School Isn’t As Important As You Think

Tom Stevenson

It’s over ten years since I left school. In that time I have accomplished a lot, worked in various jobs, lived in numerous countries, it’s hard to comprehend how much I have changed in those ten years.

Leaving school felt like a big deal at the time. At the end of the school year in 2008, I would be leaving behind the only thing I had known for the majority of my life and heading to university.

I remember a talk one of the teachers gave about this step. She was clear that going to university was not as big a step as moving on from the end of high school to sixth form.

At the time I thought this was nonsense, looking back after ten years, I can confirm it was indeed nonsense.

There is no comparison between studying for exams to get into university at the same school for two years and leaving school to move to live by yourself at university for the first time.

The more I look back on my time at school, the more I realise just how much I didn’t learn. Sure, I learnt a lot of facts and figures, but how much of that has been truly useful?

I certainly haven’t needed to use a quadratic equation since I left school, and I spent enough lessons learning how to do them!

The reality is that education has not moved with the times. Schools remain remarkably similar to how they were 50, and even 100 years ago, yet the world has changed considerably in that period.

The issue is that you are taught what the authorities think you need to learn, instead of what you need to learn.

Too much emphasis is placed on a period in your life when you are still developing as a person. If you want to become successful in later life, you should consider taking yourself off the educational treadmill.

School’s Out

Before I go any further, I should point out that schools do have a purpose. For young children they are invaluable. Learning the basics of language, maths, reading and writing are crucial skills that need to be developed at an early age.

Schools achieve all of this and they also provide an environment for young children to develop and hone their social skills too. There is no doubt schools are beneficial to young children. However, once you pass a certain threshold, you reach an area of diminishing returns.

It’s in this area that the value of schooling diminishes.

Once you reach the ages of 11 and 15, you have already developed the most and important and basic skills you need to succeed. In my experience at least, high school was merely about layer upon layer of detail over what I already knew.

Yes, I developed certain skills further, writing in particular, but everything was geared towards exams. This is the crux of the matter. Schools are becoming more and more about teaching you how to pass exams, instead of actually teaching you.

A case in point is the English education system. From the age of five to 11, you are in the early stages of education, known as primary school, before you progress to secondary school, also known as high school.

The curriculum is divided into segments known as key stages. Key stage 1 finishes at the age of seven, while key stage two finishes when you are 11 at the end of your time in primary school. What is used to measure students performance during those stages?

You guessed it, tests!

Is it really necessary to rigorously test seven-year-olds on their knowledge of subjects? I don’t think it’s beneficial. These tests have been shown to increase feelings of stress among students, as well as anxiety and low self-esteem.

No seven year old, or eleven year old for that matter, should be suffering from these issues. It’s ridiculous! Learning should be fun for children at this age, not a series of tests which have no meaning in the long-run.

When I taught English in Spain, a number of my students were young children. At the start of every class, I liked to ask them what they had been doing for the previous week. It was a good way to get them talking and thinking in English.

An overriding theme of these conversations was the number of tests they seemed to be doing week after week.

It was crazy!

I can’t imagine the pressure they would have been under from teachers and parents to perform well in those tests.

I even felt guilty when I tried to make classes fun and enjoyable, instead of a stale lesson following a book! Learning is not about reciting information, it is about gaining new knowledge and experiences while having fun at the same time.

The Issue With School

After working in an office for the first time last year, I had a lightbulb moment during one of my many moments of boredom in the job.

As I looked around at everyone working away on their computers, I realised this was the result of the school system. You spend your time in school, go to university, graduate and enter the workforce. Most people end up in office jobs once they graduate.

This is the education system in full swing. The primary purpose is to mould you into someone who fits into the working ecosystem of offices that we operate in. You are on a treadmill from the moment you enter school and you get off at one of these jobs.

While there is nothing wrong with this, it does beg the question of what we actually learn at school. The adage is that if you don’t do well at school, you are destined to work in low paying and menial jobs.

But this simply isn’t true. There are numerous success stories of people who failed at school, yet performed well in the real world. Mark Zuckerberg and Steve Jobs dropped out of college but ended up doing well for themselves.

In the UK, Alan Sugar left school at the age of sixteen to go into the working world. Today, he is a billionaire and the face of the UK version of The Apprentice.

These success stories are just a handful, but a common pattern amongst them is the rejection of traditional routes of education in favour of striking out on their own. As Ralph Waldo Emerson stated:

“Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.”

Following the crowd will only lead you to join the crowd. This is what the school system is designed to do. Think back to school and how your day was dictated by the clock. Set times for lunch and playtime, working life is remarkably similar.

Is it any surprise we are accustomed to working in offices! It’s because we have been ushered down this path from a young age and we are so used to it, we don’t question anything.

The Takeaway

Education is not something you do when you are young, and once you have entered the workforce you leave behind. Educating yourself is a lifelong pursuit

Most of what you learn in school is useless five to ten years down the line. This is going to become increasingly true as the rate of technological advancements increases in the coming years.

An education system that harks to the Victorian period is woefully underprepared to cope with what the future may hold. That is why it’s important to take matters into your own hands.

Extra-curricular education is vital if you want to get ahead. If you rely on what you have learnt at school, you are confining yourself to a narrow skillset, in a world where a broad one is more useful.

This is the best time in human history to start a business or learn a new skill. The plethora of sites such as Skillshare, Teachable and Udemy provide you with access to thousands of courses at your fingertips. You can learn whatever you want, whenever you want, and wherever you want.

The old model of education is becoming more and more archaic with each passing day. Being able to pass tests and earn a certificate is all well and good, but acing tests is not a skill that has value in the real world.

Memorising and regurgitating information will only allow take you so far. To succeed in this world, you need to take it upon yourself to learn the skills you need.

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