Ten deadly sins of education

Ten deadly sins of education
Education is necessary but “schools” (as we know them) are not! The existing model is old-fashioned and outdated. This article is my view on recent problems and issues in education…
1. Education is not very useful

Education is necessary but “schools” (as we know them) are not. How much of what we have learned is ever useful in real life? Ten years ago, while I was serving as the vice-dean for international cooperation, my University performed a research involving a portion of nearly 50.000 alumni of the school for economics and business. The reply to the above question was: between 8 and 12 percent. Simply stated, only 10 percent of what our students have learned during their college education was ever useful in the real life. The schools as we know them are lacking real output quality. Imagine any other production system creating only 10 percent of useful output. Would it ever been considered good and satisfactory?
Albert Einstein’s used to say that we cannot solve any problem by the same thinking that created it. Thus, we should change the way we see education as a system. In other words, we must redefine the concept of learning. If we want to create a better educational system, changing culture is by far more important than changing curricula.
Normally, if you cannot solve a problem, you must change it. You must redefine it; see it differently and maybe than you will be able to solve it. However, we are accustomed, educated, mentally programmed and trained to look at problems pretty much the way everybody else does, based on prevailing paradigms.
We enjoy seeing things clearly. We like our (educational) world to be structured, organized, rational and predictable. The reality, on the other hand, seems to be quite different. More often than not, our clear images fail us and we end up being confused.

2. Education is too much bureaucracy too little innovation

What set of ideas more appropriately describes the present educational system? Is it aimed at development or status quo? Is it quick, offensive or slow and defensive when dealing with change? Are the new ideas easily accepted or rejected? From organizational point of view, is it rigid and stable or flexible and dynamic?
The goal of most educational and training activities is to teach administrative procedures, rules and well structured approaches that can be repeated and replicated. The very nature of education is to “produce” administrators (followers, obedient executors) and not change masters (leaders or innovators).
What is the difference and why is it important? The administrators in any industry, trade, field or activity will control, analyze, make plans, communicate and coordinate. On the other hand, the leaders will set a vision, encourage and motivate, manage change and inspire. Leadership is, above all, a capability to influence behavior of people, including their value systems. As an outcome, organizational goals are attained with will, dedication and enthusiasm. Leadership is about commitment, and commitment is about values. Putting emphasis on educating administrators is like building a huge brake to prevent change from happening.
Leaders create visions, and make people follow them, while administrators plan, organize and supervise their teams. Administrators are susceptible to rules and regulations, based on experience. They develop stable procedures and build strong organizational structures. Unlike leaders who want to experiment, innovate, explore and reinvent. Leaders expect initiative and make people fight for a vision while administrators distribute tasks and expect obedience. Imposed control is the key to success in administrators mind. On the other hand a leader knows that self-control is the best control, and self-motivation is the best motivation. Leaders build innovative strategies, while administrators pedantically plan activities for attaining goals. Leaders inspire the collaborators to participate in a dream-come-true experience, while administrators deal with trouble shooting.
Administrators are risk avoiders who rarely provoke or fight. On the other hand, leaders are susceptible to risk and infrequently engage in conflicts. Administrators must use power to get what they want, while leaders receive cooperation without even asking for it. It is mostly because our inner values drive our behavior much stronger than any imposed rules and regulations.
Administrator is a perfect response to the challenges of a stable system. On the other hand, leaders are needed to alter the course, to innovate and take chances. Administrators keep the system running while leaders save it from failing in times of transition. Leaders are explorers, while administrators take paths already established. Since most present day systems and organizations are fully immersed in change, we need leaders, promoters of the new set of values instead of administrators, fighters for the status quo. The goal of education and training is to provide us with better output.

3. We are not successful in teaching creativity and innovation

Creativity is defined as ability to solve complex problems in an original way. Also it is an ability to produce ideas. On the other hand, innovation can be described as applied creativity or successful implementation of ideas. What do we do wrong in problem solving and education? We serve solutions, approaches and concepts to students to memorize, and not to challenge and reinvent. Creativity means freedom and lack of creativity equals to lack of freedom. Rigid and structured educational systems do not encourage exceptions, rule breaking, free choice and open mind. Instead, they are based on discipline, order, rules and procedures. We need to change that on all levels of education and training.
Building professional intelligence is the key goal of any education and training. It is aimed at giving students professional degrees (professional competence, knowledge and skills of a trade). In real life, success and results are not so much correlated with professionalism as they are correlated with personality traits, social competences and emotional intelligence. What is emotional intelligence? It is the capacity for recognizing our own feelings and those of others, for motivating ourselves and for managing emotions well in ourselves and in our relationships. It describes abilities distinct from, but complementary to, academic intelligence, the cognitive capacities measured by professional standards. Basic emotional and social competences are self-awareness (confidence), self-regulation (control), (self)-motivation, empathy, various social skills (communication, networking…) and optimism. Putting too much emphasis on “what” we usually neglect “how”; our educational systems are much less successful in teaching emotional intelligence, personal competence and social skills.

