The Academia

Recently Coursera started charging for previously free courses, which (if you ignore the harsh reality of our decaying economy) is sad as it means that people who cannot afford these fees will remain in their poverty. But I think that is just a crooked nail in a shaggy house, as I have my stomach full regarding the academia anyhow.

The academia is the social institute whose purpose to expand the human’s knowledge, both universalley by research but also individually by teaching, qualifying and certifying individuals in topics of their choice. There’s a common mistake most people do believe that knowledge in a certain field is equivalent to acquiring a profession. Does having a Bachelor degree in Computer Science makes me a professional “developer”? well, it depends – have I learned to work with other? have I learned to join an existing project, analyse it and provide my own contribution? Have I learned to use whatever tools that are available and not invent the wheel every time a new? because in my point, judging the number of “to-do” app out there, I’m getting the strong notion graduates really like to write their own version of stuff and thus we’re getting a million versions of the same crappy app.

It also certify people in subjects that one might consider “useless” (like BA in English). it can be discussed whether such degree made the graduate into a better person, an educated intellectual chat companion, expanded his horizon and improved his expressiveness. But the truth be told – it’s still not that easy to get a job, if that was the student was aiming for to begin with, and one might claim that the academia, by promising him a Bachelor degree that looks pretty much like the “useful” bachelor degree in Computer Science, falsely presented BA in English as something useful. Another issue is with the constant struggle to get research grants. And this is before we start talking about the atrocity of student’s loans.

I find it curious that most degrees are 3-4 years for BA and 7-8 years for PhD. Why is that? How did we manage the box all the human knowledge to semester-sized courses, spanned for 3 years periods? This doesn’t make sense as it hints we need to trim certain topics so they’d fit, while bloating others. why do measure “how much is required in order to become an expert” by “what can we fit in a reasonable time”? is there an automatic disrespect for topics it only takes 2 years to master? why it that?

I’m also discouraged by this classification of university as a step in life. I pity the person who’d finish university and claim that “s/he has learned all that there is to learn”. And if university are not only for these 3-4 years – why are they built in such? couldn’t we find a better model that would encourage continuous learning through-out life?

For years we’ve been complaining that our schools have become “certificate factories” by teaching less content and lowering the bar in order to get a certificate. This applies to the universities as well. But actually – why do we need certificates? is a piece of paper with a single number on it really the best way to value a person? In the industry we quickly forget about that value (and what we learned in order to achieve it) and our CV is actually focused on our experience. why can’t this be applied to schools as well, so students will be merited by their portfolio and other achievements. I’m not underestimating exams in general. I think that personal assessment is a critical tool in the learning process, but I don’t think this assessment is in any way representing my skills as a professional worker.

Our culture is mortified of idle time – people will get lost and do stupid things. So it’s very likely that my vision for the future of the academia is incredibly naive but go with me for a moment. I’m actually questioning the core of our civilisations in which a person goes to school, followed by university and then starts working. I think it would be wonderful if people will have a day or two each week throughout their life in the pursuit for knowledge. I would expect a person to finish high-school and begin his adult life by already having the minimal skill for an entry-level job. Yes, it will take him slightly longer to finish all the courses a modern-day students does, but as he learns while already in the industry he routed for, he will quickly learn from experience and therefore put his studies into practice as he goes along

Also, the academia should be foremost  for people who wishes to expand the human knowledge, and only second for people who feels coerced to be there for whatever reason. But for that, we’ll probably need “Basic income” in our utopian society. Nothing wrong with that. What will happen to the university when many people aren’t obliged to work, and therefore not obliged to get a qualification? Surely, all those with the thirst for knowledge would still go like before but I think a large number of people will quit altogether.  Is it a bad thing? Well it depends. Think of neurosurgeon who decided not to practice his acquired skill – that’s a waste, right? How much money did he personally wasted? How much did society (don’t forget studies are subsidised)? Was the class being filled with students who rather be elsewhere a positive study environment for those who actually wished to study? I agree that some classes might not be opened for not having enough students, but this might actually happened even today and we solved this issue with remote-studying.

Yes, schools are responsible to teach people, but wouldn’t it be more cost-effective to tele-teach huge classes using advanced readily-available technology? this would leave on the question and answers to the professors who then could handle more students at one and assessments that could be handled by the teaching assistance. If the state would subsidise such broadcasted video any person – poor and rich – will have access to gain knowledge bringing us closer to social equality.

Looking at the modern-day academia, I think it has been tainted by money and its need to survive in a capitalist-driven world. I think this actually harms the human endeavour to expand our knowledge – by limiting it in certain fields and by making out useless fields just to get the money’s worth. But I also think the academia can and it should change and the first step for that is state support to institutes like Coursera over the expense over traditional universities.

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