The Current State of Formal Education

Since graduating from University from my Science degree – I vowed never to go back again to formal study. It’s not because I had a bad experience (the lecturers, tutors and friends made will stay with me for life). It’s because (just like an extension from high-school) it simply taught you to jump through hoops.

Despite claims to the contrary, my experience was that it didn’t inspire creatively, lateral thinking or teach any valuable lifelong skills. Sure you got really good at rote learning and could achieve distinctions if you studied hard enough and your views were in-line with the institution. But is that all really worth being in $40,000 debt and take up four years of your life?

Now with certain professions such as doctors, lawyers etc you need a degree if that’s what you truly believe your calling is. But for those uncertain about their future (as I suspect many of us are), I really doubt that the default ‘get a degree and go to college/uni’ is the best advice. Plus, who knows what they want to do when they are 18 years old? I sure as heck didn’t. So then why are we pushing 18 year olds into a commitment that will cost him/her precious years and a decade to pay off?

I believe it comes from a by-gone time when the baby-boomers perceived a degree as prestigious and associated with wealth. But what started to happen? Barriers to entry to get a degree began to drop, and every man and his dog ended up getting a degree. You don’t need to be an economist to work out that supply/demand has shifted and degrees no longer hold the worth they once had.

However, it’s not this illusion of privilege that bugs me the most.  My biggest issue with traditional education – it discourages FAILURE. Being ‘average’ and passing grades is acceptable. This culture in-turn breeds a risk-averse individual who is too concerned about pushing the boundaries that he/she is conditioned to be safe and modest. I won’t blab on about the millions of cliches that exist about failure being necessary for success, but if you don’t fail enough when you are young, you won’t be prepared for the real world. If you are average in your own business- you will get SLAUGHTERED – no questions asked.

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Ever wonder why some of our greatest minds (think Bill Gates/Steve Jobs) dropped out of school? Because they operated outside usual paradigms and going through university would most probably stifle their creative endeavours.

Now there are some professions outside of the doctors and lawyers that would benefit from this hoop jumping. If your dream is to climb the corporate ladder or work for a large corporation – then university might prepare you well. However, if your dream is to start a business and become an entrepreneur in the truest sense – I would steer clear of tertiary education.

So what’s my advice for 18 year olds? Volunteer for startups, learn coding, upskill via online courses (lynda.com etc), start an online business and source a mentor. I guarantee you will learn more in 6 months than you will in a 4 year university degree.

Some say university/college teaches you discipline, and you can show future employers your commitment. If this is your prime reason – why not just join the military? At least in the latter you come out with a six-pack of abs…not beer.

Learning should be a lifelong pursuit, but unless serious disruption forces formal institutions to adapt, don’t hold out much hope for our universities/colleges breeding our next Zuckerberg. As my wise uncle once said “If you want to learn business, don’t do a business degree, start a business”.

Author: Allan Manuel

Allan is a Digital Marketing Consultant who specialises in startups and also happens to be passionate about helping others find meaningful work. Allan is CMO of Topme — a prepaid mobile top-up platform that gives consumers the power to leverage their social data for rewards. Get in touch with Allan here.

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