4. We build professionalism and not passion and initiative

Most educational systems are organized in such a way to educate and train “the perfect expert, worker or employee”. It is a person with professional attitude, equipped with knowledge and skills of the trade, proven by a certificate, diploma or degree. Such a person is expected to exhibit diligence and effort, show obedience (we don’t want troublemakers), and if these standards are met, we expect from the perfect employee initiative, creativity and passion.
The new approach to education and training of “professionals” should put much more emphasis on emotional attitude. The best employees will always be the people with passion, able to work long hours because they enjoy what they do. No wonder the most successful entrepreneurs in computer industry have, as a rule, been college drop-outs like Steven Jobs. They were chasing a dream, and not a paper certificate. Passionate people will be inquisitive and resourceful; they will make up for a lack of formal education, degrees, certificates or diplomas. The knowledge on paper is very often worth next to nothing but the bureaucrats are always impressed by formal and not by the essential attributes of employees, the ones that produce real results.
Passion, creativity and initiative are the key sources of success, great work and important accomplishments. Formal education (professional intelligence), diligence and obedience should be put low on the list of preferred traits and characteristics of any innovative knowledge worker of the future.

5. We teach learning but not unlearning

There is a story about Nan in, Japanese teacher of Zen. One day a university professor from the West, who was eager to learn about this school of Buddhism, paid him a visit. The teacher, according to the old tradition, personally served tea to his guest. But, even after the guest’s cup was full, he continued to pour. Unable to watch the tea flowing all over the table and dripping on the floor, the professor decided to interrupt him by saying: “The cup is full, you shouldn’t pour any more”. “Like this tea cup”, Nan in answered, “so are you full of ideas and prejudices. I cannot teach you Zen if you are not ready to empty your cup”.
The story has a point: One must empty one’s cup! It is equally important to learn and to unlearn. Most of the things we know may no longer be right, correct and applicable to changed situations. The values we believe in may not be the right ones. Our experience and cases on which we base our action may no longer hold true. Our attitudes may be the very source of trouble and failure. That’s why one of the challenges facing the actual education system is its inability to teach unlearning. Because, in times of rapid technological change the problem is how to get new, innovative thoughts into our mind, but also how to get the old ones out!

6. Education is rational and serious, it should be cool

If you ask majority of pupils and students about it, they will tell you that the present education and training experience is boring. As already mentioned, the professors and teachers of the future will have to be entertainers, able to teach the rational stuff in a cool and inspirational way. Every education and training experience has its content, and its form. As far as the content is concerned, we live in the world dominated by technology, rationalism, pragmatism; we seek for physical comfort and rely on rational intelligence. On the other hand, there is a world of form, based on emotions, stories, and values. In this world we seek for spiritual comfort and our behavior is guided by emotional intelligence.
The education and training have traditionally been too much “rational” and that very fact made them boring, unattractive and tedious. A shift in paradigm is needed, if we want to have more successful system of transferring knowledge, skills and attitudes. In a cool world we must require that education and training also become cool!

