Addressing the Emergent Dissatisfaction | Day 17

To commence a series of posts that deconstruct the current dilemmas of the education system and elucidate potential areas for improvement, I must begin with the largest pain point: purpose. You were expecting me to highlight employability, weren’t you? The way I see it, the notion of going to school to get a job and the often recited tirade of how schools are failing to prepare students for the workforce is simply attacking the straw man – we need to look deeper. What I feel to be the root problem is that society has allowed itself to accept a skewed definition of what an education truly is. We are told that we must acquire an education but very few ever ask themselves why they are doing it. For what purpose does education exist? What do you seek in your pursuit of an education?

Fundamentally, I view education as primarily a social endeavour – it is a process of socialization. Learning, understood here as the acquisition of knowledge or skills, is an aspect of an education, but it is not the defining element. Thus, when we say that an individual, John, is getting himself an education, what we really mean is that John has selected a social experience in which to immerse himself. Consequently, if John should tell his friends that he is getting an education in order to get a job following his graduation, John should understand himself as saying “I have chosen to immerse myself in this social environment, which will facilitate me in securing employment.” This statement bears such a simple truth that it cannot be glossed over – it doesn’t matter what John is studying for the only thing that matters is who John meets in the course of his immersion in his given social environment. In short, an education is defined by its social element, where connections are the true currency.

With the above in mind, the entire focus on the lack of job preparedness in the media is a complete farce, propagated by a system that wishes to render a generation powerless. Indeed, I acknowledge that for technical fields there is a caliber that must be maintained. For instance, either you know how to code or you don’t – I wouldn’t employ a friend to make a website for me, no matter how much I cared for him, if he lacked the skills to make that website. However, for non-technical skills the social element is paramount – some may call it nepotism, but I’d prefer to call it common sense. Would I teach my trade and hand over hard-earned money to a stranger sending me a resume that I don’t care to read or will I take the time to cultivate an individual who I view as a friend? The clan element is one of the strongest forces in the subterranean crevices of our animal mind and it cannot be so easily forgotten.

For those recent grads who find themselves jobless, it pains me to say this but, I view their predicament to be a reflection of class system at work – the wealthier, on average, have a greater ability to advance themselves in the façade of meritocracy than their less fortunate counterparts. For instance, Samantha, daughter of a single mother divorcee who is dying to make ends meet, is going to have trouble competing against Robert, son of suburban royalty whose supportive soccer mom makes his life one of relative ease.  Perhaps this isn’t as big of an issue in Canada as our educational institutions – even the more internationally reputable – all compete on similar footing: a tiered element has not truly manifested here as much as it has in, let’s say, the States. Moreover, grades-focused admissions in Canada tends to level the playing field, where application processes that consider ECs may definitely find themselves skewed towards favouring a particular segment of the population. In any case, what I’m trying to hit home here is that the entire focus upon employability as the main virtue of education is misplaced – the presentation of the issue has been doctored to appeal to a skills dilemma when it is really a social dilemma. Nonetheless, I will attempt to show how the two are slowly converging together.

What we see manifesting are class elements showing through the veneer of equality, which get exaggerated by the creeping menace of technological automation and globalization. The fact remains that you aren’t needed for many of the jobs that your grandparents could have been hired for with limited skills. We no longer need factory workers – we’ve got control panels and conveyor belts. We no longer need paper pushers – we’ve got an app for that. We don’t need your overpriced intellectual labour – we can outsource to India and China. As the number of available jobs dwindles in traditional industries, merely knowing people won’t exactly cut it anymore – this is when second and third tier institutions fall short of the mark, as the first tier institutions, or first tier social environments, have already succeeded in connecting their members with the right people. Thus, as we move forward, possessing technical know-how is becoming increasingly important to remain relevant with web and mobile as the present frontiers of innovation. In short, only the best social environments can help you seize positions in closed industries while technical knowledge is needed to compete in the wild wild west of the internet era – skills that are not directly taught.

As we arrive at this solemn fact, we are brought back to our original question: what is the purpose of an education? I believe that an education is a social experience that you choose to immerse yourself in, so to better prepare yourself for your desired path, whatever that may be. We begin to see a problem here if one’s chosen social environment does not aid one in pursuing one’s desired path. Society’s high praise of the university experience has led many to pursue a social environment that may not necessarily aid them in attaining what they truly wish to achieve. The solution to this dilemma is in realizing that there are alternative social environments that one can choose to engage in – Bitmaker Labs is an example of such an environment. As we move forward and realize the possibilities that can replace our actuality, much can be achieved. All change begins from within and flows outward – we can only externalize what we have first internalized.

In the coming posts I will seek to further deconstruct the holes that I view in the education system, before attempting to outline a tentative solution. Additionally, there is more to extract from this commentary on the social element that underlies education – I have only chipped at the surface here. These posts remain as a continual work in progress.

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