Thursday, September 27, 2012

My vision of how the education system should work

This is a continuation of my previous article So… I dropped out of college. And I’m glad that I did, containing my thoughts about how could  the education system be better and how could it work in the future, based on some of the questions/arguments other people presented.

As I said in the previous article, I prefer self-education and I learn basically everything myself. The problem with self-education might be that verifying knowledge is crucial in some areas, where mistakes could cost lives or could do a serious damage, however what I'm mostly objecting to is that there's basically only one official way of doing it and that it's quite fragmented, differing in quality and restricted mostly to these who join such school. I think that should change in all areas, although medicine, high-voltage and such would still require some formal verification that you're really capable of performing a surgery for example, but the way you obtain the necessary knowledge should be more open and free.

Because in the end, it all comes to educating yourself, you can even educate yourself on advanced level. You can do the same with applying the knowledge, you don't need a college for that. I used what I learned myself to create new things - applied it, myself, without anyone's help, in fact, I consider learning how to apply the knowledge to be a part of education, so I don't talk about it distinctively, as it's one and the same thing for me. Gathering knowledge - memorizing some facts is kinda useless if you can't utilize them, in fact, I don't even consider that an education.

I still think that there's a lot that should be changed in the formal education, because there are many things wrong with it, more options should be given to people and they should educate themselves just for the education itself, to better themselves, not because they "must" to get a degree... And like I said in the post, degree itself is quite imperfect way of measuring education, it's more of an ability to pass certain tests, of varying quality. And for such education, quality materials should be prepared and shared with anyone, everywhere.

I do not argue that everything can be learned solely by yourself without access to proper equipment and opportunities that school provides. For example I don't think anyone could learn surgery at home or work in a laboratory with very expensive equipment and for these purposes, he/she would have to get involved with certain programme.

I'm also not arguing that college is not good for everyone or that it's bad generally (though there are some things about the college system that I find bad generally, even for these who need it), as not all people are able to be self taught and need to be motivated by other means than their own curiosity and also require some guidance in their studies.

What I'm arguing though is that it shouldn't be the only option out there and that a simple degree shouldn't be used as a measure of skills and abilities, but rather the skills and abilities themselves should be the official measures of that, that would the employers consider, no matter how you actually obtained them. I'm not saying that everything about college is bad, just that some things could be changed and education system should be more transparent, free and open. I think it should be restructured.

To give a more specific example, for example in computing, you could present your own software creations to your potential employer, whether you made them on your own using abilities you learned yourself or if you went to some educational course where they would help you with the studies (give you lectures, discuss it with you, help you with problems and give you direction about what and how you should learn). In case of surgeons, you could do the same - either you could learn the theory on your own or go to an educational course where they would help you with it (that portion doesn't really matter, as long as you obtain the necessary skills, understanding of the matter and knowledge).

Now for the practical surgery, you would need to actually do some supervised work in some educational facilities, as part of some programme (maybe a bit similar to the college, but you wouldn't collect any points and credits and such, you would collect only the knowledge and skills and work on projects to show that you understand it) where they would teach you that and then, in case you perform some surgery under supervision your performance would be recorded and stored and then used basically as presentation of your skills. When someone would hire you, they would look at how many supervised surgeries you performed and how well did you do and use that information to decide whether you're good or not, instead of just looking at some degree.

That way, you could also obtain various combination of skills from various fields. And the materials for education should be prepared and made freely and publicly available for anyone, anytime. So you could access them if you want to learn about it yourself, no matter if you're pursuing career in that field or just satisfying your curiosity. In fact, these educational courses would use the same materials, but would prepare a structured programme for the students to help them guide through the materials and teachers who would help answer any questions, solve any problems and present the materials in case the student can't understand them him/herself.

As for the motivation, it would be actually completing some project, some goal, some tangible piece of work that would the employers require to hire in certain area. Once you would pick one (or think of one of your own), you would need to actually obtain some knowledge, skills and understanding in order to complete it, so you would either learn them on your own or sign up for an educational course. I want an emphasis on the learning, self-improving and more reliable presentation of your abilities, rather than bureaucracy around it.

I understand that this is large and complex topic and many aspects need to be thought through, but I believe that this system could work better than the current one in most aspects and benefit everyone.

Friday, September 21, 2012

So… I dropped out of college. And I’m glad that I did

Last few weeks were a bit hectic and interleaved with many thoughts about unknown and unsure future, because I decided to drop out of the university. Yes, decided. I didn’t drop out because it was too difficult for me, quite the opposite really. The exercises and project I did were scored perfect, even got an extra point, didn’t have any trouble with the material. So why would I drop out if I was handling it okay?

The answer is: because it was frustrating the hell out of me. I spent a lot of time working on school projects, travelling around, worrying about things, without really gaining anything that I didn’t already gain myself before or couldn’t gain on my own. I’m a chronic self-educated person, I love to learn and find out how things work, because I’m extremely curious about everything, how everything works and what are the reasons behind it.

So if I love learning, why on Earth (also Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune and even Pluto, although it’s not a planet anymore) would I leave college? Well… because it was slowing me down and annoying me. I can learn things myself. I’ve been doing it basically since my early childhood, by myself. I took various devices apart and used the parts to make my own “inventions”, I drew various machines, and I’ve read so many books when I was just a little kid.

However all the “official stuff” at college is just annoying, I don’t need it, I don’t like it, but I have to do it if I want to pass officially and get a degree. I have to do pointless projects that are thrown away after scoring them, I have to study stuff I already taught myself before, go to some exercises at predetermined times and spent a lot of time wandering from one place to another. Instead, I want to learn things I want and need how I want and use the newly gained skills on my own projects and ideas that are actually useful to me and/or others.

