Is Our Education System Broken?

I know you’ve heard this one a lot. We have to get rid of this damned 8-4-4 maneno, and soon. I agree. Here’s what I really think about the 8-4-4.

Today, let’s talk about University/College. Why do we go to university? Do we go to uni so that we can get a degree? Or so that we can get a job in the future? What is the true purpose of a university education?

Part of a university education is the obvious training for a future career; various subjects and tests that all lead to the university degree, which brings career opportunities and higher pay. Knowledge of certain subjects and a college degree are both beneficial to have in terms of a successful future. Great emphasis is placed on this perception of what society considers success. If success is having plenty of money to buy material items, a degree can certainly prepare one for that. If success is measured in terms of the amount of knowledge acquired in certain subjects, a university education can also help one to achieve success.

However, a university education goes beyond that. It is more than memorizing books and facts. It is more than a framed certificate on a wall that can be used to impress future employers. We all have identities away from our careers. If the objective of a university education is more than gaining the knowledge necessary to pass tests and get a degree, what is the true purpose of a university education?

Recently, I was part of a pretty hot conversation about universities in Kenya. It is reported that the University of Nairobi – and many others in Kenya – has a bit of a problem: there is a shortage of university professors (is this true?). It is also reported that this is so because very few students go to university past the Bachelors degree (unless to get an MBA). It seems, therefore, that for most people the university is nothing short of a path to a job. Do we go to universities so that we can get jobs?

Seth Godin wrote on this topic recently:

College costs a fortune. It takes a lot of time and it takes a lot of money.

When a professor assigns you to send a blogger a list of vague and inane interview questions (“1. How did you get started in this field? 2. What type of training (education) does this field require? 3. What do you like best about your job? 4. what do you like least about your job?”) I think you have an obligation to say, “Sir, I’m going to be in debt for ten years because of this degree. Perhaps you could give us an assignment that actually pushes us to solve interesting problems, overcome our fear or learn something that I could learn in no other way…”

When a professor spends hours in class going over concepts that are clearly covered in the textbook, I think you have an obligation to repeat the part about the debt and say, “perhaps you could assign this as homework and we could have an actual conversation in class…”

When you discover that one class after another has so many people in a giant room watching a tenured professor far far in the distance, perhaps you could mention the debt part to the dean and ask if the class could be on video so you could spend your money on interactions that actually changed your life.

The vast majority of email I get from college students is filled with disgust, disdain and frustration at how backwards the system is. Professors who neither read nor write blogs or current books in their field. Professors who rely on marketing textbooks that are advertising-based, despite the fact that virtually no professional marketers build their careers solely around advertising any longer. And most of all, about professors who treat new ideas or innovative ways of teaching with contempt.

“This is costing me a fortune, prof! Push us! Push yourself!

From “The Loss of the University,” in Home Economics: “The thing being made in a university is humanity. given the current influence of universities, this is merely inevitable. But what universities, at least the public-supported ones, are mandated to make or to help to make is human beings in the fullest sense of those words — not just trained workers or knowledgeable citizens but responsible heirs and members of human culture. If the proper work of the university is only to equip people to fulfill private ambitions, then how do we justify public support? If it is only to prepare citizens to fulfill public responsibilities, then how do we justify the teaching of arts and sciences? The common denominator has to be larger than either career preparation or preparation for citizenship. Underlying the idea of a university — the bringing together, the combining into one, of all the disciplines — is the idea that good work and good citizenship are the inevitable by-products of the making of a good — that is, a fully developed — human being. This, as I understand it, is the definition of the name university.”

Additional Resources


  1. pala parasi says:

    yes it broken. why we do not have pofessors, few even know what a prof is/is for, not forgetting that doctorate studies require a soln giver not someone who is produced by a system to be part of more problem to the already existing confusion.
    encourage people to learn and understand concepts viz a viz being educated by a structure, with many papers but unworthy in terms of performance and analytical thinking and doing



  1. […] Of course the ERB’s action is loathsome and painful to many but the real blame lies at the feet of our “institutions of education”. Ours is a broken system. […]

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