Success in spite of school, not because of it

by Daniel Wong
Source: Todayonline  May 10, 2012
Last year, I completed my formal education, 17 years of it. In thinking about my experience, I realise that most successful people have become successful in spite of school, not because of it.

I acknowledge that the recent changes in education are encouraging: An emphasis on citizenship and character, a renewed commitment to strengthening teacher-pupil relationships, initiatives to enhance art, music and physical education, etc.

That being said, schools generally teach pupils to fear failure, to be obsessively competitive and to be a passive learner. These are not traits that lead to success.

By and large, successful people care deeply about what they do and about the world around them. They have chosen to be excellent, instead of being conformed into compliance. Their examples prove that success is more a matter of will than of skill.

I am not fully blaming the Government. History has had a big part to play, too.

Today’s education system is a product of the Industrial Revolution, which made it necessary to produce large numbers of compliant workers in a short period, in order to fill the newly-created jobs in manufacturing, mining and construction.

As such, schools became “factories”, too. Students were processed as batches; quality control was performed through tests and examinations; only certain professions were recognised as legitimate “products”.

Schools have changed only incrementally since then. But the world has dramatically undergone an Information Revolution. There is now an astonishing amount of information that we can access online.

If we want to learn about something, we can. It just needs genuine curiousity. So, what we need is an education revolution. It is not that schools have lost their way; they are simply getting left behind.

Moreover, I’m troubled that the longer students stay in school, the less curious they become. In this Information Age, we need students to be consumed by a spirit of curiosity rather than of competition.

We can make practical changes: Banish multiple-choice exams, have open-book tests as the norm, give teachers more freedom to teach creatively, have more collaborative work, develop other measures of progress besides grades and enable pupils to be active participants in their own learning.

Compliance is not enough. We must empower students to care intensely about the work they do and about making a difference in the lives of others.

Do we continue down the path of mediocrity, or do we pave the way towards excellence? Now is the time to decide.

The writer is the author of The Happy Student: 5 Steps to Academic Fulfillment and Success (Write Editions®, 2012).