Ability and Academic Merit – what’s the difference?
In our academic dog-eat-dog jungle it’s academic merit that everyone considers the barometer of a person’s ability. But in the real world it’s performance on the job which counts doesn’t it, not one’s past academic record. Academic toppers may have a fine mind and may turn out to be great achievers…or they may not. But they still do get into the best professional institutes and as a consequence into the best companies.
But what role does academic merit play in a person’s ability to do his job well? This burning question seems relevant at a time when there is so much fuss being made over the fact that the IIM’s have had to “lower” the cut-offs for admission into their hallowed precincts because of the requirement for “quotas” for the backward classes.
While the relaxation of cut-offs was insignificant in some cases, some other B-campuses had to compromise on merit to allow these students in…
This made me wonder what “merit” actually meant. How do a few extra percentage points make a difference to a person’s ability to do his job…or wait a minute, do academic institutions really care about ability on the job? Or do they only care about examinations? Why should they assume that a 90 percenter will necessarily apply the knowledge he has (even if it is more knowledge than say a seventy-five percenter) in a better fashion? Aren’t academic institutions concerned (I am not only talking about IIM’s here, although that is what set my mind thinking) about how their students will fare after they leave college?
Before I continue let me say that I dislike the concept of caste based reservations (although I have a flexible attitude towards reservations based on economic status).
Well, you can judge for yourself whether some extra percentage points make a difference in a person’s ability to perform at his/her job. I have listed some qualities that make a person excel at his job. In this list, “Knowledge” of the job is taken for granted, although “expertise” isn’t. Expertise is what finally counts and it’s knowledge plus lots of other things. The information is picked up from the web. Although in most of the cases I used the exact words of the author I have not put the words in quotation marks as often the points have been chopped up and presented in point form. (You can assume that none of points are in my own words, although some are). All of these qualities are simply pointers and by no means the only qualities required.
Successful entrepreneurs need to be high in self-belief, be self-motivated, have the capacity to bounce back after failure, be driven by a manic need to succeed, be decisive, take risks, use their intuition. They also are keenly aware of the skills they lack and thus surround themselves with people who have those skills. They make personal sacrifices in order to succeed, are quick to recognize niche markets and business opportunities. They are multi-taskers, are action-oriented, set high targets, are never satisfied with their success, are persistent, and are able to endure rejection and set backs.
Successful teachers need to have confidence, patience, understanding, compassion for students, creativity (to be able to make teaching interesting), dedication, be able to morally support and encourage students and have a passion for life
Successful software engineers need to have a flexibility with tools, be willing to learn new tools and throw away old ones. They need to give up the idea of being tools experts and learn to identify the real and immediate problems and find solutions. “The difference between a good software engineer and a bad software engineer is not a matter of programming technique or hard core geekery. A good software engineer determines the right problem to solve, and solves it using the right tools”.
Successful doctors need to be confident, empathetic, humane, personal, forthright, respectful and thorough. (This is based on transcripts of patients of a reputed medical facility detailing their best and worst experiences with a physician). “Patients who described a “worst physician” experience focused on traits reflecting opposites of desired doctor behaviors, particularly perceived insensitive or disrespectful behavior.” Also, the best doctors are those who use evidence as a tool, not as a determinant of practice.
Successful managers possess good problem solving ability, excellent communication skills, flexibility in their leadership style, an attitude that promotes teamwork, ability to accept change, an optimistic attitude and leadership qualities.
Successful journalists need to be resourceful, have a very fast working speed without compromising on accuracy, be committed (work involves long hours), a thick skin (people will react to what you write), ability to sniff out a good story idea, multitasking ability, interpersonal skills, confidence.
Whether it is a business school or a medical school, I sincerely wish that some other, more innovative, methods are employed to get the right students. Marks in examinations should not be the only criteria. One has to see what kind of professional course it is, chart out a personality profile, and try and test students based on these abilities. It would be interesting to see the results. Most likely people at the lower end of the academic spectrum still may not make the grade, but I am sure that a lot of “average” students might.
Later: I happened to read Amrutha’s post on Elitist Education and want to quote a few lines here. She writes:
I simply believe that excellence can exist anywhere, even in the slums. We are, as a society, too caught up in the rut of exams, degrees and marks to see that intelligence is unrelated to most or even all of these factors.
Excellence can indeed exist everywhere! The best training institutes in our country need to pick up the best and a few marks here and there does not matter!
(Photograph credits: From the Jaihind college website)
Related Reading: Busting the IQ test myth
Academic Intelligence is related to Emotional Intelligence
Science vs Humanities
The problems with our education system
Are Indian Muslims backward educationally?
Research on the connection between academic success and success at one’s job
Has caste-based affirmation worked in India?