Learn don't study

I've got to say, the life of a teenage engineer is quite hectic. Let me just give you a little taste of what it feels like. First thing in the morning of a weekday, I need to drag myself out of bed at around 4am to go to school. That's the easy part. Returning back home, I'll find myself drifting straight into my room for my fix of afternoon/evening tinkering. I'll either be working on one of my long term projects like SentiBots or more short term ones that come and go. At around 8pm, the sight of my bag sitting there unopened, jolts me from my focus on the project and most likely I'd remember that undone physics assignment that was due 2 weeks ago.

Of course, there are things I find more productive to work on than homework, but unfortunately the progress of human civilization has left me in this world of homework and studying. On top of the stress of school on an ordinary teenager, I have pressing world engineering problems like the world energy crisis to solve in my free time and these problems, I am expected to solve as the future generation of innovators and engineers. No pressure, right?

In this post, I'd like to criticize the world's education system and talk about how it directly impacts me- an individual who is genuinely affected by how this system works and seeks to make it better for everyone.

Learn don't study

Let us first analyze my title to this post- Learn don't study. To understand this statement on a deeper level, we need to revisit our definition of learn and study. Most people believe that they are inherently the same thing, but they would be mistaken.

Learn- gain or acquire knowledge of or skill in (something) by study, experience, or being taught.

Study- the devotion of time and attention to gaining knowledge of an academic subject, especially by means of books.

So let's address the misconception here. Learning is the gain of knowledge and skill while study is a method through which knowledge and skill can be gained. In simpler terms, studying is a way to learn but its not the only way to learn. There are other means of learning that I find are better than studying however those methods are not promoted by the modern education system.

How to learn without studying

There are several ways to learn without the use of studying. The primary 2 other ways are through personal experience or through instruction by a professional in the field. These methods vary in their efficiency by what type of learner you are. There are 4 types of learners in this world: visual, auditory, read-write and kinesthetic. Each individual has a predominant learning style and that style tends to allow him to learn the fastest. This means that my paragraph title is slightly misleading. This paragraph is not about how to learn without studying but rather about how to learn without studying if it doesn't really work for you, but as you can see the former is much more suitable as a title.

So getting back to topic here, depending on what type of learner you are, different types of learning suits you better. However, the problem with modern education systems is that almost all institutions try to impose the study method onto all students.

Modern education system

Even though people argue that teachers in school cater to the auditory and experience based learners through teacher lectures and practical sessions respectively, they rarely mention that most of the required content is conveyed via texts and books and require the use of studying. A student can get by without paying attention to the teacher and not attending the practical sessions while completely relying on the books while a student cannot get by only on teacher lectures or practical sessions. Believe me, I'm a student who knows how important studying is to grades. This is because ultimately the exams and the grading is on paper and the bulk of the content comes from books. This of course gives certain types of learners advantages in school and therefore an edge over others.

Brain factories

I believe that schools are just factories where children are prepared, quality checked and hallmarked with their education to enter the workplace. This "hallmark" stays with them for the rest of their lives as a mark of their position and ranking in the world. Looking at it that way, it just looks plain unfair. Given what I stated in the previous section certain students are more likely to be places higher in this ranking and since the ranking basically states how much more "valuable" you are compared to the other guy coming to the company interview, certain people tend to get higher paying jobs and better lifestyle.

This inoculates the wrong mindset in certain students where no matter how hard they try they always ends up lower than the others . This is not because they are any less talented than him but rather because they are talented in other topics and things. And unfortunately, not all things can be graded by pen and paper.

"Holistic" education

Nowadays, a lot of school market themselves as providing a holistic education. To parents, that means that their children are more qualified and more likely to get a better job. To the students, it means more work like art and music and being forced to learn and study things they are not even the least interested in. This of course, increases stress for the students and adds more to their already heavy workload. I believe that the best kind of learning comes from one that is self-motivated but the kind of learning provided in schools feels forced and spoon-fed. It also means that I'm forced to learn music even though I may never use it in the future.

Hampering creativity

"Think outside of the box", my English teacher said. I wrote a composition on how a dragon caused a fire to break out in a shopping mall. I was 10 years old back then and I got a near fail grade. When, I questioned the teacher about it later, she said it was too far-fetched to happen. When my teachers told me to think outside the box, I never expected that there was a fence around the box. Unfortunately, that is the sad truth about modern education. No one gets to imagine or dream about machines that could change the world because the textbook says its impossible. Before a few decades, flying was thought to be impossible but look where we are now. When we inoculate such values into our children, we need to really consider if we were really raising the next generation of leader,scientists, innovators and humanitarians. Because to me, it looks like the next generation of robots that follow books.

How this affects me

My parents and my teachers say grades are the most important things in my life right now. I believe other wise. I don't like to entrust my future to numbers on a score sheet but to actual achievements and actual evidence that I have learnt something. This could in the form of my research projects or through my blog articles but as long as I don't have to rely on grades, I'm game.

However, this morale of mine imposes quite a bit of constraints on me. When I need to work on both projects and study for that test tomorrow, I very quickly run out of time and by grades dropped a bit. When I don't get as high grades as others even though I'm not terrible, I get excluded from a lot of opportunities in school. Extra engineering modules that I like and chances to go to overseas exchange programs all depend on grades and the fact that I don't like the very concept of grades makes it hard for me to get those opportunities. And of course, that's what brought me here today as a member of MakerForce, where we don't really have high grades but we create opportunities for ourselves in our own specific fields of interest and make our own future.