Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Opportunity Cost

The old adage 'you cannot have your cake and eat it,' is so solid and many attempts to escape its truth are futile. In the early years the literal application of this was that you either had your cake in your brown bag or you took it out and ate it. Once eaten you had nothing left to exchange with your friend who brought your favorite cookies for break. So either you had the cake to trade or you ate it and had nothing to trade at break time.
This lesson becomes seemingly more difficult as we grow and try to get it all - the best of all worlds. As we progressed in school we learnt about opportunity cost, which is just a fancy way of saying you can't have your cake and eat it. So if you chose to dodge classes, failed to turn in your homework you would not get an 'A' at the end of term because there were so many gaps in what you had learned. You could make up for this by reading very hard for the final exam but that meant a lot of pressure as exams approached and that was the opportunity cost. Still we wanted both the good life and the 'A,' so we devised a way of eating our cake and keeping it: 'spotting.' We figured that if you looked at past national exam papers over a period of 5-6 years you could come up with a spotting formula. If in the the last three years a question on Napoleon of France was repeated on the test, chances were that this year they would ask about Bismarck or some other European historical figure so you skipped reading anything about Napoleon altogether and used your scanty reading time to learn everything there was to know about Bismarck. If you followed this principle with English literature, you would pick one or two classic novels and master them instead of reading a whole slew of books thrown at you every term. Judging by both my 'O' and 'A' levels, the system worked well if you got lucky (I got lucky;) but if you mis-spotted, you were in a whole lot of trouble.
At University I run out of luck. I learnt a little late that the 'Spotting' system did not work so well when there was massive material to sift through on a plethora of subjects. Granted, there were a lot of extenuating circumstances for my mediocre academic performance, nonetheless the principal factor was that the school exam system never prepared us for the lecture method or taking personal responsibility for learning. Instead school had taught us to 'succeed' simply by 'spotting' topics before an exam and then throwing them up all over the answer sheet never to be bothered by them again. In fact I remember vividly the bonfire we lit with our exercise books to celebrate after our final 'O' level exam. I finally focused and worked hard to scrape my way through law school but because I had an active social life the opportunity cost was that I missed out on an honors degree.

At 50 I know that our secondary and high schools did not equip us with the building blocks and skills for further education, we simply memorized topics for exams without really learning the subjects.

— feeling naughty.

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