Idea dump: Education

Celeste
4 min readSep 22, 2020

Disclaimer: I initially wanted to provide my thoughts as comments on a message, but this article sparked so many reflections in me that I decided to consolidate it into a lengthy rant/idea dump.

Fascinating article on how higher education is devalued in China with more and more people getting uni degrees… it is no longer a way for people to differentiate themselves from the rest while looking for a job https://mp.weixin.qq.com/s/BMBxCkwAwhnTVQm9Bj48QQ

A summary of this article:
(1) Too many people are graduating with degrees, so educational qualifications are rapidly becoming devalued. This is also given that there is a gap between what you study in uni and what is required in the workforce. And with the rise of influencers, people can get rich without traditional educational qualifications. And with the rise of internet companies, having an overseas grad degree doesn’t necessarily mean you can get a job there.
(2) As it has become an arms race to place your kids in the best schools, families with the most resources have better chances than middle class families — paying for private schools, after school tuition, extra curriculars. Hence, class reproduces itself, and meritocracy is an illusion.
(2.1) An interesting screenshot documents the experience of students who manage to leave their small towns and enter a renowned university in China by result of grit and hard work, but getting the rude shock of their lives when they realise they’re not as special as they think they are, when they become a small fish in a big pond, and are unable to lean onto their parents for advice as their parents are not well educated themselves.
(3) The resolution of the article was feeble. The author urges people not to place too much of a premium on credentials, don’t belittle part-time graduates viz full-time graduates (because to be able to devote to full time study is a privilege in itself), and for people to focus more on acquiring relevant skills than relying on credentials.

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This made me think of Singapore with more people becoming university graduates because people see it as a path to success. But if it comes to the point where an undergrad is devalued, people might start pursuing Masters as the new undergrad to differentiate themselves, and the cycle continues. Masters replacing undergrad as the new baseline can already be seen in Europe, India and China where most immediately do a Masters after their undergrad.

It also makes me think if we all knew that university degrees are not valued — and given we don’t learn that many practical things in school anyway — would we still send our kids to those elite institutions? I for one would not pay to do an MBA if not for the prestige. So many things are perception, which can change overnight.

For we know that just because one scores well in exams doesn’t mean one will perform well at work. Just because you have a GMAT score of 760, it doesn’t guarantee that you can work well with people, handle uncertainty well, take necessary risks, take ownership for your decision, influence your peers etc. So I’ve always disagreed that just because Singaporeans graduate from “world class institutions” with good rankings, it automatically means we are ready for leadership roles in the workplace. Is correlation just spurious… (though I know that good grades could still be correlated with how well/quickly you understand/grasp a problem, how well you communicate your ideas to others etc)

This article makes me think about how to build a society, do I inherently believe in class, why is there a premium on academic skills over vocational skills that’s why people seek the academic route. What happens if we’re all too much of the same? — Need to flesh out this thought more. Anyway, I am not a politician, but when I say I care about fairness and people getting a fighting chance to climb the socio economic ladder, what structures am I considering/ reproducing?

Generally I have a problem with the commentary on provincial students getting a rude shock when entering the big city without any parental guidance to count on. Maybe this symptom is true. But isn’t it always a good thing to get out of your bubble and encounter different parts of society? And rather than blame your parents for not giving you the social capital to cope, can’t it start with your generation? Why must we rely on our parents for the answer instead of figuring it ourselves so we can leave some answers for our children? (No doubt they have their own problems to face)

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My Chinese friend shared this article with me when it was announced that Beijing cancelled its CFA exams this year due to Covid. Since CFA is held once a year in China, and all other provinces are probably booked out for the exam at such short notice, everyone who studied really hard for it had to wait another year. I asked her why the CFA was so important in China — people do study it in Singapore but I don’t think it holds any prestige at all unless you work in specific finance sectors — she said it was just one way to differentiate themselves from the pack. We started talking about the value of a university education and that’s how it started.

Interesting that Project 985 was referenced in this article (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Project_985). And indeed through this consolidated top down effort of allocating funding, many Chinese unis became top unis in the world (still much more prestigious domestically than internationally though).

Interesting that The Credential Society was referenced first in this article, for what looks like a relatively obscure book back in the States outside of academic circles.

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