6's culture

| Niels ter Meer

An often maligned aspect of the Dutch is our ‘6's culture’; that a 6 is seen as all that's worth bothering for. But student columnist Niels ter Meer there is another 6's culture, one that he thinks is much more insidious. It’s the one that lives in our teachers' policies.

Here at the UT, if you fail to achieve a sufficient result on your written test, you are entitled to a resit. Another chance to shine after some extra time to study and internalizing the mistakes you might have made. A completely clean slate, your work evaluated on its merits, with the highest grade ‘winning.’ Seems fair and just to me, right?

Now, here in Twente, we work a lot in projects. Usually some people fail (parts of) their project (I wonder why). Good luck having an entirely clean slate when your project is of the order of a couple of ECs. Most of the time, those who failed are offered the chance to supplement their work. Not a complete do-over, but a chance to process the feedback for the better. But at times, your work is no longer evaluated on its merits — a 6 is the most you can get, even if it could have been worth a 7.

I would understand a few marks off as a compromise, but limiting the grade through sheer force of policy feels unfair, perhaps even unjust to me. I can go on a whole rant about values, but I think something much more insidious is happening: we're signaling that we have stopped caring.

Because for one, if you really want to teach someone something, you want them to care about the thing. But for that to happen, they need to see that their teacher cares too; both about them and the subject. Nothing is more off-putting and demotivating than a teacher who just phones it in, or doesn't even answer it when you need them. Having such a policy allows them to hide from their own mistakes — why reflect, the rules are the rules!

But that same policy also signals that they have stopped caring about you, the student. Regardless of the underlying reason, when the policy is applied, it is no longer about teaching you something. It is no longer about having you learn from your mistakes, and then assessing you on having internalized and processed the feedback. It is just about getting you across the bar.

On top of that, I’ve also heard that limiting the grade to a 6 is a signal to future employers. If that’s the case, then it isn't about them not caring about the student anymore — its them caring more about a hypothetical future employer than about the all-but-hypothetical student standing right in front of them.

It may very well be that almost no project group manages to supplement their work such that it even surpasses anything worth a 6. But that idea, that presupposition — that prejudice — should never have been enshrined in policy. What you signal to students through the rules you subject them to matters. We can't afford to lose students because of corners cut through poorly considered policy. But if a 6's culture is what you’re after, this is one way to get there.

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