When I was in 2nd or 3rd grade – we had words and their meaning as a question in our English Exams. The idea was to write down the meaning of difficult words in English. I was an avid reader at that age, reading books above my grade level. I was able to do so by getting the word’s meaning by the context in which it was used. And I did not believe in studying for exams, so I wrote down what the word meant in the exam. Feedback from my teacher was, ‘Please use dictionary meanings in the future.’ She wanted me to write down the exact words from the dictionary even if I knew what the word meant and how it would be used.

In the famous book, Swami and his friends, Swami’s father is preparing him for the Mathematics exam. He asks Swami, “Rama has ten mangoes with which he wants to earn fifteen annas. Krishna wants only four mangoes. How much will Krishna have to pay?” Swami being a normal kid – starts wondering if the mangoes were ripe or not? He also wonders if Rama is like his friends, and if so, how would he behave? At some point, he even wonders if he should go to the market and find out the answer. 

It is a miracle that curiosity survives formal education – Albert Einstein

Swami and I were thinking alike at that age – we wanted to solve the real problem and not get the ‘right answer’. We were practical at that young age, curious and independent thinkers. It’s funny how we are born that way, then the education system beats that out of us, and when we are adults, they want us to think out of the box. Hence the saying I subscribe to – ‘I was born intelligent, education ruined me.’ And I am sure a lot of you are nodding your heads and chuckling wryly.

So, why this topic of all of a sudden? This year as a part of the learning plan at work, I decided to enrol in a Data and Analytics course at a prestigious university. And I started my first week of formal education after almost a decade or so. And I was shocked by the very first online teaching module. I will tell you why.

The course started by describing all the different solutions like Surveys, Focus groups, Various sub-categories, pros and cons, examples etc. And I am thinking – Do they expect me to remember all this so that I can whip a solution out of my excellent memory bank when the customer comes to me with a problem? 

It felt a bit like – telling me about vegetables – their nutrition information, type of vegetables, what are they good for etc. and then asking me to be a chef in a restaurant. Wouldn’t a better way to do this be to start me off on a recipe first? My customers are not ready-made templates – they are real people with real-life messiness. They have a problem but do not have the time to define requirements. They want to invest their money for the best returns but do not know how to determine a good ROI. They want everything to be done when they want in – fully knowing that there are constraints. How will learning about the pros/cons of something help me in real life? 

Luther King – function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically

I am not dissing it completely – it is good to know about the vocabulary and a general idea to look them up when I need it – 10% is enough. Maybe at some time in our history, it made sense when there was a need for stability in manufacturing industries. We all passed that age decades ago, but the education system hasn’t caught up. I know in the UK, the apprentice system is making a come back where kids opt to start work instead of taking a huge student loan to get ‘Educated’ in a prestigious university. I know a colleague of mine whose kids signed up to be park rangers in arcadia national park and learnt a lot more about nature than they would have in a classroom for five years.

It’s about time we started focusing on what matters regarding education and in life. How are you doing your bit at the foundational level?

Leave a Reply