Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Just Enough

The principal of Brebner asked the staff last week whether it made sense for a child to aim for grades of 50% or 60% or 65% when there are only two academic goals: a pass and a distinction. He admitted that this was an odd thing for the principal of a school to even be suggesting, but pointed out that his son had explained this attitude to him - his son is a medical student at the same university I'm at.

In terms of a school situation, I am not sure if I agree. I think getting 69% is a lot better than getting 41%. Of course, if you're able to get 40% for all your subjects, the results at the end of the day correspond - both students will pass. I got it all the wrong the way round. I got merit certificates almost every year, and then, since my mother died just days before my matric exams, my matric average was probably my worse average percentage in my school career. At least it was good enough to get me into university, but I often wonder if my life would have taken a different direction had I heeded my principal's offer then to take the marks I'd already accrued, and run. I guess my whole school career had been heading to this moment and now that I was upon them...well, I just couldn't walk away from it.

At university it does some to be a fairly adequate strategy. I used to belong to the just-pass category. After all I was studying a lot of stuff that I didn't find particularly stimulating (think Latin, Building Science, Applied Maths and Accounting). I think I have about 4 or 5 subjects on my university record where I have an average mark (predicate and exam) that add up to exactly 50%. Of course, I have painful memories of just-just failing Private Law (by something like 4%) and I repeated this blunder in Economics and at least one other subject. At university level it means a tedious extra year doing more of the same. It's knock to one's confidence, and it certainly spoils momentum.

So it feels strange and good to be at university writing another exam today (I wrote yesterday as well), but this one is an exam that I really don't have to write, because with a 71% predicate I already get promoted. I guess it's because I enjoy what I am studying that I am prepared to spend time on it, and there is the incentive that a distinction means a discount on the next year of study. But there's also the personal standard that is being set, and the psychology of CANI. CANI is an acronym for Constant And Never Ending Improvement. Once you start to set standards (that are not compulsory but self chosen) you also develop the personal discipline that is needed to excel or perform to a high standard in the other quadrants of ones life.

Doing just enough is not enough.

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