Late one night, I received an urgent text message from a friend who was frantically hyperventilating. ‘Send help!’ the message said. ‘I do not know how to be an adult!’ was the next reply. When I asked her to elaborate her cause of distress, she replied that she was sitting with an application for opening a bank account and had absolutely no clue how to proceed with it.
My friend’s outburst was something I was familiar with, for I, myself, have had similar thoughts lately. Like when I had to write a cover letter in order to apply for a job, or when I had to show up for a job interview. In both the cases, I as absolutely clueless as to what to do. None of my knowledge of mass spectrometry and complex numbers had prepared me for all this. As I sat in the waiting room before my interview, I pondered that how useful learning Algebra had been in my life. Algebra is just one single example, have you ever thought, that of all the great many things that we are forced to read and learn in schools, what percent of that is really required in real life? In a nutshell, the education system has failed me. The word ‘fail’ might make you think, ‘Oh, she is just bitter because she was an unsuccessful student.’ On the contrary, it was quite the opposite, to be honest. However, our education system did fail me by not teaching me anything of practical use. I graduated high school with enough knowledge about hyperbolic functions, quantum theory, and the ability to write complex formulae of aliphatic compounds. Not only that, school also helped me adopt social skills for interacting with my peers five days a week and taught me how to take both criticism and praise from teachers.
What the schooling did not teach me was how to do my taxes. It taught me how to prepare journals for debit and credit accounts, but it did not teach me the difference between debit and credit cards. It did not teach me how once a bank hooks you with a credit card, how hard it is to be ever free again. I did not learn how to apply or even prepare myself for a driver’s license, even though I knew about the mechanics of a four-wheel drive and the forces involved with a moving car. It did not teach me what insurance is and what consequences I would face if I did not have it. What schools do teach us is how to prepare ourselves for standardised tests. Each person is prepared to sit for an examination with the same set of questions, regardless of the intellect level and capability of individual students. It teaches us to cram a lot of information that makes us score high marks in such tests but are otherwise quite useless in real life. This kind of learning environment heavily discourages students’ critical thinking and pushes them to simply process bits and pieces of information. However, standardised tests are so closely linked to university admissions and moving along with one’s career that there is no way we can dismiss them either.
Hence after finishing school, when we are shoved into the real world, many of us find ourselves totally inept at dealing with a lot of issues. We struggle with writing an application letter; we have no knowledge about basic coding despite living in a digital era; we have to learn by ourselves how to prepare a resume. We learn about the rise and fall of European monarchs but have no knowledge about our constitution. We learn about the reproductive methods of an amoeba but are not taught about STDs or contraception, as sex education is still a social taboo in Bangladesh. At times, school makes us so incompetent at dealing with real life issues that many struggle even with the basic things like communication skills, table manners, organisation skills or even maintaining courtesy in a professional environment. The system is so focused on achievement that it neglects the prospects of actual learning.
Our education system turns us into mass produced moving machines that are trained to think (or not think!) alike and be alike. Uniqueness in personality is not encouraged and any kind of individual quirk that does not fit the bill is frowned upon and weeded out. On top of that, schools keep us focused on the pursuit of good grades, which is totally not the only point of getting an education. As a result, this obsession over grades distorts our perception about reality. You can score straight As in school through cramming. Real life does not work like that and unfortunately, no one warns us about it. In real life, you get through each and every hurdle by facing tons and tons of F grades.
Every rejection letter for a job, every idea of yours that gets ignored, every mistake of yours that makes your employer question your work ethics – all of these are real life equivalent of F grades. In schools, putting all your effort often guarantees success. In real life, your maximum effort results in something productive after perhaps the 25th time.
Years of schooling and university degrees did not teach me how to put myself back up again after I have faced a setback. It did not teach me how human relationships work, how can we make or break relationships of all kind. Neither did it teach me how to find my unique talents and how I might offer services in a way that can truly benefit or change society. Most importantly, the education system did not show me or at least help me see who I am. The age-old adage, ‘Know Thyself’, is probably one of the most ignored concepts in every level of the existing education system. And of course a student is not allowed to ask the validity, purpose or usefulness of what they are taught in school as well. From the very beginning, taught not to ask the right questions, only follow orders, for better or for worse. Perhaps this is why Mark Twain was left with no other option but to say, ‘I have never let my schooling interfere with my education.’