Thursday, July 18, 2013

Choosing right education path after Xth class is less important than making the most of a given choice

Let us understand this important principle of the Second Law of success today. According to the first law of success, the right choice of career path is more critical to career. According to second law, Making the most of a given choice is more critical in excelling. Let us understand why.

How do students choose education path today? What methods do career counsellors use to suggest future education path after 10th ?

Method 1: Guess your cognitive abilities from your subject marks at the 10th class

Normally, cognitive abilities like reasoning, numerical, spatial, verbal, artistic are used to chose education paths that will grow them further. For instance if one is good in reasoning ability in 10th class, he or she chooses Engineering education path to grow reasoning ability further. If the student is good in verbal ability, the student chooses a course in Journalism to grow his/her verbal ability.

But how does the counselor judge the depth of a student's ability in 10th? High mark in Mathematics, for instance, indicates high numerical ability and so too is the reverse. Or high marks in Science ( especially in physics) indicate high logical or reasoning ability. Or high marks in English indicate high verbal ability. These guesses use to be pretty accurate in old days when the SSC standard was strict.

Choices of education-path after 10th worked well for high scoring students always in this method because high intelligence is positively co-related with different abilities. This means that a student with high marks in logical subjects like Physics and Mathematics also has good abilities in other areas such as verbal, numerical, artistic, and others. These individuals could therefore make careers in any of these fields, and if some of their ability remained undeveloped, they could also have time to develop it in their free time.

But as the standards of assessment in the 10th Board exam started relaxing, this co-relation between high marks in a subject and the specific cognitive ability has become 'weak'. For instance the marks in Mathematics in 10th Board does not indicate high numerical ability any more. Therefore, when the same student goes in XIIth science, he fares badly in mathematics. In other words, the marks in a subject , be in English, Physics or Drawing are not co-related with higher ability in the same subject even after two years !

Method 2: Along with method 1, use other predictors to judge the depth of a student's ability

When marks in the HSC board exam alone cannot be good predictors of future ability, the counselors started using other predictors such as students scores in competitive exams like Olympiads, National or State merit exam, or scholarship exam. Even the student's score in other competitive exams that were held by private bodies like Robotics Competition,  or Programmers competition are useful.

This additional evaluation helped the counselor make more educative guesses of the student's current cognitive ability and therefore helped him/her chose the more appropriate education path - engineering, arts or commerce - after 10th. This method is however useful only for average and above average academic scoring students.Why?

Because students with non-academic abilities like Interpersonal (social), intra-personal, performing arts such as dancing or acting fare poorly in academics, cannot use this method. Surprisingly, even smart Academic Students good in many subjects - like maths, biology and physics - do not find this method useful because this method does not help them choose between  the courses of medicine, engineering, commerce or design?

Currently used Popular Method 3: Take aptitude tests to choose your education path

This alternative was meant to identify a student's 'aptitude' in a specific domain like law, Commerce, medicine and even performing arts. However the name of aptitude test is a misnomer, because these tests do not measure 'aptitude'. Instead they measure a student's performance in 'cognitive abilities' by giving a 'Test'. For example, by asking you find third 'number' in the sequence of three numbers, they measure your 'numerical' ability.

So how do these tests work? They measure 7 to 8 cognitive abilities ( like numerical ability, verbal ability, Spatial ability, Processing speed, Working memory etc) of a student. However, knowledge of your ability is not enough to decide education path. So these counselors also test student's 'orientation' such as social orientation (or practical, knowledge, and power orientation). Some counselors also measure 'personality' traits like creativity, maturity, adaptability etc. The scores of these different tests are then combined to recommend a domain like commerce and law. As you would realise, this method makes lot of assumptions and uses quite a long logic of ifs and buts to recommend a domain. So, does this method really work?

Does this method work?

On the one hand, although this method is more suitable for high academic scoring students, even the guidance for them is too 'generic' because counselors tend to follow 'popular courses' like Engineering and accountancy. Therefore, you will find engineers changing their path to banking, accountants become civil servants, advertising executives becoming film directors. You will find Achyut Godbole passing as a chemical engineering and writing books on psychology and music , or Vikram Pandit becoming the first Indian CEO of CitiBank after doing MS in Electrical engineering.

On the other hand, we have also seen how these aptitude tests measure only 2 of the 8 abilities. Because of this, these tests rarely help students with non-academic abilities. As such they therefore do not recommend domains for them such as political activism, NGO and others. Morever, specialised careers like Fashion, Hotel Management, Event Management are also not recommended because of the difficulties in succeeding in those careers. Trying to tread  on the safe path, counselors end up in not helping students with non-academic abilities.

Can this best available method work under certain conditions?

We fail not because we chose a wrong path, but because we do not prepare adequately for facing the consequences of the chosen path. For instance, we saw how Abhay can fail in MBA, if he does not equip himself adequately.

Similarly, this 'damaged' but 'mandatory' method of choosing an education path after 10th/12th class can perhaps work if these four precautions are taken after choosing the path ( i.e during his graduation):

1. Choose the right college for graduation

Because student's abilities are just growing until 10/12th class, the student should choose the right college to help the growth of his cognitive abilities ( reasoning, numerical and others) in graduation. Students should at least use the right criteria to choose a proper college to nurture his abilities.

2. Find the right learning strategies based on the selected college of graduation

Some students , due to high marks, luckily find themselves in the best possible college. But most of the students take the decision of college and course by following the herd, and therefore are rarely prepared to 'adjust' their learning strategies based on what they encounter in the college.

 For instance, students in Tier 2/3 Engineering colleges have to adopt specific learning strategies to join IT company. Or students joining MBA course in Tier 3/4 institutes, have to fine tune their learning strategies depending the characteristics of their college and the surrounding environment.

3. Fine tune the development of other traits and abilities during the graduation period.

Both counselors and students are at fault here. Neither do the counselors guide the students to identify their abilities, nor do the students take the effort to understand their own abilities. Because of this lack of information, they cannot find their 'least resistance path of excellence' due to which they cannot use the college period to rectify the past mistakes. Or, if he has low IQ, he has to do find his bankable abilities - academic or non academic - and focus on it. 

In other words, the student has to actively 'guide' his learning  ( while he is graduating) if he has to maximise the benefit of the choice. Without this guidance during graduation, he is left at the mercy of the college, faculty and the student environment.

4. Understand and apply the rules of second laws of success

Because choice of career path in India is done at too early an age ( 15-18), with little information about self, one can never be sure if one has made the right choice. One has to get prepared to excel.

One has to proactively understand the second law of success and take actions in advance, instead of the using obsolete laws of first law of excellence which he learns from his elders and the newspaper articles.

For instance, one has to understand the pitfalls of high IQ students, that Leta Hollingworth discovered, if his intelligence is above average. If he has just average+ IQ, he has to use the strategy of focusing on a domain that Renzulli discovered for students with average IQ. Or he has to use Passion to guide his path.  Or he has to use the gift of his emotional and spiritual characteristics in excelling. Like Howard Gardner, the founder of multiple intelligence says,

"There are hundreds and hundreds of ways to succeed, and many many different abilities that will help us get there."