Class Systems, Competition, Sun

Well, yesterday's comments on lopsided class systems made me think of India. Or perhaps it was my 6 am call with India this morning. Sun's founders came from Stanford, Berkeley, and IIT (Indian Institute of Technology). Stanford University Network won the name competition because outsourcing wasn't a big trend in 1982 and Berkeley University Network, well, didn't quite have the same ring. A big belief at Sun is that competition drives innovation, be it naming a company, deciding which of two technologies we should productize, or external competition.

Competition for admission to colleges is a great example. In the US, we have the SAT tests. Anybody can take the SAT and see how they rank, in a relative sense, to various peer groups. Not all, but many universities publish average SAT scores of incoming students. IIT goes even farther. They have about 100,000 applicants each year and accept about 3000 students. The admissions test score of those 3000 students is published, in rank order, in the newspaper for everyone to see. Students can see exactly how they ranked compared to everyone else. By the way, 3000 out of 100,000 makes IIT even more selective in admissions than Stanford or Berkeley.

Privacy laws in the US would never allow individual SAT scores to be published in the paper, but think of what you could do with more anonymous peer rankings. Ever since the first Pacman game, video game designers have recognized that competition drives game usage. Only today, you are not competing to be in the top 10 on the local pizza parlor's Pacman game, your competing for a top 10 ranking in a global online game. Why can't we apply that concept to 4th grade math? If my 4th grader could anonymously see how he compared to other 4th graders in long division, in his school, in our town, in the world, he might spend more time playing Mathblaster and less on today's favorite game of the week. Now if only I could figure out how to disable those cheat codes...

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