by Joachim MacEbong
‘Education is what remains when one has forgotten what one has learnt at school’ – Albert Einstein
Today, I want to talk about education. Most people go to school to make good grades, so they can get good jobs with fat salaries, marry that fine girl (if you’re a guy), have kids, etc etc. Let’s face it: that’s why most of us bother with school in the first place. We put up with the cramming, endless note taking, lectures we hate, lecturers we hate even more and so on, simply because the world tells us that without higher education, without the ‘kpali’, we can’t be prosperous. If you don’t have a first degree, and these days a masters, the world says you are likely to be behind your peers.
Most people feel lost in the school system. In Nigeria for example, much of learning requires ‘cramming and pouring’ in exams, which benefits only a few students, frustrating the rest. You must regurgitate exactly what your lecturer spent pointless hours dictating to you, or you won’t do well. Very little room is given for innovation or creativity, turning most into perpetual job seekers who end up hating the jobs they get after a while, but can’t leave because of the steady pay check. The problems with our educational system go beyond the absence of desks and chairs, or the renumeration of lecturers, or even about the number of universities, even though these are grave. It is about a system that adds nothing at all to the nation, where ideas go to die. In developed countries, universities have been in the forefront of scientific advancement for centuries, and this must be replicated here if Nigeria will be on the path to greatness.
It isn’t all rosy elsewhere though. In the last 3 years across much of the developed world, this formula that says go to school, get a job, buy a house, send your kids to school and live on a pension has gone out the window. High unemployment, house prices in the toilet, jobs going to China, and rising college debt have caused more and more people to question the very foundation of the school system. Since 1978 in the US, inflation has gone up three times, healthcare costs six times, but education costs have gone up ten fold. American entrepreneur and venture capitalist Peter Thiel says that this higher education bubble is driven by the notion that college education is the only way to get ahead, which leads many to incur a lot of debt to attain it, and universities keep raising tuition fees knowing that people will pay. Part of the reason for these high tuition costs are because of college rankings which Malcolm Gladwell calls ‘absurd’, while others like former hedge fund manager James Altucher argue strenuously for children to be kept out of college altogether. In his book ‘Conspiracy of the Rich’,Robert Kiyosaki insists that the school system is ill equipped to perform what should be its main goal in the information age: to encourage people to think for themselves, and innovate, and choose how they want to be educated and by whom.
As user generated web content grows in volume, does it not make sense that education should also be user driven? After all, what good is school if you can’t use the knowledge in your chosen field? This might have been what made Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg and many others give up school (not education) in order to become hugely successful. They must have figured out that the school system was not for them. So if you are reading this and your dream is to be an entrepreneur in whatever field, you are probably better off getting experience where it matters most: the real world. This is because there are likely to be several failures before a breakthrough (which is a main reason people prefer the steady paycheck in the first place), and the earlier a person fails, the earlier they are likely to succeed.
Obviously, owning a business is not for every one, but neither is school. Innovation is the order of the day all over the world and entrepreneurship is exploding. The school system, by and large, does not seem to be helping with this. Is school the problem rather than the solution?