School as an investment

If I take money out of my pocket and buy a laptop, when I get home I expect it to work. I expect it to do exactly what I want and I believe that is not too much too ask. It's not a surprise to anyone, we can all agree on this. It's an investment with a guaranteed return.

Now if I pay money for an education, I expect it to be useful to me. Graduation is not what I am aiming for. I paid to learn a skill that will help me get a job, start a career, or allow me to start my own company. But for some reason that is too much to ask.

School is not something we choose to be part of. At a very young age, you are automatically integrated into the system, and I would say rightly so. Some of the basic skills like reading and writing are a requirement to be able to survive in our society.

But nowadays, school is integrated so much in our culture that we think that it is just the right thing to do. We put no thoughts on whether it is a good investment or not. I see tears of joy in parents eyes when they see their kid graduate. It is an emotional moment. Then a little later, it is confusion that overcome their faces when the kid cannot find a job.

My parents tell me about the good old golden days when everyone had a job under their name even before they graduated. It is unrealistic to ask for this today. Maybe there is not enough jobs in a sector, or there are not enough good candidates. Whatever the reason why graduates can't find jobs, we are still pumping the system with more.

Maybe one day the system will collapse and we will get back to the days where everyone had to fend for themselves. You will need to work for yourself in order to make a living. Imagine everyone you know had to work for themselves. Scary thoughts right?

But your case may be different. You already have a degree and a job. So I guess you don't have this problem. But what happens when you lose your job? We are no longer in the era of working 45 years for a company then retire with a golden watch and a nice pension. It's rare to see someone who worked more than 5 years at the same job.

People lose their job and find others. But there is that thing that happens in between, that frustrating job hunting period and the time companies don't seem to want to call you back. How long can you survive before you find another job?

One year of kindergarten, 12 years of schooling, on average 6 years of college (college + university). That's a good 19 years of our life we spend preparing. When we lose our job, none of this matter. All that matters is what an employer thinks when he reads our resume.

What can you do to survive in this in-between moment? Savings don't last that long because we have been trained to spend money we don't have. The only way to survive is to use the skills we have to make a living.

We may know how to program, how to handle the finances of a firm, how to create a marketing campaign, or many other valuable skills, but we have only been trained to work for someone else. If only we were taught how to work for ourselves in school we could handle those in-between states much better.

People lose their houses, lose their car, sometimes they even divorce. This is a serious problem but it is not impossible solve. All we have to do is teach students how to face these issues early on. Since we are not going to take down the whole education system, we might as well fix it.

When parents don't get involved, students fail.

I have heard this many times. The parents are blamed for their children not performing well in school.

Companies send their employees to do training on specific applications every so often. Usually at the end of the training, the employee has to take a test. It is best if he passes with flying colors. But, he can also fail the test. Who is to blame when the employee fails? Certainly not the company that sent him to do training.

The only two that maybe responsible are the employee and the trainer. Not the company. What if it is same when we send our children to school. You can't blame a child for not understanding fractions. You certainly can't blame the parents either because, well maybe the parents can't do fractions. That's why they send the kids to school. What about the teacher that is trained, and paid to teach those children?

It is a moving graduation speech every time you see a person who is the first in her family to graduate from college. That must tell us something. Who was helping her out when she had questions? Certainly not her parents, they didn't go to college. The teachers are responsible for her.

So if teachers and schools can take credit for forming brilliant students, they should also bare the responsibility when they form mediocre students.

All this is to say, it is your teacher's job to help you do your homework, not your mom's.

Improving our schools

I wish our education system was like the stock market. When people collectively doubt the performance of a company, they sell. The stock price goes down, and people freak out. In fear of losing money, everyone sells. The company goes bankrupt or they do some magic to get people back on board.

In our school system, school is good, period. One person saying that a school sucks does not make a difference. Lots of people saying that school sucks, does not make a difference either. At the end of the day, kids have to go to school because, well, that's what they have to do. Even if the school sucks.

Public schools for example never worry about whether they will be able to fill all the sits in class or not. They know that people have no choice, they have to come. Most public schools are packed anyway.

If we had an alternative, and schools had to compete in order to get students, then maybe we will see a change. Students will be customers, and they can take their dollars elsewhere if they are not satisfied with the service.

We need to have a separation of school and companies. I have friends that worked for fifteen years using only Microsoft products. In school, he learned how to use the Microsoft office suit. At work, he only used these same applications. Then came the time he was laid off. He was lucky enough to find a job before running out of money. But in his new job, they had no Microsoft product. He couldn't keep up. He was let go shortly after.

Now I am not saying that we should all use open source products, but instead of just learning to do accounting using a Microsoft Excel, students should be able to do solve their accounting needs with pen and paper.

The most important skills you should learn in school

It is one thing to follow instructions. Schools do excel in this, they teach you to follow instructions. That's how you are trained to only work for someone. They tell you what to do, and you do it. Easy!

It is a completely different thing to follow your guts. And believe or not, you can teach this in a formal school environment. So if here are two things that I think are the most important things you should learn, it is is problem solving, and art.

Problem solving and art. These are the things you need to survive in the real world. The knowledge you have in a field is very much important, but problem solving will help you apply this knowledge in the real world. I know accountants that are called wizards in the job, but completely failed when they are working on their own.

Problem solving is the art of figuring out a solution of a problem you never faced before. Art, as in letting your mind explore the unknown, is the only thing that will help you be creative. Applying your knowledge in creative ways is what makes us human. It's this that makes us strive.

Together, those two skills help you go forward and remove all worries you have when you are unemployed. You are not worried because you know you have skills you can use to make a living.

This is the return I am asking for in my investment. A guarantee that I will be able to survive by myself. A guarantee that you will teach me the necessary skills that you have learned from experience not just by passing a multiple choice test.

The goal is not that I will wear the funny hat at graduation, it is not that I will be able to work for Google, it is not that I will be able to work for myspace or IBM. All those may disappear in the future. Teach me how to learn, how to be creative, how to solve problems. Let me graduate in the school of life.


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