How Traditional Education Has Messed Us Up

May 23, 2017

Josh Li

Digital Marketer at Institute of Code

I have an inkling everyone suspects by now our traditional education is a little bit of a let-down. But much of the criticism has been levelled at how performance is measured (judge a fish on it’s climbing abilities and what-not). But how damaging is traditional education, particularly higher education, to someone’s ability to adapt and embark on a career?

Within the Institute of Code team, we all have our own stories - that’s why we decided we wanted to do our part by changing how people learn. ‘But,’ I hear you say, ‘How bad could college/university be? I had a great college/university experience’.

65% of children entering grade skill this year will end up working in jobs that haven't even been invented

I have an inkling everyone suspects by now our traditional education is a little bit of a let-down. But much of the criticism has been levelled at how performance is measured (judge a fish on it’s climbing abilities and what-not). But how damaging is traditional education, particularly higher education, to someone’s ability to adapt and embark on a career?

Within the Institute of Code team, we all have our own stories - that’s why we decided we wanted to do our part by changing how people learn. ‘But,’ I hear you say, ‘How bad could college/university be? I had a great college/university experience’.


Yes, some colleges/universities are still extremely well-respected, and offer intensive educations that almost guarantee you fulfilling careers for lifetimes to come. But these schools are far and few between. The reality is the higher education system doesn’t adequately prepare their students for the real world, especially in fast-paced, high-demand industries. The reason they don’t is simple:

They aren’t able to.

In a previous blog, we outlined how disruption is moving faster than ever, and how traditionally safe industries were increasingly more at risk. But what effects have disruption and innovation had on education? Why is this an increasingly worrying problem?

The Inability and Refusal to Move Forwards

One of the biggest problems is the pace at which education institutions move forward. Big incumbents like colleges tend to move at a snail’s pace. Bureaucracy, systems and processes allow it only to move so fast - it’s the very nature of the beast. Being an incumbent also means these institutions are incredibly risk-averse, preferring to improve incrementally.

But all of these inhibit innovation, and reaction to innovation greatly. New curriculum and courses often take months, if not years, to properly implement, in which time, the digital world has greatly moved on. Google’s algorithms change almost weekly. Social media platforms sometimes are founded, skyrocket in popularity, or die in a matter of weeks, much faster than a university can adjust its curriculum. To truly learn digital skills, you need to be immersed in the environment, with your finger on the pulse every single day.

In her book, “Now You See It”, by Cathy Davidson, she states 65% of kids entering grade school this year will end up working in jobs that haven’t even been invented yet. This is a stark reminder the world is maybe one traditional institutions don’t always understand.

The Lecture Model is Dead

The traditional education system, where one ‘expert’ disseminates information to many, has been a system that has stood for aeons. And for aeons, that system has worked OK. But the reason why this system has lasted so long is because there has been no other way to teach in a school setting.

However, research has shown time and time again that people learn by ‘doing’, and education needs to become personalised, rather than ‘for the masses’. By creating the same assignments, where students all have to learn at the same pace and perform the same tasks, you risk demotivating students, especially those at either end of the bell-curve.

Better technology, preparedness and methods mean teachers are in a much better position to educate in a more flexible way, tailoring their content for students.

Traditional Education Teaches You Failure is Bad

Perhaps the biggest problem with traditional education is not in the skills it teaches, rather, the mentality it instils within students. Traditional education has always been focused on pass/fail grades. Failure to perform on a certain test could have dire consequences for a student, making it something to be avoided at all costs.

In real-life, particularly the tech industry, failure is a necessary part of learning and developing. In coding, developers will run into errors constantly. Coders only develop by working through these problems with patience, diligence and aggressive Googling. On a more macro scale, a lot of business owners, startup founders and freelancers will tell you successful businesses have all been built on top of the graveyards of hundreds of failures. “It’s OK to fail” isn’t some kind of consolation prize, or a pat on the back. It’s what needs to happen for you to move forward faster.

Some corporations are now placing less emphasis on academic achievements, reinforcing the fact grades aren’t the measure of a person’s abilities. Big 4 companies, such as EY and PWC, have scrapped minimum grade points as a graduate entry requirement. Collaboration is now more important than ever, so soft skills such as the ability to communicate, work as a team, and a drive to learn, are more heavily weighted.

For entrepreneurs, going to college is a step in the wrong direction

In a bid to catch up with the times, many universities have started to launch entrepreneurship programs. However, many of these entrepreneurship programs still teaching old concepts like building business plans and business cases - concepts that, like themselves, are designed to move slowly. They breed founders who are unprepared for the sheer pace startups need to move and innovate at to be successful.

Vivek Wadhwa, fellow at Standford University Rock Center for Corporate Governance, states startups are driven by founders who are risk-takers and have a burning desire to change the world. By going the safe, traditional route and taking a college course on the topic, you start off with the wrong mentality

Nowadays, there are so many resources online, you don’t need to go down the traditional path. Don’t know where to go for resources? Well, sometimes, a little ‘baptism-by-fire’ is a good start too.

So you’re saying I don’t need to go to school?

No, we’re definitely not advocating for that! While it’s true many successful startups skipped out on school (we’re looking at you, Mark Zuckerburg), traditional education does provide good foundations and often transferable skills you can use wherever you go. Many corporations still value a degree extremely highly; someone who has done well in a traditional education setting means, if anything, they have a good work ethic.

What we are saying, however, is universities and colleges are not the be-all-and-end-all of your educations. Don’t raise your hopes by believing a degree will guarantee you success and happiness. What’s more important is you taking control of your own direction, and forging a path for yourself by learning the things you need to know. Have the goal of ‘being so good they can’t ignore you’ in mind!

Disruption is now changing our world so fast, it’s hard to tell where we’ll go. That’s why it’s important to be adaptable, fast-moving, and risk-taking, just like the careers and businesses we seek to build. With disruption comes a world of opportunities, and it all starts with education.


Written by: Josh Li

Digital Marketer at Institute of Code