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The problem with educational institutions

December 22, 2015

Educational institutions have been with us a long time. Many people respect them and rely on them for education (sometimes confused with learning). But there are problems with these institutions.

Firstly, not everyone can get to them. They are not always situated near where people live, travelling to them and living near them (even temporarily) is costly. More problematic is that, where places at institutions are scarce, only people of a certain kind get access. There are many obstacles from knowing that the institutions exist, to how to apply effectively, to unspoken acceptance criteria that keep many from gaining access. And just building more institutions is not enough. The good ones take a lot of resources to build and run. As a result many people are condemned to really bad “education” in dreadful institutions.

Secondly, what you are taught at institutions is dictated by someone else. Usually this is by “experts” in the field. While such experts are well-intentioned and do have deep knowledge of their fields, they are not necessarily going to teach you what you need to know, now. Curricula quickly become out of date. (In South Africa it takes about 18 months to get a new course approved by the Council on Higher Education – in which time, knowledge has moved on.) More insidiously these experts undermine the individuals’ control of their learning. Every baby designs their own learning agenda – to learn to walk, to work out how to get more attention from adults. Once children enter school they learn that they are too stupid to work out what they really want to learn about and instead they must learn what someone else thinks is important, no matter how boring it is.

Thirdly, you have to learn at the same pace and in the same sequence as lots of other people. This is problematic because you come to learning as a unique individual with a history and an existing store of knowledge. You want to add to that store of knowledge. This means not having to rehash what you already know and it also means spending longer on getting up to speed in areas where you are not knowledgeable. Curricula are designed for the average learner on the course and you are not average. In most institutions, there is very little flexibility in the learning process.

Finally, institutions institutionalise. They make people think the same. They trap people in an artificial set of rules and processes that are unrelated to the world outside of the institution. They create a microcosm of human relations that is generally unhealthy and they set up goals that do not relate to human goals of health and happiness. In the long term they create people who are comfortable in institutions, where they feel safe. This may have been a good idea when people went from school into corporate jobs, but in the future most people are not going to do that. They are going to live in a very different world and will need to be a different kind of person.

Education institutions have served their purpose, but we don’t need them anymore. Knowledge is readily accessible to anyone with an Internet connection, a device, and the knowledge of how to find, evaluate and interpret it. The opportunities for self-directed learning, independent of an institution, have never been better.

I know I have made some provocative statements here. Some of them need a more detailed examination and justification. Counter-arguments need to be examined, as well as evidence. Alternatives must be proposed. I’ll get to that.

From → Higher Education

  1. LenH permalink

    Hello Judy,
    My eye caught the subject line, my first thought was your article was going to be about universities not teaching spelling anymore 🙂 However, I think the biggest problem with universities is that the ROI for time/money spent can’t be reasonably recouped anymore. As a young person setting out startup debt has a bigger impact (negative) on success than a degree (positive). Cheers!

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