Do We Need A Degree To Be Educated?

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by Mike Sygula,

Some time ago  I saw a comment under a controversial video discussing , an archaeological site. The presenter is a well-known author and former musician but doesn’t have an academic background in archeology. Here is the comment:

“ This guy isn’t an archaeologist. This is bullshit. Look him up on Google. He’s a fucking musician who just has a thing for African culture which is great and all that but it DOES NOT MAKE HIM A GEOLOGIST OR A SCIENTIST!”

We are often judged by our formal education diplomas.
However, it is worth asking ourselves these questions :

Does the fact that someone has no academic degree in a particular field mean that this person is not capable of being an expert on that topic?
and
Why do we give so much credit to formal education in this information era when anyone who has  Internet access can learn almost anything for free?

To answer these questions, we should first review a few realities.

1. Higher education is not always worth it.

There are undoubtedly many benefits to be gained from going through a degree program, such as learning about theory and practice in one’s field and the higher likelihood of getting a job afterwards.  But how much it is really worth remains a controversial issue. For example, in the US, the costs of tuition fees can reach up to almost $50,000 per year for a 4 year undergraduate program. This does not include accommodation, food or textbooks. International students can pay much more. Many students stack up astronomical debts which will take years to repay and many ultimately end up working in low-skilled jobs.

Moreover, the traditional model of education does not suit all types of learners.  Conventional learning methods are not designed to stimulate experimentation, creativity and curiosity. Every learner is different and everyone has different learning styles yet mainstream education puts everybody into the same box. What often happens is that the system forces students to conform to preconceived standards which do not enhance their individual capabilities but actually suppress them.

2. We can learn more from the Internet these days.

We are living in the information age today; we have access to an enormous database of knowledge in nearly every field we can imagine, we can learn almost anything via video or text format. Increased access to lectures, journals, articles even documentary films and platforms like TED or Khan Academy allow us to watch lectures and study a broad range of topics for free.  You can also find masses of documentaries and lectures on Youtube. Blogs, journals, free encyclopedias, forums and of course e-books are cheaper than paperbacks and you can also find so many texts online which are free nowadays.

3. There are many unqualified success stories.

The truth is that if you want to be good at something, it doesn’t matter if you get a formal education or not. If you are willing to work hard and you are smart enough, you can achieve anything. Many great minds didn’t even finish school, some didn’t go to college or university and very often didn’t study their specialist subject.
Lets us look at some examples:

Elon Musk, rocket scientist, self-taught programmer, self-taught inventor. Founder and chief technology officer of Space X, the first privately owned company sending rockets and spacecrafts into orbit. He lowered the cost of these technologies dramatically and plans to colonize Mars in the future. Among other achievements, he co-founded and became Chief Product Architect at Tesla Motors, the first company to commercialize electric cars. He was also involved in Paypal and Solar City, which creates solar panels. Although he studied Physics and Business at university this was vestigial to the education needed for engineering these technologies. When asked how he learned about all of these subjects, he said:

“I read a lot of books and talked to a lot of, a lot of smart people”

Sir Richard Branson left school at the age of 16 and  struggled to study due to his dyslexia. Almost half a century later, he runs over 400 companies and is currently involved in commercial space travel and high-tech architecture among many other industries.

Lech Walesa, born in Poland, a former electrician with no higher education, fought communism in the 80s and gained huge popularity after creating the first independent trade union in the Soviet bloc. He then won the Nobel Peace Price and became president of Poland from 1990 to 1995.

Steve Jobs was the co-founder of Apple, one of the most successful companies in history. Despite only studying at college for a few months, he was able to reinvent personal computing and create the most popular hardware and software of our time.

Michael Faraday, who received virtually no formal education and had to work in the bookshop to help his family from the age of 13, managed to teach himself by reading books. He became one of the most influential scientists in history and revolutionized our understanding of electricity.

These are just a few examples of independent learners but there are many others who succeeded.  Times are changing and anyone can learn almost anything these days without attending formal educational institutions. The path we choose is up to us. Thanks to the Internet, new careers and industries are emerging and they  are often  led by self-taught visionaries.

Click here to read more articles by Mike Sygula, or follow him on Facebook

Sources:

http://www.buzzfeed.com/suits/very-successful-people-without-a-college-degree

http://elitedaily.com/news/business/100-top-entrepreneurs-succeeded-college-degree/

http://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/139113/jal-mehta/why-american-education-fails

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