As I was reading my fellow columnists' most popular work on Expertscolumn, I came across an article about the importance of education. The writer pointed out the many advantages (and some disadvantages) of high school and tertiary education, however his argument seemed to suggest that without fully graduating in these institutions one would be completely lost and hugely disadvantaged in the working world.
So, what does a kid really learn at school that sets him apart from the "uneducated" children? One cannot simply make such a generalised assumption because of the many factors at play when it comes to schooling. First of all, the education system that is used in a certain country may be very flawed or under construction. Many teachers in South Africa are frustrated at the annoying rate at which the system changes. They are constantly sacrificing free time to attend workshops just to keep up with new methods of teaching their pupils. Considering that the teachers are going through such a tough time, how difficult must it be for the children to adjust to these various methods of teaching? Private schools may differ as they have access to research at their fingertips, all the textbooks they need and everything that can be paid for in order to create the right stimuli for a pupil to learn (e.g. Field trips).
On the other hand we have rebel schools and rebel teachers who teach in their own tried and tested ways, regardless of the most recent education system requirements. These people exist in both poor and rich schools alike. Another important factor is the living situation, emotional state and health of the said pupil. How does a neglective family or poor living situation affect the child's ability to learn? How does the child get on with other pupils? Is he being bullied, is he a bully, does he have friends or is he an outcast? All these factors affect the pupil's ability and willingness to learn, with or without resources are at his disposal. Teachers have to deal with these issues everyday - along with curriculum changes made at the whim of some politician.
Some teachers are also not paid very well. This may lead to a diffusion of their passion for teaching, immigration and a much smaller influx of student teachers coming out of technikons and universities. This means that fewer teachers are available to children and classrooms then get bigger, with up to (and over) fifty kids per class. This is not the ideal environment to learn in - especially if you apply any one or more of the previous factors. Poor schools have a big problem when it comes to lack of textbooks, lack of room and drastic temperature changes that affect the pupil's susceptibility to learning.
High school presents puberty and other distractions that come with it. Peer pressure that develops addictions, relationships, verbal, physical abuse and cyber bullying - and also, from my experience, bullying from authoritative figures such as teachers and principals. The pressure is on at high school when kids have to worry about sex, drugs, reputation, university, field choices and identity. It is a rollercoaster ride of excitement, disaster and fun. How much do these pupils learn under all this pressure? Certain schools even have mundane preferences about uniform and hair length that may be viewed as sexist today. How can a female pupil concentrate on schoolwork if she is freezing in a winter skirt when her male companions are comfortable in long pants? How fast can a Rastafarian pupil catch up with work lost after getting suspended for his culturally significant dreadlocks? This is a great transition phase in many people's lives where you are "supposed to" choose in which direction you are heading, in other words, what you have decided to study and become after university. This is a very difficult decision to make when it seems that everything and everyone in your life is against you.
Now we have arrived at the topic of university. It cannot be said that varsity students are just in it for the knowledge. That would be a terrible lie. First of all, many people go into fields that they are good at but do not necessarily enjoy, a sacrifice that must be made for a wealthy lifestyle. Sometimes students are forced to do something they do not enjoy because of their parents dreams for them. Others party hard, sleep and eat a lot but work is not their priority. There are other issues. This is usually the time when students leave the nest and settle into a noisy residence. Others are getting married, maybe already has child at home and is desperate to get a good education to set up a stable life for the offspring. Although colleges and universities offer the students a lot of assistance and guidance, many are still frustrated by uncooperative administrators, lack of sleep when attending classes and keeping a part-time job, dysfunctional family issues and perhaps, lack of motivation. As a college student you are not being nursed anymore, you are fixing your own problems and picking up the pieces after your own mistakes. Nobody is getting paid to push you forward to work harder, to learn more and depending on the other newfound adult troubles in a student's life, learning may become very difficult.
Education carries a reputation. In society it is shocking if you are a primary school/high school drop-out. Work is hard to find if you do not have your matric (grade 12) qualification. Getting a degree allows you access to internships that lead to high-paying jobs that you may or may not enjoy but allows you to live a comfortable life. Existing in these institutions everyday also helps us to learn how to deal with diverse personalities and cultures. We learn to respect the authority in school and therefore develop a sense of respect for other authorities, such as a future boss. We learn to read and write, how to do research, how to investigate, solve problems, budget, how to work with other people, how to lead a group, we learn how to build on ourselves without the help of parents and teachers (a key skill for college). We may learn healthy values and disciplines, we may have been able to exercise our hobbies such as music, art, tennis and athletic sports, we may even have been encouraged to help others by doing community service or raising funds for a charity - but what is most valuable from our schooling careers are the habits we develop that are later carried on into university and into the workplace. Good working habits are also very important when it comes to freelancing. In such an environment one has to motivate oneself to work, set up a schedule and prioritize work with other things in life.
Yes, education is important to enrich you and to assist with your survival in society; however, it is not a need. A friend of mine did not enter high school because his family needed him. He is now playing club soccer, training and developing his skills. I'm pretty sure my father didn't graduate high school because of his involvement in the youth activism during Apartheid. He is now a top business consultant with his own specialised team of people from across the globe. Some people in my family and community have a stigma against the youngsters who drop out of college or varsity. This is one of the most ridiculous beliefs I have ever come across; it is the belief that you are some sort of failure if you have not completed your college degree. After matric, the child has to become an adult and whether or not they are making normal progressions or decisions in their lives, it is not a place for anyone else to predict their successes. Varsity students don't just gain information from books, they experience new unhinged personalities, crash lectures on courses they are not doing, start bands, join secret societies with future business partners, create amazing portfolios of valuable work and they discover who they truly are without the incessant urges and voices of jealous schoolmates and bad parents. There is a lot more to gain at university, technikon and college than a degree. These life lessons include: meeting people and making contacts for future reference, knowing how to work with the other people in your field and how to work towards your particular career choice.
Without schooling at institutions what are you left with? Home-schooling, spare time to get a job and the opportunity to save money for your goals and future investments. You can volunteer to learn things hands on. You have time to develop your creativity, space to enhance your unique skills in the fields that you are interested in as well as more time to do your own research at libraries and internet cafes. You won't be broken by a disastrous education system. You are not forced to befriend anybody, you can choose where and with whom you want to socialise. You can do community service to improve your resume. You can do free courses to improve your resume. There is so much one person can achieve even with such a seemingly great disadvantage.
I do not believe that someone is hopeless without a full education, however, I do believe that schooling should be free and that every child should be encouraged to go to school. This is simply because from a very young age up until after puberty, a child or teenager's personality may not be fully developed as a lasting form of identity that governs their main decisions in life. Of course, there are many people who have wanted to be a doctor since the age of five and is now completing their doctorate in medicine but as parents well know, opportunities must be kept open for children. You cannot possibly know for sure what a pupil wants study until they are at university studying it. For crying out loud even students at university realise that they absolutely hate their career choice and then switch courses the following year.
Doors must be kept open for our youth until they are able to purchase their own door wedges and sustain those opportunities and eventually cross the threshold to their desired destinations. One does not need a full private or governmental primary, secondary or tertiary education to survive and succeed. If one has access to this form of education, it does make life that much easier but it does not necessarily mean that it will make life that much richer.