The Value of a Formal Education
Jun 27, 2009 Other 2512 Views
I am a fervent believer in self-education and continuous learning. It has been my experience that people learn best outside of a formal learning or classroom environment and that self-directed learning is the most useful because it encourages you to seek out knowledge that is necessary for your success.
But although the best education is self-education, there is a lot of value in formal education. However, it's not always what you might think and not always obvious. It takes a little bit of digging beneath the surface to fully appreciate the value of a formal education.
For a lot of people education is simply a means to having a good career, being in a good job and getting a good salary. But the world is changing and evolving at a fast pace. The idea of school simply being a place to gather knowledge and skill is being replaced with a new realization that education is far more than stuffing your head with new information.
After all, these days getting information is not a problem. There are plenty of ways to get it, even if you are not in school. The internet, television, radio and cellular communication are just a few of the ways you can get information on almost any subject you may wish to know more about. With this influx of information the challenge becomes how to gather the right information and, more importantly, how to process and utilize that information.
Formal education, then, should be place where you do not necessarily gather information, but where you are taught how to get the information you need and how to use that information in your work life and personal life. Formal education is important not only because of what you are taught specifically, but for other reasons as well such as what it builds into your character, personality and way of thinking.
Here are some important things that a formal education can help you with:
Discipline - the routines of a formal education serve to instill discipline in how we gather information and how we learn. Tests and exams are not the most fun of activities and most of us would rather avoid them any day, but being forced to learn a lot of material in a short time for a test forces you to have a system for studying that is efficient and effective. Later in life, discipline in acquiring information when there is no test or exam to pass is important as you cannot stop learning just because you are not in school. The most successful people are those that know that at all times they need to be learning something new.
Time management - no one has all the time in the world to learn something. Each grade, term or semester lasts a certain period of time within which you are expected to learn certain things. The pressure of studying for exams with limited time also forces you to plan you study time well and make the best use of the short time you have. This skill is invaluable to learn in all areas of life. As human beings, time is our most precious resource. It does not stand still for anyone. Learning to use your time well is fundamental to success in any area of life.
Initiative - The best schools are those that teach you how to think on your own and do not spoon feed you. That is why I believe the education offered by the University of Zambia, where I studied, is one of the best in the world in this respect. It forces its students to find their own means and ways to succeed with limited resources and help. Granted the situation developed out of necessity and not design, but a little "hardship" and "struggle" is something everyone would do well to go through. That is why graduates from the University of Zambia, and even the Copperbelt University, are always highly regarded when they leave the country for work or studies.
Networking - My wife and I are always amazed how that wherever you go in Zambia and abroad, you will find someone from a Zambian University in some influential position. The beauty of such a situation is that these people will often know or recognise us as well. In a world where relationships are a big factor for success this is a very important thing. Having the right relationships at school, work and life in general is something that contributes a great deal to one's chances of success. Don't take your relationships at school lightly. Build strong, lasting relationships and never underestimate the guy seating next to you. Believe in yourself and believe in others as well. You will need each other on the road to success.
"Papers" - It is sad fact of life that you may know the same thing as the next person, but if you do not have the same papers they have you will not get as far in your career or in you business. Certificates to show proof that you have learnt something are a requirement in today's world. So much so that even if you already know something you might need to go to school and learn it just for the sake of getting a paper at the end of the day. The smart person knows this. Get the papers and build a strong CV. Let them do the talking for you.
Having done my secondary school in Malawi, I came to Zambia for university with virtually no friends. The few that I had as a kid I had mostly lost touch with or we just didn't have anything in common anymore. I make this point because, as I look at my life today, I am aware that my experience at the University of Zambia has shaped it in a major way.
Most of the friends I have I met whilst at university. I even met my wife at university and I can point to many others that did the same. My life would be very different had I not gone there. That is why I appreciate the value of a formal education. More things than you can imagine may depend on it.