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My Love-Hate Relationship With The Educational System

I have a love-hate relationship with the educational system.

First, the love.

My parents grew up poor in Kenya, so it was hammered into us, “If you want to reach far in this world, you get an education.”

When it comes to breaking the cycle of poverty in third-world countries, education is still seen as the main key. It’s a low-risk investment that significantly helps increase one’s earning potential.

So I loved it because it was the only game I knew how to play. I couldn’t understand people. I could barely navigate social norms without being called out for something.

But I loved to read. And it helped that my parents couldn’t always get me the books I really wanted to read, because I ended up reading school textbooks.

From cover to cover.

More than once.

When I finished undergrad, I thought I was done with the educational system. I knew it was broken on far too many levels. So no more school for me, I thought.

I got a job and ‘the system’ there was worse.

You can guess why as I’ve mentioned it before.

I couldn’t understand people.

The rule there was harder, “You had to have an A-type hyper-competitive personality or the sharks will eat you alive.”

So two years later, and after an emotional breakdown, I jumped back into the only fish tank I knew how to hack; the educational system.

This time I knew my why, I was going to reform it from the inside.

Now here comes the hate part.

Oh boy, I don’t know where to start, so I’m just going to list down everything that bothers me about the system;

-Your grades in school give you a skewed assessment of your skills and abilities. For instance, getting straight A’s in school makes you believe you’re an A person when you’re not, and I’ve mentioned this before here.

-Because of the limited lessons you get exposed to, some people don’t really discover their strengths and go through the system believing they’re stupid when they’re actually talented in other areas schools don’t cater for. It’s like that quote, Everyone is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.

-School is a simulation where many solutions are closed-form and boundaries exist between topics. However most real world problems are open-ended and interdisciplinary.

-Depending on who you are and your personal interests, motivation is mainly external.

-Let’s admit it, everyone has a traumatizing or humiliating experience from school that affected their self-esteem and we all want to forget about it.

-Because you’re always aiming for the 100 %, you tend to dislike failure and do everything in your power to avoid it.

-Finally – and this is a big one – so many people who are good at school end up being just that…good at school.

And that’s the worse preparation for real life you can encounter, because you’re so used to following instructions and studying from the syllabus, it’s hard to navigate the real world simply because….it’s a jungle out there.

So what happens is a lot of university students graduate without the skills required for the work environment, and because many of those take out loans to finance their education, people get stuck in a quagmire… highly educated unemployed people, disengaged employees, frustrated young people shackled by their college loans…etc.

The school system was designed to make you conform because in the industrial revolution, factories needed people who are replaceable. The belief is that a good system with mediocre people is better than a bad system with exceptional people.

But then you hear of studies made that say 70 % of Americans are disengaged with their jobs.

I don’t know what the statistics for Africa and the Middle East are. Maybe it’s because people are so disengaged they didn’t even bother do the study on disengagement.

So what am I saying…should people just drop out of school and not go to college?

Definitely not. I disagree with people like James Altucher who say that people shouldn’t go to college. Again, we still live in a world where education is a low-risk investment that pulls average people out of poverty.

While some people might point at Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates and say, “But they didn’t finish college…” I personally think people like that would have succeeded anyway.

So what’s the solution?

Ideally, education should be personalized, but that’s still inaccessible for so many people – especially those in third-world countries.

So let’s start by admitting we have a problem, and the first step to solving it is working on building self-awareness, within our students, our kids and ourselves. Self-awareness helps you figure out your strengths and weaknesses, your goals and ambitions, and by that you can figure out how to use school to move yourself forwards instead of building your whole life around school.

Sometimes it gets frustrating talking to people who stop their kids from pursuing side hobbies because they have to focus on school. They get skeptical because they say things like, “The system worked for you.”

But that’s the point…I knew my strengths.

In a discussion on the topic with Kago Kagichiri, co-founder and CEO of Eneza education, he said, “Focusing on studies is the worse killer of dreams. The system should change to take most of the learning out of the classroom.”

So how do we do that? And how do we make it scalable?

More on that next time…

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Published inEducation
  • Kathleen ッッ Siminyu

    I absolutely agree that our education system needs re-evaluation. To both be more reflective of the real world as well as to create a space for those not academically gifted.

    As always, easier said than done. I’m curious to see what comes after self-awareness. I imagine headstrong high school aged kids who quickly catch on to the fact that education isn’t the full story n they can in fact succeed elsewhere dropping out, but then what next?