Following the paper trail Print E-mail
News - Final Word
Friday, 24 June 2011 15:09
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Is higher education really necessary? Okay, I can hear the collective gasp. A question such as this one probably rates as some kind of blasphemy in situations where parents suffer hardships and sacrifices to be able to ‘one day’ send their children off to university.

University is seen as such a lofty goal that the entire education system focuses on getting learners to pass tests to get there, instead of finding out what learners are naturally good at.

Surely everyone in their right mind would want a career that they love. Then why is it that we allow our brains to be rewired to place less value on the things we’re naturally good at and, instead, start focusing on subjects that will get us into university?

“We are educating people out of their creativity,” said education advisor, Sir Ken Robinson, in a TED talk that has been distributed widely around the web. According to Ken the very method of institutional schooling, with its one-size-fits-all curriculum, standardised testing and its focus on test-taking skills, trains children to think that there is only one right answer.

You do, of course, realise that there are many amazing educators who believe the same thing, but find themselves stuck in a system that values jumping-through-standardised-testing-hoops.

And we’re not just talking school here; university lecture halls are filled with students furiously transcribing each word the lecturer says – things you need to know for the test – instead of discussing, or dare we say questioning, what is being said.

It’s kind of difficult to imagine any of those students jumping up, shouting, like Archimedes: ‘Eureka!’ Apparently when Archimedes figured out the formula for density he jumped out of the bath, screamed Eureka with his hands in the air, and ran naked through the streets in pure joy of his discovery.

Do you think that the average student in today’s educational system is instilled with a sense of being on a path of exploration where there is something to discover? How did it happen that we’ve moved so very far away from the joy of learning for discovery’s sake?

Instead we moved in a linear direction that focuses on pieces of paper which proclaim that you’re able to jump through testing hoops. You’re forced sit in an institution for 12 years to earn a piece of paper that allows entry to another institution where you should feel very privileged to earn yet another piece of paper that will qualify you to find the kind of job that only takes on people with pieces of paper.

If you’re lucky this job will enable you to pay off the debt incurred while earning your piece of paper so that you can create fresh debt which will keep you chained to the highest bidder in the job market.

And we take this for granted as the natural order of things. We do not doubt that a good bunch of papers and an excellent debt-settling ability is what it’s all about. But then we wonder why we’re looking forward to Fridays and why we dread Mondays.

And still people want this very same thing for their children. We’ve become so obsessed with these conveyor belts that produce pieces of paper at their pinnacle, that anything which risks shifting the process off-course is viewed with dread. And that ‘risk factor’ might just be the thing your child is good at doing.

Being human means that we have the need to explore what we’re good at and to search for an individual identity in the process, but that we also have an equally strong need for acceptance. Sadly, in a conventional set-up the desire for acceptance might just win. However, says Sir Ken Robinson, connecting with people who share our passions will help us tremendously. This is our tribe.

Tribe membership “helps people become more themselves, leading them toward a greater sense of personal identity,” writes Ken. Finding the right tribe can be essential to finding your passion in life and translating that into a career, never mind how old you are.

As long as you don’t think that tribe membership should be earned by something you do. Yes, action is important, but it is who you are that will matter to your tribe. It is from your being that your life blossoms. There are people who’d be able to see this; who’d see you – papers or no papers. Go find them.

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