Some Thoughts on the Current Education System

 

Let me begin by saying that during my undergrad I was the type of student that found most lectures boring, could not pay attention for more than a couple of minutes at a time, cared a lot about my grades and much less about learning, and skipped most of the classes when I could get away with it. That being said, I still think I got a really good education, a solid grasp of my domain, and even enjoyed some of the classes I took; else I would not have chosen to pursue a Ph.D. in the same discipline. The reason for that is that I interpreted courses as a path that leads me to my goal, and not my actual goal.

The first issue I would like to point out which makes the college (I am strictly talking about college here) education system seem broken is the lack of proper guidance that students receive before picking their majors. I know from personal experience and from observing the people around me that the majority of students rarely pick a major based on passion or interest, and when asked why they have chosen to pursue their major, the most prevalent answers were “Why not” and “The market demands it”. With people making such choices why does it come as a surprise that most students want to survive through their education? If a student is passionate about his major, sitting through 3 to 4 years of college is a very small sacrifice that will yield dividends in the coming 30 to 40 years of work. My point is, in many cases in many cases, guiding people towards a major that suits them is a better solution as compared to making courses more “barrable”.

The second point I would like to touch on is that yes, the education system is not perfect, but with the current economy of scale it’s very hard to come up with a system that is both better for students and scalable. How is it possible for a professor to interact with students at a personal level when the class has a 100+ students? You might say that a class should not contain that many students and I agree, but again I come back to the issue of scale, when 10000 students apply for one specific major, the university hast to either reject most of them  (you can’t do that) or hire more professors (not a very financially sound decision for the university).

To wrap up, is the college education system perfect? Definitely not, I can point out so many things that are current being done wrong, but overall is it broken? I don’t think that either. I think that the way our current society works has forced the education system along its current trajectory and instead of trying to fix the education system, I would suggest looking at why the education system got to this point in the first place, fix those core problems, then try to fix the current problem which is a consequence rather than the cause.

2 Replies to “Some Thoughts on the Current Education System”

  1. You know, I’ve always thought, along the lines of your critique of major selection, that if we valued vocational education more we could save millions of people the pain of sitting through a bunch of ‘education’ they really aren’t passionate about. I do think so many people choose a major based on what will get them a job, but at a liberal arts school that just seems like a massive waste of money, time and resources. If you just want a good job, go to vocational school, become a plumber or electrician, we need more, they are paid well, it is in demand. Why should someone that would be perfectly happy being an electrician sit through a required modern literature course at a liberal arts school that is tortuous to them. It only brings down the rest of the class, and waste’s their time. And the only reason they are doing it is cultural expectations and judgement. If we treated vocational education and liberal arts education as equally valuable and important I think we would have a more balanced society.

  2. There’s quite a large body of research on why students select the majors they do, if you’re interested in exploring your first point more deeply there is a lot to look through. Expected earnings and ability perceptions play large roles, but “taste” is perhaps even more important. “Taste” being a rather ambiguous set of criteria that is fairly personal such as enjoyment of major class material or non-income benefits of the major post-grad. Also, major selection in high school to college is largely biased by what people are exposed to: teachers, dentists, doctors, what ever their parents do, etc. So to help students better pick majors it may be best to reach high schools students.

    To your second point, I agree with your sentiment on the importance of vocational education. I think part of the problem with advocating vocational education is it comes off as condescending, because it is largely targeted towards lower-income, or lower grade performing students who “can’t afford/cut it” in a 4 year, liberal arts degree.

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