This discrepancy between ‘what is’ and ‘what needs to be’ in our educational system and our perceptions of it is highlighted for me by a common proclamation made by my students in my writing seminars. ‘We despise school. They don’t educate us on the things we want to know. We simply go there to see our buddies.’
It is tough to disagree with them because I have seen how students become increasingly unprepared to meet real-world demands and have been forced into straight jackets that limit knowledge and education over the years. The emphasis on achieving academic brilliance in courses that will have little future application has deprived students of the opportunity to develop skill sets that are becoming increasingly important in pursuing meaningful jobs.
The fact that most students spend their school and college years racking up numbers and credentials that only partially meet job requirements begs the question: is it time to abandon academic degrees in favour of informal education that will produce a generation of unique innovators? Will the rise of technology and access to specific knowledge bases outside of elite schools lead us to accept basic skills as a prerequisite rather than degrees?
Accept it with no pretensions: our schools and colleges do not offer a perfect atmosphere that syncs with our children’s capacities and learning tendencies. Our official educational system also does not give kids with difficulties at a very individual level, where they can analyze their strengths and progress into what they want to become.
They need more data frequently relevant to their future demands for creativity, teamwork, and critical thinking. In many years as a children’s mentor in the informal sector, I’ve noticed a severe lack of inventiveness among students. An overabundance of pedagogy suppresses their curiosity, and the possibility of experimenting is nearly nonexistent.
We are on the verge of massive paradigm shifts in the types of intellectual resources the planet requires to keep humanity progressing positively. This shift cannot be completed by burdening our children with irrelevant knowledge that excludes critical skills from their itinerary.
In a job market that still values degrees and requires them, it is hard for us to remove them from our resumes. This, however, may no longer be as true as it formerly was. Companies are now willing to abandon traditional screening processes to reevaluate candidates based on hands-on job requirements. There is a growing awareness of how candidates’ unique abilities to their workstations will benefit the company’s bottom line more than their degrees (which may have yet to prepare them for the job). The inflated degree syndrome of the past is gradually dissipating.
Outside our colleges, there is a wealth of talent that, if tapped, can be used purposefully for our common advancement. We are witnessing the birth of a parallel educational universe that nurtures skills and prepares a new, efficient employable generation. Online courses, digitized learning, and private internships are ushering in a new era of skill acquisition based on individual interests and passions. New turfs are being constructed to cater expertise to a fast-paced and technologically-driven society. But are we ready to accept these new competency and career development approaches?
Researchers, governments, and policymakers will need to revise curricula to meet our changing demands. Companies will have to abandon their emphasis on degrees in favor of ingenuity as a qualification. And we, as knowledge consumers, must overcome our aversion to informal means of learning and accept them as equally effective as traditional education. Only then will schools cease to be uninteresting and useless to children, and colleges cease to produce degree holders with few practical skills.