My mother said I must always be intolerant of ignorance but understanding of illiteracy. That some people, unable to go to school, were more educated and more intelligent than college professors. – Maya Angelou
I am feeling less than enamoured with education lately so it comes as no surprise that I am asking myself the fundamental existential question… whose bright idea was this anyway?!
Let’s consider this… I am 28 years old. I walked into my pre-school class to be moulded into the perfect trooper at the age of 4. I haven’t looked back since. Perhaps I should say I haven’t looked up from a book since.
You see, between 5 and 11, I was shining my shoes and acing my way through primary school in a green and white checkered uniform that would have made the Queen proud. In these years I learnt that 1+1= 2 and that “the quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog.” It was mind-blowing I tell you. It is also, arguably, the most useful stuff I have learnt to date. After all, it means I can string together sentences and write this and that I can count my change when I buy bread. Who can blame my teacher for not knowing that by the time I made enough money to buy a loaf of bread, I could not only use a calculator if I was really confused about how much change I should get back, but I could swipe for the exact amount with my bank card and even get an instant sms telling me “R11.99 reserved for purchase at Standard Bank. Your balance is Rxxx.” So much for 1+1 then huh? Or maybe not.
Between the ages of 12 and 17 I went to a convent high school where the school motto mens sana in copore sano (a healthy mind in a healthy body) should have actually read “a healthy mind only gets distinctions” because that was the school’s actual philosophy. If you were failing academically, you had to drop all other non academic pursuits. During this period in my life, the amazing people behind my education decided that 1+1 was insufficient. It had to be 1x *2y = 2xy. Not only that but 2xy/y= 2x. To make it even more interesting, I went from a primary school subject list of 4 subjects: Maths, English, Shona and Content (code for everything else) to a subject list of 10.
History. I can understand this. It is absolutely vital to know where I have come from in order to know where I am going and so that I do not make the same mistakes right? Right. Ok then, riddle me this. If my ancestors wore leather loincloths to cover their essentials and we have all evolved past that to a 2013/2014 season of short leather mini skirts, couldn’t I have just waited for the present to know what happened long ago.
Geography. I spent so much time drawing relief maps of places I don’t know in blue ink in the required 30 minutes. Not only that, I know every type of cloud that floats by me in the sky. Just a couple of Sundays ago, as we drove to Potchefstroom, I absent-mindedly said to my boyfriend, “look, a cumunolimbus cloud. I haven’t seen one in ages.” He looked at the cloud, then at me, then back at the road. His expression said everything that needed to be said: “have you lost your mind?” And why wouldn’t he think that? What exactly is the point of knowing the type of cloud. All I need to know on a daily basis is whether it will be hot, cold or rainy and there’s an app for that. As for my ability to draw a map, let’s just say google maps is not only a truer representation of any place in the world, it even talks you through how to get to any place in the world!!!
In Biology I learnt the entomology of a plant just in case sometime in the future I needed to have a conversation with Joe Soap at a boring party while we both sipped on pink drinks about the fact that a flower has both male and female parts and that I know how to draw them. Let me not even get started on Chemistry where my teacher hit our heads with a duster and made us produce colourful things in test tubes and record them in tables never to be remembered again after the fluke “A” I got in that last exam. In fact, nowadays, when my tap rusts, it’s not oxidation I think of, it’s the plumber. I am sure he is getting the most out of his chemistry lessons.
I celebrated the end of my high school experience like I had acquired the holy grail. In Zimbabwe, a high school certificate might not even get you a post as a receptionist. So off I went to University *sigh.* I am so glad no one told me that the business of acquiring an education was an unending process because I am not sure I would have got on that bus that would take me to the heart of another country. There I found myself studying the different kinds of law and the hundreds of court procedures to implement that law. Fast forward 8 years, the only law relevant to my life now is commercial and contract which makes me wonder why I sweated out 3 kilograms stressing about why everyone seemed to get a distinction in property law except me. I never seemed to know the right stuff. Now, when someone is silly enough to ask me a property law question, I just open the textbook.
I am sure I am not the only one who was told that education would open doors to the universe. In some ways it has. I can not discredit the fact that it is primarily my academic qualifications that got me a job but there is much more to life than that. Why has education failed the 12 million unemployed people in South Africa. Some of those people have better qualifications and better grades than me.
Never mind that though. Consider this instead: about 60% of people living in 49 of the world’s most impoverished countries are currently under the age of 25, meaning that these nations will need to create some 95-million new jobs by 2020, and another 160-million by 2030, to absorb all the new entrants to their labour markets.
Has the formula changed and someone forgot to teach us about it? Are we thinking out of the box or are we being herded like cattle and forced to fit someone’s mould of what success should look like. As far as I can tell, true success in life is not dependant on whether or not you succeeded academically, but what you have done with those academics. Is education a stepping ladder or is it a crutch that only slows us down on that path to our destiny. Although education might lead you to be the next Bill Gates with your Harvard Alumni card in your wallet, it’s the other things that will lead you to being Donald Trump (sans the hair).
The more I apply my mind to this question, the more I realise that education is but a small part of the equation of life. It is not the holy grail they said it would be. All I can really say in conclusion is…. education schmeducation. I am tired of studying.