The education system as we know it is dead

The Wandering Engineer
9 min readNov 29, 2023

With the recent introduction of ChatGPT, as well as countless other technological tools in recent years, I believe the traditional model of education as we know it is dead.

You hear stories of students cheating using ChatGPT, or news of ChatGPT scoring higher on standardized tests than most students. Similar things have happened in the past when we had computers and the Internet.

Technology has always disrupted education. From the invention of schools to the printing press, to personal computers and the Internet, remote/virtual learning, and now OpenAI, each new technology has disrupted the way education can be carried out.

Now, I believe we are overdue for a revolution in education. The way traditional schools and universities operate is outdated and ineffective. They have become too easy to crack, and people are not learning useful skills that contribute to society as a result.

As someone involved in engineering, AI, and education, here are some of my thoughts about the current state of the education system.

First and foremost, schools fail to teach critical thinking. In fact, I believe the main purpose of the modern public education system is to produce obedient workers for corporations and governments.

School curriculums are primarily about cramming, memorizing, and regurgitating as much knowledge as possible. The test-driven evaluation model meant that most in-class “education” is geared towards test preparation and maximizing test performance, which means repetition and following instructions. They don’t teach you how to learn and think.

This is good for producing obedient workers and citizens who follow rules and commands, but not good for enabling creativity or any critical thinking. Most people turn out to be mindless drones that do whatever they are being told and follow whatever is popular at any time. It makes people easy to control by those in power.

Also, whether you like to believe it or not, governments are using the public education system to push arbitrary agendas to children in hopes of brainwashing future generations for the benefit of those in power.

Kids are told to do “whatever makes them feel happy” and “pursue their passions”. It teaches them to be selfish rather than being considerate and doing what’s needed for the world. It teaches them to listen to their feelings rather than using their rational minds. Schools no longer teach basic morals.

In fact, with the increasing lack of punishment/discipline in schools, there are fewer consequences for poor behaviour. As a result, children are more incentivized to be selfish, disrespectful, hateful, violent, and succumb to negative peer pressures.

It is no wonder why you see so many entitled people in this world. People feel entitled to do whatever they like with no consequences. When this is the idealogy that children are taught in schools, it is easy to see why society is as chaotic and fragmented as it is today. The elites can then easily divide and conquer the masses, making them weak and powerless.

Countless times in human history, dictators burned books and altered education systems to prevent people from being able to think critically and become knowledgeable, so they became easy to control. Unfortunately, this is the direction we are headed for. If we don’t stop it, a grim future lies ahead.

Also, because students were not taught not to learn and think effectively in grade school (or are simply pushed around by their parents), many struggle massively when they get to college/university or real life where there is less learning structure, less discipline, and more freedom, and they have to fend for themselves.

Secondly, schools fail to teach employable skills and other important life skills. Curriculums do not reflect the skills that are in demand, and many basic life skills are completely ignored. It’s a sheltered bubble that does not prepare students for real life.

Take computer science for example, unless you go to a technical college or coding boot camp, most schools and mainstream institutions do not teach the latest, in-demand technologies. Instead, they only teach the fundamental concepts and technologies that are decades old.

As a result, many are expected to learn these skills on their own or on the job since schools leave them completely unprepared for the job market. Many even struggle with interviews and getting a job, as the expectations of most jobs today are an entirely different skill set from what was taught in schools.

Taking it further, there is a huge mismatch between the allocated education resources and the skills that are in demand. You have all these kids studying liberal arts or social sciences (not saying these subjects are not important!) while industries such as tech, healthcare, and skilled trades are begging for talent.

It’s almost like universities are artificially limiting how many people can study STEM subjects to create a sense of scarcity (such as in healthcare) to keep it more exclusive, while they pump all their resources into useless subjects and research.

Furthermore, schools do not teach basic life skills that are essential for survival in today’s world. From how to learn effectively to basic financial literacy (saving, taxes, investing, how the economy, money, and debt work, etc.) to mental/physical health, relationships, cooking and cleaning, driving, basic organization, basic social etiquette and manners, basic social skills, as well as finding a job, interviewing, and writing a résumé. These are skills that one must seek out either via extracurriculars or taught by their parents (if they are lucky to have educated and attentive parents).

As a result, we see many people today who do not have what it takes to survive in this world, since they cannot fend for themselves or manage their finances. It’s almost like a lot of essential knowledge (especially financial knowledge) is intentionally held back from the general public to make people’s lives worse, making them more dependent on the government and corporations to survive, thus giving them more power.

Thirdly, schools are made unequal. It benefits those who already have resources and disadvantages those who do not.

Our test-driven education model enables the wealthy to put more resources into preparing their children for standardized tests, giving them a higher likelihood of success. Many standardized tests around the world show that students coming from a more privileged background generally score higher, giving them access to better educational and career opportunities down the line.

As tests also evaluate school performance, subsequently, more resources are allocated to schools that perform better on standardized tests, giving them better teachers, and better students, and alienating the worse schools. As a result, the education gap becomes larger. Curriculums and difficulty also vary vastly across different schools, making it unequal for students of different locations.

In fact, this inequality is resulting in racial stereotypes. For example, Asians are often discriminated against in some university admissions because they over-emphasize GPA, standardized test scores (SAT/ACT), and certain extracurricular activities such as playing musical instruments.

