In today’s world there is arguably too much information available for people to consume. One can go to a library and find multiple books written by experts on a single subject, each with slightly different viewpoints on the topic. Then you can hop onto your computer and find 4,000,000 subreddits, wikipedia, forums and news articles also debating the subject matter.
The wealth of information is huge nowadays. Granted, probably 80% of those 4,000,000 providers of information are useless, inaccurate and barely compelling reading, but even 20% of that is still an immense resource.
The thing that education should be teaching you, is discerning the 80 from the 20, the good from the bad, the reliable to the unreliable.
Perhaps one of the biggest defining regrets I’ve ever experienced in my life, was the decision to finish my Bachelor Degree at university. I spent 4 years of my life studying Marine Biology for my Science degree, an incredible waste of time that has helped shaped my urgent nature nowadays.
A degree that should have ended a year early, I was unable to finish it due to my lack of motivation, commitment and overall care for the degree and the institution itself. Passing grades became my norm, a clear indication of my lack of enthusiasm for my tertiary degree.
It was a far cry from my distinction level average held in high school, but then being disillusioned will do that to you. I was lacking friends, willpower and interest and that proved so costly, that I failed 2 units, thus forcing me to do another year.
With such a horrific experience, what made me agree to sacrifice another 2 years to do another Bachelor, this time in Arts and specialising in Journalism and Ancient History?
Because, those two topics were something I cared about. Something I was genuinely interested in.
But what made those 2 years enjoyable and fast paced was the change in learning style.
It was journalism that made me really sit up and notice how, and what education should be.
The teacher, a hardened veteran who had cut her teeth at multiple papers, was no-nonsense, generous and efficient. She didn’t bother with the theoretical. Her advice to us was simple:
If you want to write a story, get out there and find one.
We were all daunted by the task, but there was a simple truth to that statement. You weren’t going to find a story sitting behind a desk. The simple matter of the fact was … you had to go out, you had to be the nosy arsehole and you had to ask all the right questions, whilst appearing not to twist people’s words.
I grew good at it. I excelled in this environment. My grades shot back up, to my usual distinctions and high distinctions. I felt reinvigorated because, simply put, the environment wasn’t a university anymore, it was a workplace.
What also sold that impression was that the journalism faculty was one of the most impressive and immersive work-spaces I’ve ever been to on campus. Situated in the heart of the building, was a huge media room, complete with recording equipment, cameras, microphones and a desk for news-reading. On the other side where classes were held, rows of desks had Macs instead of regular PCs, and along the roof, was an array of TVs showcasing every major news channel broadcast, from CNN, Sky News and the BBC.
I loved working there. One of my fondest memories of my entire university experience, was working alone late at night, in that very room, with a bag of Maltesers, writing up my long investigative piece on young Asian-Australians mental health, with the news bulletin issuing various soft lights across the darkened room..
In 2 years, the course and its teachers taught and impressed me more than any of the other dozens of lecturers I had come across in my science degree.
This stemmed from one singular difference … these were industry professionals that were guiding us. They weren’t interested in the theory of journalism, only the practice. I left that degree feeling confident I could apply myself in the workforce.
Which brings me back to the original discussion.
In today’s world, rote learning is remarkably archaic and almost useless by the time the year is out. Information is discovered, processed and assimilated into fact so quickly, that by the time you realise Pluto is no longer a planet, the world has already moved on to caring about the proposed Artemis program to put man on the moon again.
Which means that the focus should be more on learning how to acquire information and discern it from fact to fiction and remember the basics that will always outlast the textbooks. These basics and fundamental are drilled into you best, when put into application, when placed in the context of the real world, instead of the academic.
The irony of the current Australian higher education isn’t lost on me. In fact it’s so bizzarely terrible that here I am, writing an editorial style piece on it.
The irony, is that the system is designed to prepare you for the workplace, however almost nothing you learn is used in the actual workplace and the way how grades and exams are designed, actually ensures that you forget a lot of the knowledge you learn throughout a semester.
