Is Formal Education A Mistake?


It seems a lot of people are questioning the effect of formal education on their lives. Virtually every book I read these days is focused on the need to restructure the educational system and promote self-education (in the West especially United States).

I agree that this is the Information Age hence  there is an abundance of information at our disposal however in a developing country like Nigeria, how do you access/critically analyse this information without formal education? How do you seek out answers from books at home, library or Internet without formal education?

Formal education is very important. It is a ticket to our future. Without it, we rely on easier and faster sources for information like television, printed materials, experts, or hearsay from immediate contacts, friends or relatives to save us the time to self-learn, think and analyse.

It must be said that formal education doesn’t guarantee anyone financial success but it removes the scales of ignorance from one’s eyes and makes your thinking mind to explore and seek several answers. As a consequence, it is a ticket out of miserable circumstances for many; a solution to our backwardness.

Nigerians (like the guy I watched on television recently) who claim formal education is nothing, I am curious to know why they think so. And what helped you to form this opinion? I need to know if they’d be opinionated or able to reason the way they do now if they had no formal education. Formal education gives you a certain level of exposure and thence the will to chase self-education and become an autodidact.

“Autodidacts are the self learners who quench their hungry and inquisitive minds by self learning and finding answers to their questions themselves” – Maaher Sayeed

The problem with our formal education is that we are/were all taught to be status- and result-oriented. Most people believe formal education is all about amassing certificates and titles whilst bragging about them to anyone who cares to listen.

The truth is that what really matters is the transferable and non-transferable skills you pick up. Don’t miscontrue my point, I am not saying having a good grade/result is bad. No! Nevertheless, due to the keeness to have titles attached to our name, cram-la-pour has become a ritual. This is beneficial in the interim but useless in the long run.

“Reading without reflecting is like eating without digesting.” – Edmund Burke

Also, many go to school and focus solely on  academics or social life and when they are thrown out in the real world, they realise their inadequacies and deficiencies. There’s definitely a reason why the Igbo word for a University is “Mahadum” but I prefer to call it “Marahadum” which literally means know them all. The best advice you can give to a student going into school is to allow the school pass through him/her as s/he passes through the school. That way, s/he would be equipped with formal, non-formal and informal education.

I concur that there are certain things you can’t learn in a classroom because experiences shape up our lives. However, in this third world country, you need formal education to ditch crowd mentality, hearsays and blindly conforming to borrowed wisdom, and base your opinions on balanced and educated thinking. As a consequence, formal education paves the way for self-education.

13 Replies to “Is Formal Education A Mistake?”

    1. Thanks a million for the well constructed article I must say that you absolutely spoke my mind. As a biomedical scientist, I can’t imagine not having formal education to certain degree.


  1. Rinz,

    My opinion here is that the formal education system is ‘broken’. Majority of students graduate from university without any ‘real world’ skills and hence can’t find employment or even more importantly create their own employment for themselves and others because they are not equipped with the entrepreneurial skills when the government, as is often the case, fails to provide employment opportunities. This, I think, is because the education in today’s world, fails to teach holistic skills. Rather, the system has been groomed, from the inception of the formal education system to create ‘robots’ who specialise in one field and go to work for a large organisation and make someone else rich. The way the system is today, is a result of rich industrialists who, during the industrial revolution, needed workers for their humongous organisations e.g. Rockefellers, Carnegie etc. Some of these rich individuals are among the richest in history and influenced government policy on education and even built educational institutions and the like to ‘educate’ workers who would be a supply line for their multinational organisations and keep themselves in a position of privilege. I think the education system needs a revolution to teach students holistic skills and create rounded individuals who are worldly and can adapt in any field of endeavour. The way of the world today in this information age, is to be multi-skilled and many millennials can operate in more than one field of specialism and the trend points to a future where one will have to be self-educated and be versatile to specialise in several fields or be left behind.

    Interesting article Sha.


    1. Interesting view. I agree with everything you’ve said but my point is coming from a developing country, can one really understand the benefits of self-education if s/he lacks formal education?


      1. Hi,

        My comments apply to the world education system at large both in developing and developed nations. From my experience, the education system, having being a student in a developing (Nigeria) and developed country (UK) doesn’t teach real awareness to enable ALL students to realise their full potential. I feel that less than 1% of all students since the inception of the formal education system have gained ‘real’ awareness of themselves and the world and this is reflected in the current state of affairs we see in the world with famines, diseases, poverty, wars etc. being prevalent. Why isn’t there much tangible change in the world today? We have gone to the moon as a race and plan to establish a colony on planet Mars but can’t live together in peace on planet Earth. The evidence points to a distortion in priority of human needs in the world at large. Isn’t the education system supposed to produce enlightened individuals who can ‘change’ the world? This is the rhetoric that is endlessly heard from our colonial masters but with all the presidents and prime ministers who have graduated from the elite universities, we all live in a world which seems to lack areal sense of community.

        Thank You.


        1. I agree that formal education doesn’t always enable students to reach their full potential. But the same happens in other forms of education. Take for example, not every footballer reaches his full potential. In the end, the student/footballer still has to put in a lot of work to reach the potential s/he is capable of.


  2. Education is beautiful but like you opined, without quality evaluation of our educational system (I’m referring to Nigeria), we may really not be gaining much going through school.


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