ATTAINMENT vs ACHIEVEMENT what’s the difference?


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For most of you who completed a degree right after high school (which is most of you!), when you went to get your first job you found that most of what you learned at university was actually completely irrelevant to what the real world was all about.

I thought that this was a problem of the older generation – like myself – graduating in the 80s, but I was shocked to find a 21 year old I was talking to yesterday felt exactly the same even today. She really wondered what this whole degree thing was all about, and (like me) just consoled herself that it was a really good ‘piece of paper’.

But really what is going on here when we are educating people to be academic with little or no serious practical information. The problem is ‘attainment’. That degree is genuinely considered a piece of paper with a level of ‘attainment’ recorded on it.

I can tell you from an employer’s point of view, to get a visa for a teacher here in Malaysia they have to have attained a degree. So that’s important just to get the visa, but actually it is no indication that they can actually teach. And often it is in a subject completely unconnected to teaching, e.g. History or Politics.

Another thing I do look for in a degree is the marks (particularly if they have included their transcript), this tells me if they are intelligent or not. Because I do value intelligence!

Then you can get into the whole area of those ‘snobby degrees’ like Harvard or Oxford, where yes you are supposed to be intelligent to get in, but you can also be rich or well connected! All will help you secure a place there.

But after you have shown that you can get good grades, or that you are rich or that you are well connected – the degree itself is pretty useless.

This is why ‘achievement’ will be the new hot requirement.

So what is achievement? Achievement here is when you have created something new or innovative or you have completed a challenge that has been tried and tested in the workplace or marketplace. These creative achievements will be a real badge of success.

I find this all the time. If I get someone who has e.g. an IT degree, I ask him/her what they created. Sometimes they give me some jargon-choked sentence full of information I have never heard of. So I will ask them to show me something they have done. Now this is where it starts to get interesting.

Fortunately there are some colleges out there who do have these ‘inventive’ courses and these guys do have something to show for it. It could be a website they created, an app, or some software that a company uses for its accounting system. It could even be a video game or a new piece of technology that is used in dental surgeries for extracting teeth! It doesn’t matter. All I have to see is that it is created, they can show me how it works, and then I can consider how this person could be useful for us. This creation will really spark my imagination! What is even more exciting is that before I suggest what they can do for us, I then ask them, what it is that they can create for us…they are often surprised because they are so used to being told what to do, and have never been given such freedom before… they find it a bit frightening but extremely exciting.

And so this is where the tables get turned…and this is the new workplace.

So that’s IT, what about teachers?

Good question. We are always looking for good/great teachers. The truth is that a reference is meaningless to me, because the referee could say anything they want, I can call them yes, but how do I know that that boss has the same standards or philosophy as me?  They only thing a teacher needs to do is to show us a demo lesson and as well as complete a 3 months probationary period together with training and observations along the way. From there we can see if the person is not only skilled but also has that wonderful balance between someone who suits our style and culture as well as someone who is open to the changes that will be ahead of all of us.

So that’s my take on attainment vs achievement. Personally I had this idea back in the 1980s when I first graduated from teachers college, and teaching children at the time, really focussed on task based learning. This is nothing new for me with children, but now I am excited about using it on adults.

Sadly a lot of adults get their creativity squeezed out of them because attainment becomes so paramount, particularly in secondary school, everything gets based on that piece of paper. Hopefully this will all end soon, and we can truly all be allowed to be rewarded for our creativity and insight.

Looking forward to it!

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