8 hours a day, 180 days a year, from when you’re 6 until 21: that’s about 21,600 hours on average spent at school in a lifetime. If we take commuting, homework and other related obligations into consideration, you can easily add 15,000 hours which brings the total close to 40,000 hours spread out across 15 years. It’s HUGE, and that’s only if you end your academic journey after a Bachelor’s degree. One arises: is all of this worth it? Do we make the most of our time at school? Do the current education systems efficiently prepare students for “real life”?
First of all, let’s look at the definitions Google gives us.
Studying: devoting time and attention to acquiring knowledge on an academic subject especially by means of books; investigate and analyse something in detail.
Learning: to acquire knowledge or a skill through study, experience or being taught; commit to memory; being aware of something by information or from observation.
Parents often push their kids to do well at school, do their homework, study for tests and get the best possible grades. In fact, society as a whole gives huge importance to academic success. If you get good grades, it basically means you’re smart and capable. Your friends look up to you, you have a greater chance of being accepted in a prestigious university and get a job of your choosing.
If you struggle, it’s often seen as a lack of effort or a sign of weakness. You’re likely to have less opportunities and suffer from the judgement of others, at a personal and professional level, or even worse, think less of yourself. Consequently, students go to school with the ultimate goal of having good grades; they want recognition that proves their abilities. Learning isn’t the goal anymore.
So what happens? Some students adapt and find ways to “hack” the system. They identify what helps the most to get the best grades such as memorizing specific information, adapting to the teacher’s grading system, reviewing previous exams. And guess what… it WORKS!! However, they can easily fall into the trap of a false perception of development and progress. A good grade doesn’t necessarily prove your capability. When we study for an exam, we usually spend a relatively short period of time intensively working on a specific topic. As we pass our test, there isn’t the need to remember the information anymore. If we don’t find meaning or interest in what we studied, we simply forget and move on. That’s obviously a problem.
When you think about all the money invested into education, whether it’s the salaries of teachers, the administration, the infrastructure, your OWN TIME and compare it to the outcome you get as a student, I’m a bit concerned about productivity levels. Going to school is a huge privilege and we should be immensely grateful for the opportunity. It triggers curiosity, creativity and ambition. It makes us more knowledgeable and gives us a better understanding of how the world works. However, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t question the system and try to improve it. If there was a ratio considering what we learn and how much of that knowledge/ skills we’re actually using in real life, I’m confident most schools would do pretty bad.
School curriculums were not necessarily designed by the most knowledgeable, experienced and fulfilled individuals. It’s not a magical formula provided by the people who succeeded the most in their respective career and/or considerably contributed to make the world a better place. And that’s fine. Many teachers do a wonderful job and largely contribute to the personal development of their students. The thing is, to this day, the education system still follows principles which emerged in Western Europe around the 19th Century.
The way we’re taught at school suggests that the most important things are already known. We’re told very little about everything that has yet to be built, explored or discovered. I believe we should focus more on boosting curiosity, developing critical thinking and problem-solving skills. We’re supposed to live up to expectations, not change them. We’re encouraged to discuss ideas, not necessarily originate them.
In class, we have to put our hand up and wait for the teacher to give us permission, this indirectly leads students to believe there’s only one person in the room they can learn from, which couldn’t be more wrong. Teachers usually have more experience, skills and knowledge than students. Some of them can be great mentors and teach valuable lessons. However, I believe we should push students to be more critical and intentional in learning what’s true, instead of letting them getting used to lecture-based sessions. Classes need to be more interactive in order for students to express themselves, dare more and gain confidence. They need to build and collaborate more, creating synergies and learning from each other.
If we keep an open mind, we can learn from absolutely anyone and the teacher shouldn’t be seen as the only source of truth. No one should. The diversity in a classroom is often staggering and I don’t think we make the most out of it. Students all come from a different background, had different experiences and see things from a different perspective. It is the sharing of thoughts that brings the most value to a class. There’s no right age to learn or teach.
Performing well at school obviously is a good thing as it shows motivation to learn and put in the effort. However, it shouldn’t be seen as the main indicator of your intelligence or abilities. At school, you mostly get rewarded for studying well, memorising information and being able to spit out what you’ve been taught. But is that really learning? In class, you usually don’t have time to organise your thoughts on the spot in a way that your brain can help you remember it, learn it, store it and retrieve it. We’ve all missed a comment said in class as we were writing some notes down, that’s because we simply can’t pay fully attention while writing. Naturally, most of us don’t save time for critical thinking and end up writing things without understanding them.
Studying might be part of learning but there’s more to it. You learn how to ride a bike, you don’t study it. Knowing how it works is helpful but you’d have to try it yourself, struggle, get better to eventually succeed. Learning by doing is often what’s most efficient…
Education without application is just entertainment — Tim Sanders
The way I see it, studying makes sense if you’re intentional in implementing the knowledge into something practical. You need to identify your goal, what you’re trying to accomplish. What matters are the skills you’re building, the level of expertise you acquire in a specific field. And learning shouldn’t stop as you leave the classroom, it’s an ongoing process. Nowadays, there’s a ridiculous amount of resources you can find online to learn a new skill or simply get more knowledgable about a specific topic. I think we should encourage young people to be more proactive on looking into a topic they’re interested in. That way, they’ll quickly develop a passion for learning and become more capable.
In the professional world, people don’t really care about grades (diplomas yes but grades… not really). During a job interview, it is unlikely you get asked what mark you got in your Spanish class, assuming speaking this language is a requirement. However, there is a chance you get asked to converse in Spanish in order to be tested on your abilities.
It’s not about what a piece of paper says, it’s about your mindset, your passion and what you’re capable of doing.
I believe we should teach students how to make good presentations, build great decks, leverage their communication skills and expose them to a wide range of subjects from very different perspectives. We should encourage students to develop both hard AND soft skills, training them with mindsets, increasing their ambition and curiosity that will unleash their full potential. We should let them choose the topics they’re most passionate about, encouraging them to dig deeper and specialize in one or several fields. That way, students could focus more on stuff they love and build skills they can use in real life. Forget about grades, if interested, people can always have a look at students’s portfolio with all their projects and researchs.
There are so many young people out there willing to have an impact on the world, or simply becoming a better version of themselves. The thing is, they need the proper structure and guidance to achieve that. Some private organisations such as The Knowledge Society (I worked there so I’m biased), Unloc or Prospects have already transformed thousand of lives. Through project-based learning and real-world skill building, they train teenagers to solve some of the world’s biggest problems and reach their full potential. Students are usually involved with big companies, working hand-to-hand on complex challenges. It helps them to better understand the world, bond with like-minded people, develop useful skills and make a much needed connexion between the academic and professional world. All of this while having fun, I see these types of programs as the future of education.
Some of the greatest minds this planet has seen such as Albert Einstein, Marie Curie, Charles Darwin, Steve Jobs all had something in common. They went along with famous philosopher Plato’s quote: “I know that I know nothing”. That’s not only a lesson of humility, it’s also an opportunity for us to realise there’s always room for improvement, there’s always new knowledge to conquer. But in order to know, you have to do. So, stay curious, keep an open mind, look for what you’re passionate about and go for it. Great things will happen…