Education 2.0 -The Limitations of our current Education System(Part I)

I recently read this post by one of my favorite modern essayists – Paul Graham. In this post he talks about how someone choses his vocation. The answer Paul claims is whatever doesn’t seem like work to you is most likely what you should be doing, even if others don’t understand or appreciate it.
This got me thinking about Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hours rule. For those of you who don’t know about the rule – in his book Outliers, Gladwell claims that you need to practice a skill for at least 10,000 hours before you can become an expert in it. He proves this hypothesis by giving examples such as Bill Gates, The Beatles and many more – who have demonstrated genius in their respective fields.
When I overlay both ideas, I conclude that in order for someone to become an expert at something he must be genuinely interested in it. Sounds clichéd right. Think a bit deeper. What would drive this interest? Curiosity? And what drives curiosity? Is it imagination, knowledge, observation or the environment?
Think about this - What would inspire a 5 year old Tendulkar to be interested in cricket? Or what would inspire a 5 year old Mozart to play piano? Or a writer to learn more about writing or a mathematician to be genuinely interested in maths?
The key is to find the source of this drive that pushes a normal person to first identify his genuine interest and then pursue it with a fanatic intensity without loss of interest or vigor. When pursued over an extended period of time – 10,000 hours as per Gladwell – the person gains an intuitive understanding of his interest as he knows the depth of his subject. This expertise might enable him to contribute new ideas to his domain and push the boundaries of possibility.
It is important to find the source of this drive because I believe that it cannot be emulated. And this is the flipside of our modern education system. Let’s look briefly at how our education system works:
  • It starts with children being taught the basics of communication and moves on to explain them key concepts about the world
  • Science & Mathematics are introduced gradually so the children know that the world works on certain basic laws and they as individuals can influence their environment
  • They are then exposed to their origins, their history, their place in the world, their nationality and the various social, political and economic systems that have evolved over thousands of years
  • This exposure soon shifts to a bombardment of multi-disciplinary information that the teenager is now expected to swim through and finally choose a discipline that interests him most by the time he turns 18
  • Once the discipline is chosen the young adult must now pursue the specialized education guided by domain specialists who rigorously expose him to the domain and demonstrate as many use cases of the specialization as possible
  • The expected outcome is that once this person graduates, he will use his specialization to become a contributing & active member of the society
This however is an ideal scenario and like most things ideal it hardly plays out like this. Here are a few gaps in this system:
  • The system doesn’t take into account training the fundamental human attributes that have been developed & honed by over 50,000 years of evolution. These fundamental attributes are memory, observation and curiosity. This gap is despite the fact that everyone knows that this memory, observation and curiosity (MOC) trinity is what’s directly responsible for our modern civilization.
  • Whereas in pre-industrial civilization survival was still dependent on how well a person acquires & uses MOC, the current education system pushes people to ignore these key attributes all together. Instead it pushes us to develop filters that prohibit us from experiencing reality as it is. If you take an external view, how effective do you think a person with sub-par memory, poor observation skills and undeveloped curiosity is? Not only is he boring, but is easily bored. As he has a superficial understanding of the world and projects this mindset on everything he sees or does.
  • The current education system is driven by non-sustainable socio-economic principles and reserves the best rewards for domains or specialists that have limited or no impact on advancing the progress of mankind or improving the basic human condition. Even though older systems such as religion preach altruism, the prevalent socio-economic systems are predominantly selfish and have an individualistic view of the world.
  • This system pushes the young adult to choose his vocation on the basis of either a stable financial reward or an exaggerated one, without any concern for his personal inclination or a confidence in his ability to influence his environment. Ironically this was his first lesson as a child.
  • Only a few escape this system and develop MOC independently. Their effectiveness in channeling MOC from a young age determines their socio economic status later in life. Most of these ‘escape artists’ gradually develop either a distaste or a trivial attitude towards the education system. They see it as means for either promoting mediocrity or a system that favors elites.
As we see a widespread increase in disease, mortality, religious fanaticism, poverty, classism and pollution we have to rethink how our basic systems work. And education is the most important of all these systems because it starts at the beginning.
In my next post I will give a basic framework, advantages & examples of incorporating the MOC attributes in education.

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