Is it either or, or both?By ROSHAN THIRAN
IT’S a hot topic these days – the diminishing importance of academic achievement in relation to the pursuit of excellence and success.
Often, it can seem like a word or two from the likes of Elon Musk or Jeff Bezos can render the traditional paths of learning obsolete as we seek to embrace a more entrepreneurial spirit when it comes to our development and growth.
Regardless of how flawed our conventional education model may be, there is no doubt that it still carries significant value in helping our young people cultivate the skills and knowledge necessary to navigate the world upon graduation.
We have to be careful not to throw the baby out with the bathwater when discussing traditional education. It clearly retains a great deal of worth.
However, as times change, existing education models seem to be the most resistant in adapting to the new demands ushered in by social and technological advances.
A breath of fresh air <
What we need to consider – and consider strongly – is that focusing solely on academic excellence is neither helpful nor a guarantee of future success, even for those who consistently achieve top marks.
If we want our young people to be prepared for tomorrow’s challenges, it’s an absolute must to have a holistic approach to today’s
education, one that includes experiential learning in equal (if not greater) measure to intellectual development.
It was a breakthrough of some sort when for the first time since 1987, there was no special emphasis given to the academic
achievements of students in last year’s announcement of the UPSR (Ujian Pencapaian Sekolah Rendah) results.
Academic vs soft skills
One of the most common concerns of today’s employers worldwide is that, while fresh graduates come equipped with the necessary practical skills to do the job, they often lack in real-life skills such as leadership, communication, and adaptability that are needed to cope with the everyday challenges of an industry.
Research from The Sutton Trust – a United Kingdom foundation focused on social mobility – found that over half of the teachers surveyed believe that real-life skills (often referred to as soft skills) are actually more important than academic skills in determining the future success of young people.
Tellingly, a staggering 94% of employers, 88% of young people, and 97% of teachers said that life skills are as or more important than academic qualifications.
As founder and chairman of The Sutton Trust, Sir Peter Lampl puts it: “It is the ability to show flexibility, creativity, and teamwork that are increasingly becoming just as valuable, if not more valuable, than academic knowledge and technical skills.”
Wholesome, engaging education
While the notion that a holistic approach to education is needed rather than simply teaching for standard-testing, it is proving difficult to create a deep shift in attitude, despite research suggesting that experiential learning (i.e. “learn-by-doing”) is the most effective learning method.
Certainly, we’ve all experienced the difference: who among us hasn’t, on at least a few occasions, zoned out during a school lesson or university lecture?
On the other hand, when we’re actively involved in the learning process, our minds remain focused for much longer and most of what we learn sticks as a result.
Is it not time that we move past paying lip service to broadening the scope of the conventional education model, and embrace the learning methods that are best suited to 21st century learning?
Beyond conventional learning
In the following, I mention four highly-successful people who didn’t even complete their high school studies. We could say that these are exceptional people who possessed extraordinary talents, but that’s a simplistic view.
Every successful person puts in years of hard work and dedication prior to their achievements. What sets them apart from others was that they had an opportunity to put their soft skills (such as creativity) to use and, through an arduous learning process, they were able to bring out the best of their talents and make impressive contributions to the world.
It goes without saying that conventional learning does have a role to play in the development of our leaders of tomorrow, but it is time we recognise that it is no longer the central driver for nurturing future success stories.
We have surely arrived at the point where we need to teach our young people to learn more about what’s within themselves rather than just what’s in the school books they read.