And that’s the reason why I dropped out. I don’t need the college, I don’t want it. What I need is knowledge and skills and I can get this on my own, in fact, I’ve already gathered many, so I’m able to work on various projects and turn many of my ideas into reality. I’ve simply chosen an alternative way to learn and satisfy my curiosity – on my own and this way makes me much happier, makes me feel much more free, comfortable and relaxed. I can finally work on my ideas in peace, instead of stressing out all the time, which is rather detrimental to everything.

So I’ve started a company, well still am in process of starting it and working on the first starter project, getting it ready to release and hopefully succeed. I know for sure that I’ll try to push and keep turning my ideas into reality, one after another (and maybe even in different order) no matter what, because I’m fueled by my passion for creating things and curiosity, not only about existing things, but also about how will the next crazy idea I get turn out.

Some people try to stop me, try to tell me to finish the college, because I need college, because everybody needs college. I think that’s wrong way of thinking though. You don’t need the college to be good. You need knowledge, understanding and skills and college just might be a way of obtaining them and if you’re happy with how it works, then by all means, go to the college, but if you want to pursue alternative way of education… well why not? There will be always naysayers, but your life and future is in your hands, not theirs.

The only problem is that having a degree is still basically the only official way of indicating that you’re educated and some employers or even regular people might look down at you if you don’t have one. But I think that there should be changes to this system, I would actually go as far as saying that the current system is quite wrong.

I find the whole idea of a title before the name indicating the knowledge and skills of the person quite silly. It’s just a few letters, meaning that the person passed through some exams. Of course, there are many great and really smart people, who even have multiple degrees and really deserve them and do awesome things, but there are also the opposites, people with degrees who are simply put still quite dumb. You can have two people, one with a degree and one without, where the one without is way more skilled and creative than the one with. It’s not really a guarantee of a smart and skilled person it just means they managed to pass some exams.

What really matters is the actual skill of the person and his/her work, it’s the actual knowledge and understanding of things that matters and that’s what we should focus at. Do you think that people with many degrees who work on awesome projects wouldn’t be able to work on these projects without the degrees? They would, they would still be the same people with same talents, skills and knowledge.

I believe that the true measure of someone’s education is his own work, showcase of what he/she did and is capable of doing, rather than passing some unified test, by specifically studying for it. Even remembering as many facts as possible is not really the way to do things, unless you want to win “Who wants to be a millionaire” or similar. What counts is the ability to use the information to make something new or to analyze something or just use that information somehow, but knowing it by memory is not very useful. There’s always certain level of memorized information, which differs in various areas, but it should come naturally, instead of pushing it to your head.

However, current system doesn’t really favor self-education and alternative ways of learning and studying. I managed to make my own processor architecture and programming languages and quite an unique ones, even collected a few prestigious science awards for them, while still being a high school student, because I learned how to do it on my own and figured out many things myself too and there are many people who got a computer science degree and still aren’t capable of doing anything like that, so what does that tell you about the degree as a measure? It certainly puts things in perspective.

There are some more open employers though, who rather want to see examples of person’s work in order to hire him, although it’s not a guarantee that they’ll accept you solely on your achievements. I’ve got quite simpler situation since I’m starting my own company to pursue my creative interests, but some other people might not want to do this and are stuck with the official system.

Also there’s one last big issue with the official system which comes to my mind: highly differing quality of schools and lecture and study materials. There are multiple schools teaching essentially the same field even in my little country, yet their quality and requirements differ a lot. While one university is tons of work to get through, the other one is basically a breeze, yet you get the same degree from both of them. Is that fair? What does this tell you about the meaning of a degree?

These are all the reasons why I don’t like the way education system works and why it should be changed. There should be more focus on the actual skills and understanding and work of the people. Ideally I imagine that people would cooperate on making lectures, articles and other materials for others, they would do it once and properly, instead of doing it many times separately with varying quality.

Also the materials should be available to everyone, anytime. Are you just curious how white cells work? Or do you need to understand better operation of microprocessors for one of your ideas for a project? Are you 25? 50? 12? 80? White? Black? Green? Doesn’t matter, it’s for everyone, everywhere, anytime. Little kids should be led to be curious about things, how they work, so they would learn themselves. If they would struggle with this, a guidelines and program could be prepared using these free and public materials to aid them with learning and providing the essentials, similarly to the current system, but there should be more freedom, the program shouldn’t be enforced, instead students should pursue their own inventive projects and ideas, for which they would need to gather information from these sources.

And their projects and work would be their official “degree”. If they’re active and creative, it would show and employers would be more than interested in them. If they keep copying others, as some do in school now, just to get a degree, it would be apparent too, as it’s not so easy to cheat this system. Students wouldn’t be stressed all the time. Instead they could relax and enjoy the learning with clear mind. And by student, I don’t mean someone enrolled in particular university, I mean everyone.

Everyone could learn things for their own life, without having to enroll anywhere, it’s the age of computers and internet and it allows just that. It might’ve been difficult to do something like this years ago, but now it’s not, so why not? Wouldn’t you give such system a chance? After all, we should learn from our mistakes and constantly improve things for better, instead of stagnating and keeping them old and how they used to be. If there’s a chance to make things better, we should grab it, instead of sticking with the old ways.

I know that I want to support such system, but I’m currently at the beginning, at the beginning of my own company and there’s a lot of work to do, but I have what’s the most dearest to me – my mind, my ideas and passion to change and create things. And now that I dropped out of college, I’m free to do that.