Education can be beneficial in many ways but we should also approach it with great care if we want to make a worthwhile choice.


The things they don’t teach you in (design/art) school

What is the value of formal education?

Along with the debate about the future of work, a lot of attention has recently been paid to the way traditional education should/will evolve in the near future. The question of whether one needs a degree in order to become a good professional or land a good job (both of which are rather subjective matters), has been bothering many people looking to either change career paths or having found their, what we tend to call passion, relatively late in life (like me). The short and obvious answer is: No, you don’t need a degree. However, it certainly doesn’t hurt (I’ll expand on this in a moment).

Education should have more to do with developing intellectual potential than supplying a prominent career.

My relationship with academic training has always been somewhat schizophrenic: I’ve always struggled to find the balance between the idealistic and the practical side of education (in other words, what it gives one in terms of intellectual capacity against the ability to translate that capacity into a career). I did my first degree (in linguistics) because, at the time, I didn’t have anything better to do and mostly because I was brought up to believe that if I wanted to go further in life, I needed to go to university.

Why getting a degree doesn’t hurt?

An obvious benefit of formal education is simply learning ⏤ mastering a body of knowledge in a certain area. School is awesome for providing one with time to figure out what exactly kind of a professional (designer) they would like to be and hopefully point them in the right direction regarding where to begin. Nevertheless, people are different and we all have very different paths: I would argue that formal education looks differently from the point of view of someone who had to juggle school and work, for example, as opposed to someone who hasn’t experienced financial strain while studying and was able to immerse themselves completely in the study atmosphere.

One of the biggest benefits of education is adopting a critical mindset ⏤ the ability to question the status quo and look for a better alternative to “this is how we’ve traditionally been living”. Complacency and convention are definitely poor choices when the only certain thing about the present reality is change and good education should teach that. Of course, change for the sake of change isn’t what we should be asking from the future and good education should also bring that up ⏤ to ask why that change is needed and what it will do to improve the current situation.

On the flip-side, why getting a degree can be irrelevant to potential success in one’s life or career?

Let’s face it. Holding a degree in, in my case — design, automatically makes you a good designer just as much as having a driver’s license makes you a good driver. If you just sit back and don’t invest effort and time to build up the qualifications you acquired at school, and be able to discern what knowledge actually deserves attention, no degree is going to do you justice.

Formal education automatically makes someone a good designer just as much as a driver’s license makes someone a good driver.

Having said that, education being a substantial investment of time, emotion and in some countries huge financial capital, one should seriously do proper research before diving into it (I certainly wish I had done better research at the time).

If nothing registers with you, and you’re not able to make smart choices, your degree isn’t going to mean much after you graduate.

While education is not the central topic in Godin’s book and his ideas about what makes a person indispensable, do seem a little too optimistic⏤ it’s neither possible, nor sustainable for all people to stand out and be successful, if we think about it, the ones who do, didn’t achieve it because they followed rules for the sake of being obedient. Nor did they fit into a template. What they did was challenge already established convictions by introducing better ways to interpret them and didn’t ask for anybody’s permission or approval to do so.

Why question the value of formal education?

Oddly enough, many traditional programmes continue to assume that the value of one’s education is obvious to the people outside of the academic world. Nobody at (design) school tells you that you’d need to learn the art of negotiation in order to navigate life and your degree isn’t going to do the talking for you. Soft skills are just as critical as artistic ones, maybe sometimes even more. Unfortunately, traditional education still fails to teach students really practical skills which they will surely benefit from once they leave the safe academic circle.

We shouldn’t underestimate the role of the government in education and its bearing on how valuable education actually is. Ideally, educational institutions would be able to maintain a relative independence both from public and private parties but realistically, that’s not always the case and scientific research/education are sometimes treated as a commodity to be sold to the highest bidder.

Education should challenge the status quo, not reinforce it.

Another interesting idea which Trauth expressed, was that the reason why employers nowadays are so demanding towards their prospective employees is because, unlike decades ago when people would spend 20–30 years in one company, today the average tenure for a single employment is just 2–3 years. This normally makes employers hesitant to invest resources in training someone who is not going to stay with them for more than 2 years and so they need people “to hit the ground running” as Trauth put it.

Where do we go from here, what is the value of education after all?

Honestly, this question doesn’t have a clear-cut, universally valid answer. On the one hand, obtaining a degree, especially from renowned universities, might give a sense of exclusivity and prestige but that doesn’t automatically make someone a great person or a qualified expert. On the other hand, formal education could play into building character and provide considerable expertise in a certain area but it’s not a magic bullet by any means.

To be continued…

> move on to PART II

overthinker, designer, humanist