A frequent occurrence, is that students will trundle along their way through semesters, stumbling past assignments, before knuckling down for 2 weeks to cram 6 months worth of information in their mind, sit their exams and then anxiously wait for results throughout the holidays.
Holidays, in which the students spent 3/4 of it blind drunk, partying, determined to forget their anxious times, and thus by the time the next semester rolls around, they’ve forgotten everything they’ve learned in the past 6 months, except how to create terrible study habits and hangover tips.
This vicious cycle continues for the entirety of the Bachelor degree, cynicism, and weariness encroaching the student’s mental state with each passing year, until finally they are spat out of the tertiary system, having wasted 3 years of their lives, learning absolutely nothing, with no connections or relations to the industry they studied for and now forced to face a terrifying reality that was previously hidden behind a university emblazoned shield.
Confronted with such a harsh reality … either continue to study and pray that networking opportunities arise with even further study or completely abandon what they studied for so long and find an entirely different career, starting from the beginning again, only more disenchanted with life than before they started.
This tragic choice is hidden from view, by that aforementioned shield. The shield is deceptively attractive. It presents itself as thus.
Welcome to university, where you will meet lifelong friends, join exciting and thrilling clubs and study in the field you always wanted to. Here, at this prestigious university, in its hallowed halls, you will join thousands of other students in becoming the best academics you can be. It is an honour for us to welcome you to this enormous campus, with its sparkling facilities.
The reality though is markedly different.
Welcome to uni, where your friends shall be as disposable and displaced as your empty bottle of beer. Join uni-student run clubs, which will lack proper guidance, rules and management due to raw inexperience.
Feel free to choose any faculty, as you are doubtless fresh out of high-school, with zero clues on how to decide what is a monumental decision for any adult, let alone a fresh-faced child … where you want to be and go for the rest of your life.
Here at this university, you shall be just one, amongst thousands who are equally lost, equally poor, equally deprived of experience, know-how and personal growth. Enjoy the smelly, old, slightly dilapidated equipment that were kept barely to a reasonable standard, the musty libraries and the sheer lack of computers available for the thousands on campus.
It’s a chore to welcome you with the thousands of other faceless and nameless applicants, but here are the basics and enjoy getting lost on campus. Hope to see you at another dull graduation that we endure every year, until then leave our staff alone, because they’ll always be exceedingly bored, passive aggressive and understaffed at all times.
Perhaps one of the best examples of this shield being lowered and the spawning of my eternal bitterness to higher education came in the final year of my first bachelor degree in science. At the time, the entire marine biology cohort was relaxing, after a day of experimentation, just having finished our dinner on our first field trip. We were all listening to the head lecturer who started innocuously about the plans for the next few days.
It was then, just as we were getting excited, he dropped the truth, about how much longer this degree would need from us, if we were to get a job in the field; “a minimum of a Masters” and … that none of the jobs were here in Victoria, but instead were found in our northern neighbours, Queensland and New South Wales.
Upon receiving this news, I silently fumed with resentment, as I looked around angrily, to only see relaxed faces around me. It floored me how calm everyone seemed to be taking this news.
What’s was the fucking point of the past 3 years then? my mind screamed at the impassive professor.
Whatever motivation I had for my studies, vanished from then on, and I passed my degree with all the reluctance of Hercules with his famous 12 Labours and presumably as much struggle, though I doubt I had to face any Nemean Lions or tame the Augean Stables. That said, I still faced my despicably smug and guilt-free King Eurystheus (my professors and lecturers lumped into one authoritarian figure) after all my assignments and I never quite recovered from the multiple barely passing grades nor the incredible indifference they offered me.
What has always surprised me, is the fact that often, you do your own learning about your passions. That knowledge you attain through self-learning, is usually more extensive, more comprehensive and driven than anything you learn in a formal education setting.
Thanks to my interest in F1, I have a rudimentary knowledge of aerodynamics, engine parts and the effects of G-Forces on the human body, and which workouts are necessary to counteract those forces.