Although there are efforts to lessen inequality in public education, it is being done at the expense of top students to cater to the weaker students, which degrades the quality of education received by almost everyone.

For example, Ontario high schools have recently de-streamed and opened up gifted/advanced programs to all students rather than those who qualified through an exam. Also, it is reducing the formerly three levels of classes to just a single level, which means students from all backgrounds with varying ambitions all attend the same level of classes. The curriculum is dumbed down to cater to the weakest students. The top and most driven students will have to seek out enriched learning on their own or via extracurriculars (if they can afford it), which furthers the inequality.

Furthermore, universities and other private schools have become money farms, often taking in under-qualified, usually international students with money rather than qualified students. This dilutes the quality of education and essentially sets up many students to fail. It is unfair and disregards the basic rule of meritocracy, furthering the existing inequality.

Finally, academic success has become too easy to crack.

The way the education system evaluates learning through tests and assignments has become too easy to “hack”. Among high schools and universities, especially since the pandemic, grade inflation has been rampant. Students are just getting better at taking tests and writing assignments (or doing so through cheating / using ChatGPT).

Taking it further, degrees have become more inflated because more and more people have been able to crack the education system and get degrees as a result. A Bachelor’s, a Master’s, or even a Ph.D. is not nearly as prestigious as it used to be. Everywhere from STEM to social sciences and the arts, everyone is getting degrees, and degrees no longer guarantee a decent job, let alone a good living. Even professional certifications are becoming saturated as too many people are obtaining them.

In fact, the recent introduction of ChatGPT has made the traditional evaluation system obsolete. ChatGPT has been proven to be able to pass tests and assignments, and even score high marks on standardized tests and professional certification exams. Effectively, it made knowledge-based or memorization-based assessments obsolete. Sure, educational institutions can ban the use of AI technologies, but people will find ways around it eventually.

Even in academia and research, as I talked about before, all the politics surrounding academia and the “publish or perish” culture have made it such that researchers are more focused on getting published rather than generating original knowledge. That too has become easy to crack, and as a result, we are seeing hoards of master’s and Ph.D. graduates hitting the market and struggling to find relevant jobs.

It is difficult to fix the education system, but as history has shown, systems will adapt itself. Some changes are already happening.

But thinking about this hypothetically, what can be done to fix the education system? And how can you get the most out of the education system, even if it’s as broken as it is?

  • Foster creativity and critical thinking — As knowledge-based learning and evaluation become less effective with ChatGPT and AI, it is now more important than ever to develop critical thinking and creativity. These cannot be replaced by AI. Evaluation should also be based on these criteria, and not merely reciting and applying the knowledge — it becomes less easy to “hack”. Teaching critical thinking also prevents students from being indoctrinated by certain agendas that are being pushed onto the youth. Finally, students should also be taught how to use AI tools effectively, and not merely as a cheating tool.
  • Prioritize practical experience and skills that are needed in the world — First, the education system should provide training for skills that are in demand and deprioritize skills that are not. They should prepare students for the real world. Also, they should provide students with practical experience in addition to theory, ranging from project work to co-op, which allows them a seamless transition to the workplace. This is already happening at some high schools and universities, such as the University of Waterloo’s co-op program.
  • Teach essential life skills — From financial literacy to life skills such as self-discipline, organization, cooking, and cleaning, these things should be taught in school. Japanese schools do a good job at this. Furthermore, skills such as interviewing, writing a resume, and social norms / social awareness should be taught in school (not just extracurriculars) — again, preparing students for the real world.
  • Personalize education through online platforms — From Khan Academy to Udacity and Coursera, these platforms often provide much better learning resources compared to textbooks and traditional school curriculums. As such, these resources should be used for learning in schools to create a more equal environment and a more standardized curriculum. Furthermore, it should allow for more individualized, self-directed, and self-paced learning according to the student’s goals and abilities. Again, this provides more options and equity to everyone.
  • Introduce more online degrees — This is already happening, and there are well-known programs such as the Online Master’s of Computer Science at Georgia Tech (OMSCS). This should make high-quality education accessible to more people at a lower cost, reducing the inequality driven by the cost of education. However, this could lower the prestige of degrees even further as more people can obtain them, and result in more degree inflation, so selection/enrolment criteria should remain stringent.

Now, what are schools good for?

Schools have existed for a reason, and I am never advocating for the abolishment of schools or for everyone to be self-educated. They are, after all, a very important institution in modern society, and enable many functions aside from receiving an education.

Most importantly, I believe schools provide a platform to meet people and build social connections. Spending the formative years with other children enables social development, which is critical for human development. It is where many friendships/relationships begin and social circles form, and the resulting peer influence can have a great effect on personal development.

For all the students reading this, I believe it is important to go to school (and go to a good / top-ranked school if you can) because of the people you will meet there. I would not have met all my highly intelligent, hardworking, and successful friends had I not gone to Engineering Science. These people have had a profound impact on my life and pushed me to become better.

Remember, schools themselves aren’t that different in terms of the quality of education (they are all equally bad in most cases). However, it is the people that you meet, and the learning skills that you develop in school that will shape your character.

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