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Learning For Life
Wisdom Letter #30 | The One About Education
Do you consider yourself Educated?
Is there even a difference?
And how do you even conclude that?
Is it about the last exam you passed? in school or college?
Is it about the credentials that school or college gave you to play and win petty status games?
Do you think your education has prepared you for life?
How would you design an education that prepares the next generation for life?
Our species has one of the longest childhoods compared to other creatures.
A long childhood means a lot of time protected from the dangers of the ‘real’ world. This protected time provides opportunities to prepare the would-be adults for the life ahead.
The core purpose of education is to prepare us for a life full of unforeseen challenges and random events that can go both in favor or against us.
That would imply preparedness in all aspects - financial, social, emotional and any other domain that is relevant for that time.
The relevance to the time is the key aspect that would govern what needs to be taught and how.
Should my education help me deal with a crisis like the one we are facing today with COVID19 pandemic? Is that an unfair expectation? What did my education prepare me for? (When did you really start social distancing? or are you like this bright IAS from Kerala who fled quarantine orders to travel across the country. Please, don’t be like him. Sit at home and wash your hands.)
Sadly, most of our education still tries to prepare us to be factory workers required in the early years of the industrial revolution.
Where else in your life, does the ringing of a bell signify the end of a task, apart from factories?(or schools!)
Where else is obedience valued more than creativity - again factories where assembly lines take priority over even bathroom breaks.
Is it any wonder that our formal education system resembles an assembly line churning out one finished product after another? All alike, in terms of qualities and defects.
Today we live in the internet age, the industrial revolution is far behind us, but sadly, the way we educate our children is still stuck in those ancient times.
A postmodern world will generate postmodern jobs which will require postmodern education. How do we prepare for that?
Also, should jobs even be the only purpose of education?
What about social and emotional preparedness? What about financial preparedness even? Nobody teaches you to manage the money that you earn?
More so, nobody ever teaches you to keep your job or succeed at your job, which apparently was “the” purpose of that education.
This week on The Wisdom Project we re-examine our education system. What is, or rather should be the purpose of education? Do we have systems in place to achieve that or are we lost somewhere? And is there any escape? Is it too late to undo the damage? If not, what can we do now?
It all starts from our primary schools and daycare. In most parts of the world, preschools prepare kids for formal school by arming them with basic skills of reading and writing.
It is the preparation for grade 1, which is the preparation for grade 2, which is the preparation for next grade and so on, ultimately leading to preparation for college.
It’s like we are all in a rush to send our kids to the best college possible and somehow that will magically solve all the life’s problems.
We do not pause to understand what is the specific value that the preschool or primary education adds.
Finland serves a unique example where kids do not start school until they are seven. The schools prioritize teaching more important life skills like learning how to make friends and respect others, or dressing themselves competently over reading words or writing letters.
The main goal of the Finnish system is to make sure that the children are happy and responsible individuals.
And the kids do this through play. It’s not just random play, it’s serious business, (at least for the teachers).
Researchers point out that a carefully organised playtime helps develop qualities such as attention-span, perseverance, concentration and problem solving, which are better predictors of success as compared to ‘the age when the kid started to read.’
Because of such interventions Finland has emerged as a global leader in education. The changes in primary education reflect as kids grow into their teenage years. Finnish pupils produced some of the world’s highest scores in Maths, Science and Reading.
Finland is taking the approach further by eradicating subjects from schooling.
This piece from The Guardian talks about how do they manage to do all of this - both in its spirit and implementation.
Check it out—
The College Deal
Most of the skill that is taught in college never applies to the job that one lands in after crossing the graduation finish line.
The labor market doesn’t pay for the useless subjects that students master; it pays for the preexisting traits that are signaled by mastering those subjects.
If college were really about mastering skills (and not mere concepts) then students who study science would absorb the scientific method better, and then habitually use it to analyze the world. But that rarely happens.
Here’s one good example from The Big Bang Theory. Take out 20 seconds and watch this one. Its fun (and insightful).
With over 40 years in education, Bryan Caplan, economics professor at George Mason University, makes a case that the aim to send more and more students to college is less about mastering a skill and more about signaling that one can be trained for the job at hand.
He argues that, if everyone had a college degree, the result would be not great jobs for all, but runaway credential inflation.
Its an interesting take on our obsession with college education.
Check it out-
Obsession with Grades
If there is one thing education has managed to achieve , it is to ingrain the feeling of competition early on.
The race to score A’s is uniform everywhere.
Funnily enough, if a lot of people get A’s, it is not considered a success of the students but rather a failure of the system.
The system is accused of inflating grades and accepting poor standards.
We love to see ourselves better than others and hence we love ranks. A system with high number of A’s deprives us of this privilege.
We use grades as a mechanism to announce who’s beating whom.
In this opinion piece for The New York Times, Alfie Kohn argues that this obsession with grades misguides our schools.
A school’s ultimate mission, apparently, is not to help everyone learn but to rig the game so that there will always be losers.
Check it out -
Revolution in Education
Sir Ken Robinson is a renowned cultural leader, writer, speaker and a pioneer for creativity in education. His Ted Talk is one of the most watched talks of all times.
If one has to know the way forward for education, there cannot be a better guiding light.
In this interview with Ted founder, Chris Anderson, he talks about the need for creativity in education, design of an ideal school and role of technology in education.
It’s a fun conversation that gives many moments of candid laughter as well as original insight.
Give it a listen.
Yes, we are Mark Manson fans. Saying this for the nth time, the way he explains the most profound concepts in honest, straightforward and fun manner is unparalleled.
MM makes a case for teaching the most fundamental skills in schools - Personal finance, Relationships, Logic (absent almost everywhere these days), Self Awareness and Skepticism, along with details about what the curriculum would include and how it can help.
More than a reference for schools to follow, this post helps us individuals, understand what can we learn now.
We are privileged to be in a time where the resources to teach these topics are easily accessible. It is for us to take the charge of our learning and prepare for the life ahead of us.
Also, it gives us an interesting way to think about the whole education process, this is an important thought experiment we must all indulge in, what are the 5 things that should be taught in every school according to you? Think about it.
Signing off for the weekend, here’s a quote worth thinking about —
“The Capacity to Learn is a Gift;
The Ability to Learn is a Skill;
The Willingness to Learn is a Choice.”
— Brian Herbert
Read that again.
Despite all the criticism that we may have for the education system, all is not lost.
If you can read this, you are already gifted, apparently you also have the skill to navigate through the internet, click through links and scroll down web pages and emails.
Now it’s just about whether you have the willingness to learn or not. And that’s a choice you make every day of your life.
Think about it.
We are starting a podcast series around the ongoing COVID19 pandemic.
We released an episode yesterday where we are joined by our friend, Gaurav Tiwari aka GT to talk about the social and economic impacts of the CoronaVirus.
In case you missed it, check it out now—
If you would like to have a chat and share your thoughts and opinions, just hit reply and get in touch. We are interested in free flowing conversations and ideas, not formal interviews.
We are taking a breather for the next couple of weeks to reflect and assess the direction we want to take this project in.
We intend to take such breaks regularly going forward as we have realized that stopping to think and plan adds a great deal of value than running non-stop.
Meanwhile, we will send out an assortment of some of the most loved wisdom letters over the past few months — Pearls of Wisdom.
Also, we will release a few more podcasts and off-schedule antiviral emails.
Aditi & Ayush
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This was Wisdom Letter #30. In case you want to revisit any of the previous 28 letters, checkout our entire archive.
And if you’re wondering why we are doing this project, what is the point of it? checkout the intro post, it might make some sense!
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