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"Unstructured struggle" January 21, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in America, india, life.
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Paul Farhi seeks to burst the myths of American education system in this article. I am not qualified to make overall judgements on his arguments but this little extract seems relevant.

Recently, Newsweek International’s Fareed Zakaria noted Singapore’s success on international math and science exams, but asked Education Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam why Singapore produced so few top-ranked scientists, entrepreneurs, inventors, business executives and academics. “We both have meritocracies,” he replied. America’s “is a talent meritocracy, ours is an exam meritocracy. There are some parts of the intellect that we are not able to test well — like creativity, curiosity, a sense of adventure, ambition. Most of all, America has a culture of learning that challenges conventional wisdom, even if it means challenging authority. These are the areas where Singapore must learn from America.”

Its strikingly similar to what I wrote to a friend on July 24, 2005 as I warned him about how its different here.

This whole thing is a long haul – it’s several solitary marathons. Its not like sitting in a class with 100 other students. It’s not just about getting good grades and cracking exams.
This struggle is unstructured – where you have no clear-cut guidelines and precedents to go by. More importantly, its solitary – each case is unique and in the end, apart from your academic ability, what matters is your own ingenuity to see and seize opportunities, take informed decisions and calculated risks. In some sense, it gauges the extent to which you can work within the American system, which places a great importance on unstructured struggle, something that gives the individual a better opportunity to differentiate himself from the crowd than merely from standard exam scores. ( Ofcourse, the American system has other problems – best left for another day! )

When you look back a few years from now, you will probably see that you have had no examples to follow and that much of what you did was never done before. That really will be your legacy.

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