Rethinking Education


The outcome of education is most evident in the workplace when you look at the graduates that are being produced. As a consultant I have collected some relevant insights regarding flaws in education. These are based on hundreds of interviews with graduates, corporate leaders as well as interactions with over 500,000 individuals from young executives to CEOs during the training, which I have conducted.

At the outset, I must declare that I am an educator myself. I have taught degree as well as MBA programs. I have also been through the British as well as the American systems of education. I am an advocate of education. However, to make education better, I would like to share my personal views on the flaws in education and how to eliminate them.

Flaw No 1:

Education that is uninspiring
Some of the most interesting subjects have been made dull by boring and uninspiring teachers or professors. A teacher’s commitment and motivation when teaching a subject can make all the difference – whether the students develop an interest and do well in the subject or drop out. An inspiring teacher shares a lesson, opens a mind, touches a heart, wins commitment – and this results in positive action by the student.

There is a better way to inspire students to learn. Teachers can learn from good corporate trainers who are skillful and competent in captivating the attention of the audience by making learning fun, relevant and meaningful. They can master the art of engaging the audience fully and win their commitment to learn and to take action.

Flaw No 2:

Education that is outdated and not relevant
Many corporate leaders have pointed out the mismatch between what schools and universities are teaching versus what is needed in the workplace. While theories from textbooks are static and were perhaps valid at the time of writing, the business world today is changing at the speed of a click. Many things which were once real and useful are now no longer true and relevant.

Teachers cannot become complacent and hold on to old outdated information and knowledge. They need to keep updated in their subject area with regards to the latest changes amidst this digital economy, intensifying competition, fluctuating labor markets with political, social and technological shifts – which are all happening at the same time.

Photography by Katsuhida Kida

Flaw No 3:

Education that does not drive action
Knowledge is not power until it is applied. Classroom teaching which is biased towards concepts and frameworks without encouraging students to put it into practice is suffering from a serious disconnect from the real world. Developing syllabuses that focus on teaching expediency and student learning just to pass exams deviates from the important value of putting into practice what is learnt in the classroom.

A higher percentage of weightage of the student’s performance should be accorded for doing rather than knowing. For example, assignments given must have relevance and value to real life situations that will help improve or solve the current issues plaguing our world today.

Flaw No 4:

Education that stifles creativity
Most education systems lean heavily towards a compliant, structured approach to learning with an exam-biased teaching. In fact, many lecturers today are teaching through Powerpoint and their students no longer read the textbook as they just rely on their lecturers’ notes to pass their exams. This narrow and structured approach affects the teaching styles of teachers and stifles the creativity of students. Students take the convenient path of rote learning, memorising and not thinking. They become risk averse. They do not risk giving their real views but rather give safe answers as expected by teachers and as dictated by the syllabus. Yet we know that the problems that beset our world today are clouded with volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity (VUCA). Albert Einstein said it well, “The significant problems we face today cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them”. To have a chance to solve them, teachers need to encourage creative and strategic thinking in their students.

Kids run around the ‘Ring Around a Tree’, a dual purpose annex building at Fuji Kindergarten designed by Tezuka Architects. The structure is multi-functional with spaces for classrooms, to run around as well as a waiting station for school buses. Permeated by wandering branches and overgrown foliage, the structure looks to destroy the boundaries between internal and external, and built and natural environments.

Flaw No 5:

Education that is not complete
The purpose of education should not be limited to just teaching students how to get a job. To their credit some schools have taken steps to improve the quality and relevance of their vocational educational and training (VET) programs. However, even though they are preparing their students to “make a living”, the flaw here may be that they are overlooking the importance of teaching them how to “make a life”.

The purpose of education should be to develop the complete individual – one who has character, confidence, commitment, competency and conscience. That individual should be able to achieve not only success for himself and his family but also be able to contribute to the common good of society and the world. A good quality education should develop a person holistically, that is, intellectually, socially, emotionally, psychologically, morally and spiritually as well. In essence a good quality education should enable a person to be a total success which goes beyond economics and finance. It should encompass one’s relationships with family and others as well as a sense of care and concern for others. The great philosopher Aristotle put it poignantly, “Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all”. The complete man contributes positively to society and helps to make this world a better place.

Education reforms can be undertaken more effectively if input is taken from the workplace where the outcome of education is clearly seen. However, for education reform to work, corporations, government, schools and universities must work in tandem to ensure proper policies are adopted and implemented successfully. This is certainly the most important agenda today – truly education is the most powerful weapon that can change the world for the better.

This article was published in the Oct-Dec 2016 issue of Inspire Magazine. Download it here!


Dr Victor SL Tan is the CEO of KL Strategic Change Consulting Group. He undertakes change management consulting and training. He is also the author of 10 management books. Find out more at