Working It Out: Did the education system fail us?

Is the education system flawed? Identify the job skills that are relevant for the next couple of decades, and if your school or college is not imparting those skills to you, you can learn them on your own.

Written by Siddhartha S | New Delhi | Updated: June 11, 2018 3:34:02 pm
education system, education, school, learning, skills, technology, education system in india, schooling, workplace, job skils, indian express, indian express news What if the teachers do not know what is wrong about the system? (Source: Getty Images)

“If something does not work, we must work on it.” Humans accept systems and institutions as they are. But, is that the right thing to do? An anecdote reshaped my feelings about life, and it will surely make you see things in a different light.

I remember I was a fairly good student in the subject of Mathematics. I am still good with numbers, but those days, I was on a different level altogether. Probability, trigonometry, geometry, calculus — it was all a cake walk for me. During one of my examinations, I remember spending way too much time trying to solve a particular problem. It was a Mathematics question paper that we were supposed to finish in three hours, but I got stuck on one of the problems for over 30 minutes.

I told the teacher present in the classroom that something was not right about the problem and he asked me to focus on my answer instead of finding faults with the question. I almost started to doubt my ability. After about 40 minutes, an external invigilator walked into the classroom and said that there was an error in that particular question. He asked us to manually change one of the values. I was furious because I could not complete a few questions towards the end of the question paper.

But, what the incident taught me has been extremely valuable in life. The insight was primarily in the form of four questions. What if the question paper has an error? What if the teachers do not know what is wrong about the system? What if I am doubting my intelligence based on an erroneous question paper set by someone else? And what if the correction will happen in due course of time or maybe it will never happen at all?

Standardization is no longer the answer

Public schooling system was started in the age of industrial revolution about hundred to hundred and fifty years ago. Big industrialists like the Edisons, Gettys and the Fords needed people to work in their assembly lines of production. The industry did not matter. What mattered was for people to be capable of performing a certain kind of repetitive task. The industrial systems that were capable of employing millions of people are now getting automated and it is becoming difficult to absorb so much standardized talent for organizations. The future belongs to the country with an education system that can be customized for both, the employers as well as the students.

A skill-based education system is needed

Some specialist professions are always rewarded, but not everyone manages to reach that position in their professional lives. The curriculum followed in most schools and colleges is so outdated that it makes people wonder about the efficacy and relevance. Degrees are losing their value. People need to spend money on higher degrees if they want a basic job. Thus, it is very important to develop deep domain knowledge and industry ready skills. Reading about the skills relevant for the future is also a necessity. The Internet is full of some great resources that describe those skills in detail. Learn to be creative.

Technology and digital should be mandatory subjects

Any school or college that does not teach technology to its students is doomed to produce mediocre talent. Teach students the subject of digital and various technological forces that are shaping the world — industry 4.0, big data analytics, block chain, artificial intelligence and robotics. Seven out of ten most valuable companies in this world are technology companies. They are also the companies with the deepest pockets to hire talent. Learn coding, online designing and marketing skills as they are here to stay for the next couple of decades.

Entrepreneurship is penalized

Entrepreneurship is not rewarded by the education system or companies. Barring a few entrepreneurship focused institutions, most campuses have no ecosystem for entrepreneurship development. Parents and family members always push their kids towards pursuing a job. There is nothing wrong with that thinking except that it is not a sustainable model. There cannot be an everlasting supply of jobs in any country without a favourable ecosystem for entrepreneurs, who can keep the scale balanced. The colleges should offer business planning and business model engineering as compulsory courses. Most entrepreneurs fail in their first business, because they have not been educated about how to build a sustainable business model. They either let the first failure stop them forever or they learn and make it big in their subsequent attempts. However, my argument is that the first failure can be avoided. Likewise, corporations should offer internal incubators and accelerators to their motivated employees. If needed, take some equity stake but offer job security to your people, who show potential for entrepreneurship.

Governments are not serious about the quality of public schools

I am not a policy making authority working in the education sector, but I know that the system can be far more agile than what it currently is. As long as the quality of public schooling does not come at par with private schooling, there is going to be an oversupply of mediocre unemployable talent in the economy. The litmus test for the quality of public schooling for any country is when rich people are willing to send their kids to public or government schools rather than private schools. We need to train our teachers to be great and get more competent teachers in the business.

Self-education is here to stay

Identify the job skills that are relevant for the next couple of decades, and if your school or college is not imparting those skills to you, you can learn them on your own. I spend one hour on the Internet every day to learn some new skill that can be relevant for the future. Read books and listen to education tapes to develop skills in demand within the industry and companies that you wish to join. Do not just read this article and start blaming the government and the education system for ruining your future.

Life skills matter

Public speaking, confidence, selling, networking, leadership, coaching, emotional intelligence, stakeholder management and the ability to influence others are real life skills that you must master. I did not get to learn most of these at my school or college, and had to self-learn them. Realizing this shortcoming, when I teach at a few colleges as an industry faculty, I add a few additional personal development sessions. I make sure that I spend almost half of my time, teaching my students these real life skills.

I just believe in broadcasting my ideas. You may be a student, a parent, a teacher, an educational institution head, a policy-maker or CXO of a big company — my suggestion is that you can start the change-cycle in your own small way. All the changes in the world start with individuals and are then adopted by institutions. Always stay curious and ask yourself the four questions that helped me. What if the system is wrong? What if the people in the system do not know what is wrong? What if you are not slow or stupid, but you are playing a game you can never win? What if no external help is coming?

Siddhartha S is an author of 5 books — 60 Keys to Success with NLP, Thank God it’s Monday, and many others. He calls himself a ‘weekend writer’ and writes on how to attain peak performance in personal life. The views presented are strictly his personal views and cannot be attributed to any organisation he is or will be part of.

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