Some really good questions are highlighted in this opinion piece. And, for me, it raises even more.
I often wonder what it means for our society/country that an undergraduate degree has become the new high school diploma.
The main argument seems to always be that in our current "information age", post-secondary education is necessary to allow us to "keep up" with ever-changing technology and an increasingly complex world, but I somehow really doubt the truth of this assertion.
At the risk of sounding old before my time, it feels to me like universities have become businesses rather than places of learning. Churning out "educated" adults with limited life- or job-skills. Prolonging childhood and financial dependence for degrees of ever-declining market value. In my job, I've seen far too many PhDs competing for poorly-paid, entry-level positions that only 20 years ago would have gone to someone with a high school diploma and some work experience. And they would have been well-qualified. Perhaps even more so than the people with the PhDs are now.
Also, isn't the whole point of a decent (tax-funded) public education system to provide someone with sufficient education to be able to navigate a successful life? Shouldn't 12-13 years be enough time to teach a child the basic essential mathematical, reading, writing, reasoning and critical-thinking skills? In fact, there should be extra time left to offer classes in new and relevant technologies AND old and essential/useful ones like cooking, financial management, wood working, car repair, etc. To me, the arguments in favour of the necessity of university do nothing more than make it obvious that the public education system has become more about warehousing children rather than teaching them the basic skills required for life.
Lately, my personal sense of resentment for what I experienced as a result of not questioning the necessity and value of post-secondary education is beginning to compete with my fear of what this "education" system will do to my child. Nothing would sadden me more than to have her feel as embittered as I do at times. Even the knowledge that I had a privileged opportunity to learn amazing and interesting things is tainted by the long-term financial burden that came along with that learning. And the sense that I could have been very happy (and financially freer) had I taken another life path.
Though I'm still not sure how exactly I will address/approach this issue as a parent, if I could go back and play life coach to my 17-year-old self, my message would be something like this:
- Take a break (at least a year, or better yet, more) from the type of education that involves sitting in chairs indoors all day, memorizing things for short periods of time and regurgitating it on demand for arbitrary grades. Universities will always be there; your youth and the complete freedom it provides will not.
- Work at jobs where people will teach you interesting, valuable skills while they pay you. Learn to grow food. Learn to run a business. Learn to fix stuff and make things.
- Use your body and mind in ways that you did not while in school. Do physical labour. Climb mountains. Sail ships. Take photographs. Make art.
- Live in many different places. Not travel. Live. Learn to speak other languages.
- After you've done all this, if you still feel that there are things you want to learn about that you cannot find someone to teach you for free, go to university. Take courses on subjects that challenge and fascinate you. Declare your major at the last possible moment. Continue to take classes that don't count towards a degree if they interest you.
- Do not worry about a choosing a career. Take your time. Rest-assured that the skills you've gained outside of a classroom will be far more useful and valuable for getting a job you enjoy than any of the information you are paying to learn.