Skills vs. the stamp

Interacting with current students in the university where I teach I find that getting a decent employment offer is one of the chief concerns on students' minds. It is well known that in our country selection processes (particularly for jobs) are actually rejection processes -- emphasis is on "filtering-out" the candidates so as to bring the numbers to a reasonable size which can be further evaluated and interviewed. Recruiters start by using proxy parameters to judge the skills. Most favorite first filtering criteria is overall grade that a student/candidate has secured in academics. It is assumed that a higher grade means higher competency in skills. In practice I have seen that this is often not the case. I have met students who are not top graders, but have much better mastery of the subject and skills of a trade. Particularly for students, I think the rot starts right with this belief that grades matter more than the skills and learning. The environment, unfortunately, conditioned them to focus on securing As and Bs by any means. Learning and skill building usually becomes an incidental by product at best.

Real test of quality of education and skills that a student acquires from a university or college normally happens when he/she starts working in the field. Finally it is the employer (or customer if self employed) who will tell whether a college adequately prepares a student or not. If ultimately it has to be the employer or the customer itself who will judge your fitness-for-job then why wait for the duration of a course to complete (and chasing As and Bs along the way) before facing what one would anyway have to face after graduation? Why not bring the real field problems into the courses? Or in other words why shouldn't as a student you should seek out the real problems in a field and apply your learning from a course to solve those problems, and thus build your field-proven portfolio of skills.

In my view, to demonstrate that you possess certain skills you don't really need a piece of paper with some numbers on it and stamped by some university. In the age of Internet it is relatively easy to showcase your skills. Whether you play guitar or are a programming geek you can create an e-portfolio that showcases some of your work. Let me also add that I'm not trying to undermine the importance of genuinely achieved good grades. In my opinion, to a serious recruiter a peek into some of your real work gives much more confidence than just relying on proxy parameters. For instance, if you are an aspiring programmer, you could perhaps build your portfolio by developing some open source software (OSS) or participating in an existing OSS project. GSOC projects are a favorite with many.

To promote learning-centric study instead of grade-centric among students I think recruiters need to take the initiative. If recruiters, instead of primarily relying on grades, start suitably recognizing the demonstrated skills in e-portfolios of students, we can move towards creating a culture of genuine skill building among students. Universities too can do their bit by innovating with their course design; they could include more of hands-on element into what they teach.


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