"Education only hampers learning"

Last Wednesday I had the very great pleasure of collecting Prof. Hans Rosling from the airport to bring him to the it@cork conference (where he kicked off the day with an inspirational presentation).

In the car, on the way to the conference though Prof Rosling made a comment which I thought was extremely unusual for a university professor. We were discussing someone he knew who has been successful despite not having finished his formal education when he said “Education only hampers learning”!

I think it is safe to say this is quite an unconventional view for a professional educator!

15 thoughts on “"Education only hampers learning"”

  1. I was chatting over dinner about a similar topic—the differentiation about learning versus understanding. So much about Irish education (the leaving certificate in particular) is learning by rote and just lists and lists of either facts, or answers to questions that can only be put a certain number of ways.

    I do feel though that ‘understanding’ can be taught, or at least techniques of understanding and that these abstract techniques are invaluable and allow one to approach any discipline from a similar perpective—with a view to understanding that discipline, rather than learning a set of facts that simply act as a set of forgettable trivia rather than a store of abstract, innate principles of understanding.

  2. Well you can fill a hard drive with infomation but that does not make it smart or in fact mean that it has leaned anything. I can almost understand the logic in the observation.

  3. We are used to thinking about economic externalities as the costs imposed on society by business … eg. pollution, climate chnage.

    Your post reminded me of somehing. I once heard it argued the other way around: a poor educational system is an external cost imposed by society on business.

    Not sure I completely sympathise but an interesting observation.

  4. Might be two ways to look at this: firstly, from his position, top of his own game, little place else to go, he’s practising a bit of ladder-pulling. Having reached what he considers to be the pinnacle of his business, he can afford to say thing s like that. Secondly, he is being open and inclusive and making the point in the way that you took it to be. A lot of knowledge about one area can tend to frame the world in one way unless you are clever, in which case, you never stop learning.

    Gosh, this post makes me look like an iStalker.

  5. It’s been proven time and time again education and “success” however you may define that do not always go together. First you need to define success and if you were to use money as a measure then volumes of people have become wealthy with limited education. If your talking about happiness and health as the measure of success then the rules change again. The western standard seems to focused on net worth so I agree here there are plenty of educated failures out there, they may like it this way.

  6. Hi Tom,

    It’s something I’ve written about before, both in the parenting column and the careers section I write for the Evening Echo.

    One of the things that really opened my eyes to this was watching my twin daughters capacity to learn actually diminish as they entered the formal education system. Before they’d absorb things on so many levels and in so many ways it was incredible.

    When they went to school that stopped: they were told they had to learn in a certain way — “this is the way we learn such-and-such”. Naturally they struggles with the concept… because it’s based on an inherently false premise. There are no absolutes in the way we acquire knowledge — people learn in different ways, and formal education is, I believe, only a tiny part of our overall learning experience.

    Needless to say we do everything we can to broaden the girls’ horizons beyond the confines of their formal education, but it troubles me that the system tries to shoehorn young minds into a predefined mould. Surely we should be teaching our children how to learn and discover for themselves… not teaching them how we believe they should think!

    The bulk of the learning I did at university had nothing at all to do with lectures and formal teaching — and I suspect if you polled a selection of graduates across a variety of disciplines you’d find the same thing.

    Having seen Prof. Rosling in action at the IT@Cork conference last week, I have to say that his comment doesn’t surprise me. It may well be an “unconventional view for a professional educator”, but Prof. Rosling is perhaps as far from a “conventional educator” as you’re ever likely to get.

    Cheers,

    Calvin!

  7. Nice observations Calvin, we’ve had much the same experience over the last year as our youngest daughter enters the education system. I think greater flexibility is in order within the education system, we are seeing improvment but at the same time I think kids come out the other end with a lot more “issues” than my generation.

  8. It’s a sticky problem: one that isn’t helped by the fact that the skills children need — and indeed the way they access, assimilate, and apply knowledge — are so radically different to those their teachers and parents experienced before them.

    There has perhaps never been a more stark generational divide. Marc Prensky (www.marcprensky.com) coined the terms “Digital Native” and “Digital Immigrant” — and I think they describe the position pretty accurately. I fervently hope that as more of these digital natives (Net Generation, Gen Y or whatever you want to call them) move into more influential roles within our education system, that things will change for the better. And I hope it’s in time for my girls to feel the benefits.

    Meanwhile, as parents we try to supplement their education as best we can… I just hope it’s enough.

  9. I firmly believe that there are several kinds of education, and the primary is provided by family and child’s home surrounding. Basically, a huge part of the moral, social, even intelectual education (learning how to think and process information) is done after “regular education”.

    School has become a children repository, where they think that are learning, parents and society think the same and that is all right.

    I could know the american learning system and is quite similar to brazilian methodology, where children don’t learn how to proceed with life’s challanges, but only to memorize data.

    This is the education that hampers learning.

  10. Education is the backbone of every society. Without education societal structures would collapse. Without education this world will fall into pieces and crime will skyrocket. Without proper schooling children will grow up to be dumb adults who will be taken advantage of. People will continue to have lives with no intellectual meaning and no stimulation. Learning a trade, learning in school in university whatever form education takes it is essential. Schools allow children to socialize properly and learn their way around society. School is a microcosm of the world.

  11. I agree with Professor Rosling’s statement. Personally, I finished my college degree in a correspondence program while I was working and the Dean expressed to my parents how much more serious & productive the correspondence students were due to the fact that they were already in the workforce getting real life experience and learning. In some European countries, getting work experience (not a brief internship, but a full year or more) is a requirement to graduate.

  12. In some European countries, getting work experience (not a brief internship, but a full year or more) is a requirement to graduate.

    Mo, yo’re right.
    It’s pretty much like that in Russia. We have to work for 3 months, sometimes longer (if you’re in Medical University for ex.).
    I’m sure it’s a good practice.
    It’s very difficult to find a good job when you graduate with no working experience.

  13. One of the things that really opened my eyes to this was watching my twin daughters capacity to learn actually diminish as they entered the formal education system. Before they’d absorb things on so many levels and in so many ways it was incredible.

  14. Prof. Hans Rosling couldn’t have been more correct. Throughout history formal education has been the means to suppress free thought and promote certain agendas. All great thinkers have in one form or another surpassed formal education and enlightened themselves, just look at Albert Einstein. Real learning begins after the completion of a formal educational institution. However there are many schools which embrace this concept, the concept that unconventional education leads to more creativity and a greater potential of the human intellect. Many schools throughout history have embraced this spirit of “avant-garde” teaching, but one stands out in particular. The New School truly embraces the concept of “progressive” education. The school offers numerous general studies degree programs for adult students.

  15. One of the things that really opened my eyes to this was watching my twin daughters capacity to learn actually diminish as they entered the formal education system. Before they’d absorb things on so many levels and in so many ways it was incredible.

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