Discrepancy of education

“The mere imparting information is not education.” (Carter G. Woodson)

In today’s competitive world, one thing is clear: education is a primary factor in many people’s success stories. It is the knowledge that education imparts on people that enables some to achieve great things. But, on the other hand, many would argue that education is not exactly beneficial; that the university education does not really teach anything in the classrooms that can be employed in the real world. My personal example (which echoes the story of many, if not most, of my classmates) relates that I ultimately used probably less than 2% of what I learned in my engineering class at my workplace. With this surprising experience, I decided to critically evaluate the contemporary system of university education and its translation into the work industry; as I delved deeper into this reflection, many questions started bothering me: What have I learned in class? Why did I not use what I have learned in classes at my engineering job? Did the university even try to teach me? Does education even exist?

In order to understand this discrepancy of the role of education, we must first understand what education is. Education is defined as, per Merriam-Webster Dictionary, “the knowledge, skill or understanding that you get from attending a school, college or university”[1]. Note the vagueness present in the language of the definition; it does not specify learnings in class but rather the general process of obtaining knowledge from merely attending an educational institute. And this, I believe, is the key to solving the discrepancy of education.

The contemporary education methodology consists of primarily lectures followed by verification of the teachings through means of tests and exams. This is a fundamental approach that truly attempts to ensure that the intended teachings in the class are learned by the students. But, unfortunately, the way the minds of most students work is to complete erase most of the information learned in class immediately after the test/exam. And if this is the general, overwhelming case, then why do we go to university? What purpose does the university education serve? Why must we continue the status quo of the apparently ineffective learning process? Why can’t we render a better method of teaching and learning?

All the above questions may seem valid only under the case if the university’s intent was solely to teach the theories and concepts related to a subject. But, this is not the case from my understanding. I believe the university’s true intent is to teach the students how to think. While this may seem trivial, it is undeniably crucial. One must know how to think in order to analyze different situations to understand the problems, in order to critically evaluate situations to improve existing state of affairs, and in order to be able to solve different problems. Without this ability to think and solve problems, no knowledge can allow you to go in the real world and solve problems.

Earlier, I provided a broad overview of university educational system. Let’s take a step forward and analyze this system in more depth to observe what the university is truly teaching us. A university course is far more than just lectures, tests and exams; it consists of lab work, projects and homework assignments. When we do a lab report, work on a project/homework assignment, or study for a test/exam, we are always solving problems. And in order to solve a problem, we must first analyze the problem; and this analysis, though becomes second-nature, is the true result of thinking. Therefore, each of these components designed by the professors enable and improve our thought process; making it more sound, logical, critical and analytical. Furthermore, while we work on all the components mentioned above, we undoubtedly work with our classmates; we solve problems collectively; we think collectively and learn from each other. This is another skill imperative for the workplace. To be able to work with others, communicate our thoughts with others for a common cause (solving problems/working on projects/surgeries/etc) is a necessity to survive in the real world. And the tests/exams, lab work, projects and homework assignments inherently hone these skills ultimately allowing us to grow into the best possible versions of ourselves and be prepared for the work industry.

So yes, if we closely scrutinize the existing education system, we realize that universities don’t necessarily teach us concepts that are widely used in the industry but, at the same time, if we take a step back and look at the big picture, we see that they instill in us the skills required to excel in the real world. After all, as an individual who has worked in the oil and gas industry, if I were to receive an interview call from an automotive company tonight, I would not highlight my technical knowledge in piping systems or pumps or motors but rather I would emphasize my ability to think in order to critically analyze problems to solve them and how I can communicate and work with different people for a common purpose. These are the transferable skills inculcated through the process of university education that will enable me to excel wherever I go. And this solves the apparent “discrepancy of education”.

Until next time, enjoy practicing this tongue twister:

Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers. A peck of pickled peppers Peter Piper picked. If Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers, where’s the peck of pickled peppers Peter Piper picked?

[1] “Education.” N.p., n.d. Web. 25 June 2016.

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