Education…do we really need it?

school.jpgComing from a Nigerian family, it has been well pressed on me that an education is your passport to life. If any of you know any Nigerians, you’ll know that Nigerians LOVE to collect qualifications. The more the better!

My parents drummed it into my ears that I had to do well at school. And do well I did…I am very lucky to have benefitted from a fantastic education.

When I left university and stepped into the real world however, I was surprised to notice that it wasn’t always the most educated people who were the most well off. Being highly educated also didn’t mean that you’d be the most ‘intelligent’ or socially adept.

There are many different forms of intelligence, and in the big bad world, some of these – emotional intelligence for example – are actually more important and can get you further than just which university you went to. The formal education system, however, tends to focus on one type of intelligence, which is that of being able to successfully complete tests and exams. This can be very limiting for someone who has deeper skills in other areas.

I have met people who have just come out of prison who are highly intelligent and those with little formal education who are very good business people and make lots of money using their wits. Is a formal education overrated?

Admittedly I speak from the priviledged position of someone who has been well educated, and I’m not saying that people shouldn’t know how to read, write and have basic skills. However, above and beyond the necessary literacy skills is a formal education really that important? Is it the best way for people to learn and grow? Maybe young people could gain the necessary skills they need for real life in another way, or through a different type of ‘system’?

I ask these questions also because I have become increasingly sceptical about what the education system in its current form is designed to do. In many ways I feel that rather than encouraging people to be open minded, to be creative and to step into their greatness, many schools in fact do the total opposite.

They encourage conformity, adopting a one-size-fits-all approach that does not allow space for individual talents. Differences and uniqueness are suppressed whilst ticking boxes and fitting into a mould are welcomed. I feel that this is the reason why many talented young people, young Black men in particular, are falling by the wayside when it comes to schooling.

I sometimes wonder if the education system is designed to breed robots who will fill the society’s status quo and become part of the ‘rat race’, rather than becoming great leaders, visionaries and achievers – or just becoming more of who they are.

It is no surprise to me to hear that many very successful businessmen and entrepreneurs were not the top of their class, or did not finish school. Possibly finishing school may have suppressed those entrepreneurial urges, and they would have ended up working in an office…

I’m not saying that an education isn’t important. What I’m asking is what type of education is important, and what the real point of an education is beyond just passing tests. I’m also considering if there are alternatives to the current formal state education system that could generate better results…

I really love the Montessori school model and would be really interested in seeing how it might work in a secondary school setting. The Montessori method is one that promotes the individual child’s learning over and above that of the class as whole, so as to respect the individual’s own talents and needs. I love that as I believe that is what education should be about: learning rather than just teaching.

I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts on this too…. so please feel free to comment!


5 thoughts on “Education…do we really need it?

  1. Montessori, Kumon, Homeschooling, Traditional and other methods of schooling are to be done on a child by child basis. For some children the way the schooling system is designed suits them to a tee while for others it is not the case.

    Paid for schools are access to the best universities and high paying jobs especially in areas such as banking, finance, architecture, medicine. Is there evidence that alternative education can meet the rigourous demands of these professions? Not sure you tell me.

    Holistic education is important but is best served by revamping the whole system or getting your child(ren) in the one that best serves them? And is emotional intelligence the responsibility of schools or families?

    Thoughts? Thoughts?

  2. Good questions Dave, and ones that I have myself. No doubt that fields such as finance, science and medicine do require certain qualifications and a high level of education, although it is possible to get into finance and succeed by learning on the job – many employers offer on-the-job training these days.

    With regards to your question on emotional literacy, in an ideal world it would be taught in the home – by parents who are themselves emotionally literate. But even so I believe it should also be taught in schools – what is an education for if not to prepare you for real life? You cannot get through real life without good emotional literacy and I would say it’s more important than studying Religious Education or Design & Technology.

    Also – many parents are simply not equipped to provide their children with some of their necessary life skills. So the gap has to be filled somewhere. Since kids spend most of their time at school, why not there? I don’t know if we can afford to keep on saying ‘that’s the parents’ job’ when we have kids in inner cities, for example, going around killing each other.

    It would be difficult for most state schools to tailor their teaching to the needs of the children simply due to the sheer sizes of classes these days, and the limited resources. That’s also an issue that the government is required to address. But, again, I ask if a school cannot cater for its pupils adequately – and many schools in England are failing to do so – what is the point or purpose of the school and what it is providing?

    As society changes, the education system needs to change with it and I do think there is a requirement for more holistic education system that focusses a lot more on ‘soft’ skills than just Physics, Chemistry etc.

    Gimme your response…

  3. As you know I teach emotional intelligence in schools but I find it frustrating that the cycle of learning is incomplete if one message comes from school and is not met at home.

    The reality however is when you go for a job as a plumber of investment banker, emotional intelligence is not something they are looking for in the interview, but I hear your points.

  4. The emotional intelligence thing is probably a hen and egg situation. Having said that it should still start at home. Thats what parenting is about.

    With regard to type of education, I don’t think it matters so much as if that system identifies the childs strengths, develops them and makes them ready to espouse that knowledge.

    I think the current systems can do this as well as the alternatives. One size fits all is not bad if the “all” are similar i.e groups of students. There’s also nothing wrong with the alternatives apart from the cost of implementing them.

  5. Beyond the basics of reading, writing, and mathematics, I do believe that our school systems are more focused on producing obedient workers that will keep with the status quo as opposed to independent free-thinkers who may change the world. In most situations that is how someone will be successful, i.e. knowing what is expected and what to do in a given situation. One reason that many successful leaders of business and other fields may have left school early is that their personalities just did not allow them to follow this level of blind conformity. In Warren Bennis‘ book, On Becoming a Leader he states that "Our educational system is really better at training than educating. And that’s unfortunate. Training is good for dogs, because we require obedience from them. In people, al it does is orient them toward the bottom line" (p. 41). I recently reviewed this book on my blog.
    I completely agree with you that in order for people to reach their true potential they need an environment in which they can express themselves. The traditional school system does not really allow for this, but should it? Public schools are funded with public money, in the US this is usually comes in the form of property taxes, to ensure that all students have a solid grounding in the basics – for the public good. No matter what changes are made to school systems, it will still be nearly impossible for a teacher to allow all students to grow intellectually in their own directions – the classroom is really a place to learn a common core of knowledge, and do it together. Again, I do think that people will benefit from being able to explore topics on their own, I’m just not so sure that, as children grow, the classroom is really the best place for it. Even Montessori schools find it challenging to keep up with the varied interests of all students and that is why such school rarely continue past the third grade. What would be a better solution is if we lived in a society that valued and promoted education and exploratory learning, and students of all ages had the tools and resources to explore on their own – this would perhaps be a better use of public funds and could be seen in improvements to museums and libraries.

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