In Defence of the Education System: Its hidden value and how to make the most of it

4th March 2019

Education is an admirable thing, but it is well to remember from time to time that nothing that is worth knowing can be taught. – Oscar Wilde

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Who are the most successful people in life? What links the people who have really made something of themselves – the happiest, the richest, the most content? Is it the people who got the best grades at school? How about the people who relaxed during class, sat back and enjoyed the ride? No. The most successful people in the world were very different in school than you might’ve imagined. It is the people who understood the importance of intelligence, but knew that their moral values, their work ethic and their character were by far the most important things that you could get out of school. Yet, those all existed in those people before any teachers taught them anything. It was just the process of school that brought out those values and gave those people the tools to stand out. To me, that is the mark of an excellent education.

How the School System Affects a Student's Potential
Education system cartoon

Contrary to popular belief, school isn’t just about learning cold, hard facts. It’s about so much more, that too many pupils gloss over. Education is about unloving capabilities, realising potential, and being equipped for the outside world. While it may be subtle, it seems clear that school does a great job of that. In thirty years, you may not use Pythagoras’ theorem every day, but you can be sure you’ll use the skills that you picked up in school. That month-long science project didn’t just teach you about cells, it taught you how to manage your time. That group drama performance on homelessness didn’t just teach you about stage direction, it taught you about the less advantaged and made you think. That geography poster that you did in groups of four didn’t just teach you about Wembley Stadium, it taught you how to manage people and deal with compromise. That speech about your pet peeve didn’t just make you realise how much you hate pigeons, it taught you the art of speaking and how to get people on your side. You see, the skills that subtly become engrained in your character help you in more ways than you care to appreciate. Even the things that you may think of as pointless taught you perseverance, putting up with what you find tough, and sacrificing the present for the future. As Martin Luther King famously  once said, ‘intelligence plus character is the mark of a good education’.

Exam | Hand completing a multiple choice exam. | Alberto G. | Flickr
Standardised Test (US)

However, these traits are not in every student, even though it seems like it should be. Surely this is the fault of the education system, for not cramming every pupil with the skills that they need? Again, this is completely untrue. People learn best not when they are told something point blank on a piece of paper, but when they are encouraged to learn it themselves. It’s all about the attitude that you approach school with, and that responsibility falls to the pupil themselves. Often, the person who isn’t naturally talented in a subject is the one who does the best. This is because education isn’t simply to test your raw academic skill, but to give you the resources to learn further. Without a doubt, if you went to any teacher and asked them for a resource to help improve in their subject, that teacher would not only help you, but be over the moon that you took interest – because your attitude, not your talent, is what defines how much you get out of education.

This isn’t to say that schools should ‘throw you into the deep end’, making you develop a good character and personality on your own. Through paragraphs, puzzles, projects and presentations, school challenges you and makes you think. It encourages you to be original and look for new and innovative ways to solve problems. The fact that so many students miss this point, when it is so blatantly staring them in the face, speaks much more about pupils then it does the education system. In many cases, the education system does not fail students, students fail the education system – due to lack of effort, lack of the right attitude, or lack of both.

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Mark Zuckerberg, who built Facebook as a Harvard student

In a sense, Oscar Wilde is right that you cannot be taught these values, and no one can tell you how to live your life. That doesn’t mean, however, that education is pointless – much to the contrary, because school is the perfect place to develop your understanding, find your purpose and build your character. While no teacher can force you to have this outlook on life, they can and do provide the tools to develop it yourself. As motivational speaker and author H. Hinton once said, ‘If you are not willing to learn, no one can help you. If you are determined to learn, no one can stop you.’

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