My extensive research into all things militaria has been so exhaustive, I can discuss weapon systems with actual trained soldiers, debate geopolitical flash-points, identify guns and their common calibre rounds, and know which languages are popular in certain troublesome regions.
Then there’s my useless knowledge about all things pop culture, from Warhammer 40K, Star Wars, Star Trek, Dune, NASA, Mad Max … the list goes on and on, and all them have proven to provide little nuggets of knowledge in the most unexpected of ways, such as the warp drive being one of the most feasible ways of achieving FTL travel or creating artificial gravity through thrust, as depicted in the Expanse.
I can’t forget to mention my small knowledge of American Football (NFL), EPL (English Premier League) and now recently my burgeoning know-how in tennis and card tricks.
Classical music, jazz, house, soundtracks, kitchen techniques, fine dining, table manners, first aid, event work, shooting, … the general knowledge list goes on and on
All of this information, all of this research was found for free, through vigorous and diligent research. I didn’t pay a single cent for this education. I just went out and sought information.
I look at my friends, and see a similar story. They’re low-key experts in their passions, simply because they went through the trouble of educating themselves on the subject matter.
So what is the point of formal tertiary education? Why can’t all places simply be a simulation of the workplace you want to engage in?
I’ll be honest, I don’t know. I don’t have the answer to that weighty question.
What I do know, is that there needs to be a shift in how we view, grade and learn through tertiary education. The method of rote learning is perfectly adequate for high school and younger. To still employ such an archaic method at a tertiary level and accelerate it, is foolhardy. Adults need different learning styles beyond boring power-points and a lecture hall.
Information is simply growing too fast to allow such slow, inefficient and brute-force style learning methods. People need to learn how to read information and recognise that some fundamentals are eternal and worth remembering. You don’t need to learn the fundamentals, you can just experience them.
When you enter the work-force, that is exactly what happens.
At its core, tertiary education should be about simulating the workplace. The fundamentals have been drilled into you in secondary school. Now it is time to experience them and see them in action. Whatever else you need to learn, you’ll find out whilst working and getting paid to do so.
It is already the case, that you will forget any superfluous information you learn anyway, because the moment you get a job, they’ll train you and teach you everything. So why fill your head with extra rubbish? Better to fill it with the information about your passions and hobbies.
This is why I valued my journalism course so much, because it simulated the work environment I was expected to be working in. I didn’t have to be taught how to write …. I did that in high school already. What I needed was a place that would prepare me for the stress, intensity and speed in which I had to write, for a professional news network.
For all their money, facilities and supposed brain-power, university academics are woefully out-of-touch with how to best prepare their students for the reality outside of school. In today’s world, I feel strongly that education needs to adjust to the demands of jobs. There needs to be a stronger reflection of job prospects within the context of education.
The old “here’s my degree, so here’s my job” is no longer a reality for so many here in Australia. Nowadays, it is who you know, how you network, how to engage with future bosses and how hard you work. The degree is a formality that millions possess.
It matters little how you got the degree, because if an reluctant, recalcitrant and rebellious arsehole like me can struggle through and get a Bachelor of Science degree, it also sadly invalidates the hard work of a studious, bright-eyed student who also got the same degree.
So it comes down to who got the more sparkling personality.
No-one in university can teach you that, except yourself and the hobbies you engage in.
But at the very least, they should teach you how to network, how best to find a job in your field, instead of tossing you out, after bleeding you dry and emptying your heart and mind.
If only I knew any of this, before I joined … I would have taken my time and really plotted out the course of my life and wasted a lot less time.
They say that education is an investment … they never said which part of education you need to be invested in.
Consider this long rant, this editorial, knowledge that you should be aware of before going any future in your tiertary education.
Forewarned is forearmed.
So make sure you know yourself and do your research about everything, before committing to anything that will take 3-6 years of your life away.
Because you might find out like me, that after 6 years studying, you are still unemployed, immature and with no connection to the world nor any memory of the supposed knowledge you obtained during that period.
And that is the irony of tertiary education in a nutshell, that you end up back where you started, when you left high school, only a lot more cynical, jaded and mad.
What a joke.