performance was poor, a complaint would be made to the academy, some extra $$, and all of a sudden, the student has passed and moves on to the next level. How do we develop a truly successful narrative assessment? It’s a tough question that we need to think through.

  5. I really like your thoughts on “3 idiots” because I love that movie! I also think that a country’s policy and plays/TV do have a great influence on education, but we as potential future teachers can do what we do to make things better. As you also mentioned above, we can adjust the way we want to assess our students. Making comments rather than grades can be one way. Or we might not even need tests. I really like the blogging and commenting format for this course (this might not work for engineering courses), because for blogging and commenting, I need to finish the reading materials and have my own thoughts. While for tests, I only need to pay attention to what will be on the test. I am actually learning for this pedagogy class, but see, it does not give me grades.

  6. Grades certainly are not a good indicator of the success of a person in his life. We have to teach our students how to think for themselves.
    It’s like what the proverb says: give a man a fish and he will eat for a day, teach him to fish and you will feed him for a lifetime.

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