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Does Formal Education prepare us for our job?

“What is the meaning of education? What exactly is education for ?”

This is a question that my friend posed to me recently. Having slogged through the education system for over 15 years, I was surprised to be stumped by these questions. To think that none of us have actually given a thought to it before. After an extended period of pause, i replied, “ to prepare us for our job.”

My friend smiled and nodded at me, but didn’t utter a single word.  He knows that i wasn’t satisfied with my own answer. In Singapore, we begin our primary school education at the age of 7 and most of us will typically stop at bachelor’s degree, completing our formal education at the age of 22-26 years old, depending on whether you are a girl or a guy. How can we be spending most of our formative

Does Formal Education prepare us for our job

Does Formal Education prepare us for our job

years, just to prepare us for a job ? That doesn’t sound logical to me at all.

Well, looking at statistics, its true that a higher education will provide us with a better job which offers a better salary. Diploma holders earn about $1.8k and Degree holders earn about $3k or more. However, I found that the correlation between money and education to be present only when looking at mediocre job positions. Education fails as a predictor of earnings or achievements beyond the stage of mediocrity. Statistics shows that some of the richest people in the world did not complete the entire cycle of education. Steve jobs, Bill gates and Mark Zuckerburg all dropped out of college, but they surely have a pretty comfortable job right now as CEO of a MNC, earning money in volumes that we can’t even imagine.

I then went on a search for the meaning of education.  Famous Tedtalk speaker, Sir Ken Robinson dismisses conventional education system and pushed for a revolutionary approach to education by educating kids for creativity. That entails focusing more on traditionally overlooked subjects such as arts, music and humanities. Conventional subjects such as maths and science stifles our creativity by demanding answers which is definite, resulting in students memorizing standard answers in order to ace the exams. This inhibits and suppresses our own unique voice as we become unconfident in expressing our own thoughts. We think that the thoughts of ‘experts’ is the only source of correct answers and distrust ourselves. This can lead to an overall dip in our own confidence.

I spoke to few of our instructors in school who hail from the private sector and asked them for advice to succeeding in the corporate world. They all unanimously echoed the same sentiments, to my surprise. They said that Singaporeans are great workers who follow instructions perfectly well, performing their job according to expectations. But therein lies the problem, while most of them managed to enter the realms of management, few of them rarely rise to the C-suite level in big corporations because they do not perform BEYOND expectations.  They are less vocal as compared to their Caucasian or Indian co-workers and are not perceived as having strong opinions and thoughts. Their advice is thus for me to believe in my own views and acquire the courage and proficiency to verbalise and articulate it.

Piecing together what I gathered from my instructors in university and what I learn from Sir Ken Robinson, I came to the conclusion that our education, at least that in Singapore does not quite adequately prepare us for our job after all. Perhaps it equips us with literacy and general knowledge that allows us to receive instructions and follow them, but does it endow us with what it takes to excel and become extraordinary contributors in society?

A strong voice

It is shown and proven that an important trait of powerful leaders in both the corporate sector and the political landscape is the ability to believe in themselves. Steve jobs is popularly known to be the brain behind mind blowing innovations such as Ipad, Ipod and Iphone which revolutionize not only the music industry, but also the cellphone market, transforming a fledgling company into a flourishing one within a short span of few years. What is truly remarkable about him is that he believed in his own ideas and is prepared to bet his last dollar on it. What would have happened if Ipod did not take off the way it was expected to? Apple will be one of many companies to be gobbled up by the intense competition present in the IT sector.

People who made a mark in history are those who listened to their own voice and stood by their ideas through thick and thin. Mahatma Gandi and Martin Luther King junior are well known leaders who fought for their beliefs on freeing up their own countrymen and are even prepared to die for what they believed in. That is why they are able to leave a legacy that their younger generation could benefit from even many years after.

Both of them are not known to be bright students in school with a solid education. Mahatma is said to be “good at English, fair in Arithmetic and weak in Geography; conduct very good, bad handwriting,” as rated in one of his terminal reports. Martin Luther King Junior graduated with an arts degree which is not one of the most glamorous degree in our society.

Are we being nurtured and nourished to acquire that kind of unwavering commitment to our own ideologies, such that no amount of interference and noise will detract us from our resolution? Well, with all that has been said, are we hopeless in going through the education system?

That need not be the case. We just have to take education into our own hands. Schooling is just part of the holistic learning that we undertake in our lives. Famous philosopher , Mark Twain said, “i will not let school interfere with my education. “ On top of the education that we receive in school, we must constantly find other avenues of learning and improving ourselves in order to fully equip ourselves in tackling the challenges of the dynamic work environment. And most importantly, education doesn’t stop the moment we leave school, it is a lifelong process that sees no end. In fact, every adversity and challenge(such as Steve Jobs being ousted from Apple) that we encounter along our lives is a learning experience to better ourselves and to prepare us for the next big thing of our life. As late Stephen Covey beautifully says:

“The more i know, the more i know i don’t know”

P/S: The author is a NTU scholar, currently in year 2 of business course

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