7. Education is based on fear; it should be based on love

The corporation as we know it, which is now 120 years old, is not likely to survive the next 25 years. It will survive legally and financially, but not structurally and economically. These are the words of Peter Drucker some 15 years ago. The management guru perceived corporations, government bureaucracies and other institutions we know (including schools and universities) as old-fashioned organizations based on fear. They have developed ill-functioning concepts like hierarchies, cubicles, SOP’s (standard operating procedures). In such hierarchies the bosses and teams are appointed by senior management, the goal attainment is based on command and control. Working within such environment causes alienation and depression.
Today we need new types of “corporations”. Instead of organizations based on fear, we should build organizations based on love. Instead of hierarchies, cubicles, SOP’s we need self-organized teams, based on friendship, partnership, common vision, and mutually agreed values. Instead of bosses and teams appointed by senior management, we need a system in which the leader is a person who calls the meeting and people show up, and teams are self-selected. Instead of goal attainment being based on command and control, we need organizational environment in which everybody is responsible, and all control is based on self-control.
Traditional corporations, as well as universities and schools, have been developed in times of hard work, today most employees are knowledge workers. Their source of motivation is not imposed control and fear but love for what they do, feeling of accomplishment and self-fulfillment! New organizations need new educational value system based on passion, enthusiasm, appetite for life, engagement, commitment, great causes, determination to make a difference. The students and workers of the future will have to be trained for shared adventures, bizarre failures, appetite for change. Otherwise, why bother?
Let’s take a look at the values creating a framework for “organizational” side of the education of the future: It consists of the following: Endless creativity; Full adaptability; Inspirational environment.
We are talking about organizations based on love where ideas compete on equal footing, tasks are selected, not administered, authority is not based on position, hierarchies are natural, not imposed, teams are self-organized, leaders serve, and resources are attracted and not budgeted.
Where can one find such a culture? It already exists for couple of decades on the Internet. Imagine that some hierarchy decided to build the web based on long term plan, clearly defined budget, strict and rigid rules… No way! It emerged, step by step, as a self-organized endeavor based on endless creativity, full adaptability, creating a lovable and inspirational environment in which ideas compete on equal footing, tasks are selected and not administered, teams are self-organized and authority is not based on position but on the quality of an idea and its execution. Isn’t it all equally true for education and training?
Traditional schools and universities are rigid hierarchies, resembling corporations. We need new, internet-like environments supporting new values, creativity, innovation, and change. In traditional hierarchies, for one thing, the boss is there to catch an employee in what he does wrong. We need schools and universities in which professors and teachers will be able to catch students in what they do right.

8. Learning is separated from working, art from science, theory from practice

Today most people study and learn for 15+ years, being in the meantime, separated from everyday practice and isolated from work and real life. Instead of learning by studying, we must go back to the traditional idea of learning by doing, experiencing, creating. We keep talking about life-long learning, but in practice the concept is far from being fully operational.
First of all, a separation between learning and working is not natural. The “students” of the future should work and study throughout their lifetime, and not, as it is now often the case, spend decades “studying”, and then, after earning a diploma, move into the practical world and spend the rest of their life “working”. Also, in education and training environment there has been an extensive administrative quest to put every educational content into a properly separated “box” and isolate it from other “boxes”. The new paradigm requires that we reintegrate the separated approaches. Metaphorically speaking, education systems must reembrace the real transdisciplinarity, the notion that everything is art and science, theory and practice, wisdom and pragma. Education and training aimed at producing insensitive and professional “fach-idiots” must give way to multidisciplinary concepts aimed at producing a good, competent person with empathy and social responsibility.

9. Education is not building integrity and ethic behavior

One of the important features of the educational system of the future must be the search for building integrity. Imagine a world in which all the students, teachers, employees, bosses and workers are educated and trained to tell the truth, keep the promise, take responsibility, admit the mistakes, abide by the rules, win the right way, enjoy life with humor, joy and humility. If you think that’s impossible, remember that any crazy idea was considered totally insane until it managed to win.

10. We are not really searching for a new paradigm

Even though the educational system seems to be in deep conceptual trouble, there is no paradigmatic shift in sight. Nothing has conceptually changed in centuries, not to mention decades. Our prevailing educational systems model basically originates from the period of Renaissance. There is no vision of real change, and there are no concepts and principles on which such a change should stand. Hence, the concluding “sin” lies in the fact that politicians and governments are not searching for the new paradigm; instead, they are just proposing cosmetic changes of the existing one.
Can the old educational bottles any longer hold the new wine? Can we see better, if we keep looking in the same direction? The success of education in the future depends on the needed paradigm shift.
If you ask students, teachers, professors, pupils, even administrators, they will all express their dissatisfaction with the present education and training. If you propose a change, they will all be for it. But each group, or individual, will look at the potential paradigm shift with the same attitude: I am all for change, but don’t change me, change everybody else!
Education and training are at the crossroads, as they have always been. The existing school and university concepts are both, old-fashioned ideas, in desperate search of a paradigm shift. The process is not going to be easy; it will be hard and complicated. But this is exactly why it should be done starting tomorrow, just because we did not do it yesterday.