Why college might not be the best idea – at least not for everyone

Recently this video appeared in the iTunes feed of TED talks, and everybody seems to be impressed by the novel approach of studio schooling.

The idea, that you can improve schooling with a hands-on approach and much more practical training is convincing – certainly not for every child, but at least for the large majority, who will not end up in an academic career. But I was baffled, that this should be a novel idea. At least in Germany and Switzerland, most of the professions will be learned with training on the Job. So a youth after leaving primary school (at the age of 14 to 16), who wants to be e.g. a mechanic, will start an organized training program (called “Lehre”) at a mechanic’s workshop. During this training period, which lasts between 2 and 4 years, depending on the profession, he will be introduced to the practical side of the craft. On one or two days per week, he will also go to a special school, to complete his training. After this training period, he either can start working in his profession, continue further training while working (to become a master or “Meister”) or continue a secondary education. There are even specialized colleges for people with more practical inclinations (“Fachhochschulen”). This practical education was for a long time the standard career path for most of the population across a wide variety of fields, from the traditional crafts up to salesmen or accountants. The college or university degree, on the other hand, was limited to the small number of people, who actually wanted to pursue an academic career.

However, this practical training, despite it’s structure, is not a formal college degree and is therefore not accepted in the international education rankings. So while a lot of people got an education, that was perfect for their needs, it limited the number of “educated people” in the international rankings. A good example is a nurse, who will get a practical degree in Germany, but will study at a university in most other European countries – both will perform similar tasks in the end. To overcome this lack of college graduates, and to keep up with the level of university graduates, Germany increasingly sends students to university for tasks, that might better be trained on the job: only 20 years ago, the normal bank teller would have spent 10 years in school and then gone through practical training at the bank, and would have been able to earn a living at the age of 20. Today, a significant amount of bank tellers, went through 12 years of school, studied economics for another 4 years but will still require another year of practical training on the job, to get the experience with actual work at a bank.
So it is nice, that at least someone else starts to see the advantages of a practical education. Maybe it is not too late, and we can learn something from the “old” training system in Germany before it is completely replaced by higher education with limited value.


About brainfisch

Some unnecessary musings on life, the universe and everything.
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