Sunday, July 18, 2010

Education and Lottery

The Hong Kong A-level Exam results were out some two weeks ago and the IB Diploma results were released just now.  Parents of kids who did well (my congratulations to them) were reported to have said that getting 5As in HKAL or 40+ in IB and securing a ticket to one of the top universities is like finally winning a big lottery or a mega jackpot.

Numerous researches have shown that winners of mega jackpots live a short life, are far more likely to go bankrupt and have their marriage ended by way of a divorce.

Do you still want to win a big lottery or mega jackpot?

We often see in the papers stories of people winning a mega jackpot.  What about the people who did not win? I bet you've never read any news about Peter's not winning, Paul's not winning, Mary's not winning ... If we require a TV station to run a 30-second interview with each loser every time they interview a winner, the losers in a typical lottery in the US will require nine and a half years of your uninterrupted attention just to watch them say, "I did not win", "I lost", "Neither did I"... (There is an interesting TED video on this.)  The media bias creates an illusion that lotteries are winnable and makes people buy lottery tickets.

Is it the same with the attraction of the top universities?

We have stories in the papers and fancy magazines (which very often are more pornographic than the real pron magazines) that Simon Junior, graduate of Princeton, joining Goldman Sachs as its youngest partner, and Ann, grand-grand-grand-daughter of Peter the Great and a graduate from Yale, becoming CEO of one of the Fortune 500.  It's not that likely that we'll find in the papers stories of Simon, graduate of Harvard, becoming a police officer, or Peter, a Cambridge's graduate, becoming a pharmacist or a teacher.

Is there a similar illusion, like the lottery one, that makes people believe that going to one of the top universities will bring us happiness and success?

Winners of medium-sized lotteries are generally happier.  If Oxbridge and Ivy League = the biggest lotteries and second-tier universities = medium-sized lotteries, what do you prefer?


schressl said...

The biggest prize of course!
Nothing wrong with Oxbridge and the Ivies if you have the grades.

W said...

Nothing wrong with the big names of course. But, there are things bigger than Oxbridge and Ivies.

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