I first came across Suli Break’s Why I Hate School But Love Education video in 2015, and it was life changing.
Prior to then my philosophy was built around the core importance of school, and how without schooling, a person would have very little value he could create and extract from society – Simply put, my philosophy was simple – if you didn’t go to school, you’d be broke.
Suli’s video did something spectacular to me; it helped me understand the dichotomy between school and education. It helped me realize that school and education are not the same thing. Let me break this down.
Schooling and formal education started in Ancient Rome in the middle of the fourth century BC. However, the rise of the kind of education we have today was instigated by the Industrialists of the early 19th century due to a need for workers to work at their factories and plants. School was essentially a medium for shipping out factory workers en-masse.
The problem is this; we have come to align schooling and education as a single concept. This is a fallacious idea. The same way a restaurant is a platform for acquiring food; school is essentially a platform for acquiring education.
What this means is that the same way we do not necessarily have to go to a restaurant to get food (we can cook our own food), is the same way school doesn’t necessarily have to be the default platform for acquiring education.
If you’re an entrepreneur and a true capitalist – you know that when you start a business, your goal is to build a monopoly. You don’t want competition taking a bite of your pie. Monopolies are good, especially when you’re on the board of the business with the monopoly; cashing in on million dollar stock options, and making it rain like it’s no man’s business. The problem is, in most cases when a business has a 90% market share with the other 10% share allocated among 14 different rat like companies called startups, they have very little incentive to innovate, and the consumers suffer from either a low quality product, or an exorbitantly priced one.
Today, school (especially the Nigerian school system) which is now synonymous with education has morphed into a horrible monopoly that must be checked. This product now takes in 1.7 million users per year, graduates 500,000 of them, fills their heads with theories they may never implement and/or apply, and sends them into a job market that labels them unemployable.
The product (kind of education) that school sells today is an expired product that needs to be reevaluated and subsequently taken out of the market.
Twenty First Century Education
Twenty First Century education is a different ball game entirely. Some days ago, an acquaintance asked me a business question I didn’t know the answer to. I told him that knowing everything in my head wasn’t of paramount importance, in 5 minutes and one Google search; chances, I can regurgitate any information back at you like I’ve known it for years. Twenty First Century education has very little to do with cramming and memorizing concepts and theories, and more to do with your ability to take in information, process it, and reproduce it in a comprehensible form.
I’ll write that again; Twenty First Century education is less about cramming and memorizing theories, and more about your ability to take in information, process it, and reproduce it in a comprehensible form.
What we call work experience is really the ability to understand and recognize patterns.
When you buy a book on marriage just before you get married, what you’re essentially trying to do is study the pattern the author (who probably has years of marital experience) has recognized, and learn to capitalize on those patterns to have a blissful marriage.
When an entrepreneur or a CEO buys a domain specific business book by another business leader, he’s essentially doing the same thing – trying to capitalize on the patterns others have recognized.
And when a Christian reads the Bible, he is also trying to capitalize on patterns recognized from thousands of years ago.
Work Experience is essentially the ability to capitalize on recognized patterns.
Twenty First Century education is a totally different ball game entirely.
There are two kinds of Edtech startups – those trying to augment school (Gradely, Edves, Schooberry, Netop) and those trying to disrupt it (Coursera, Udemy, edX, Utiva).
Even Google has picked up an interest in the Edtech space – announcing in August of 2020 the launch of its Google Career Certificates – a 6 months subscription learning program that ends with a Google Career Certificate that Google has announced it will be accepting in the place of a 4 years college degree. In other words, one of the quickest ways to get into Google Nigeria (probably one of the best places to work in Lagos) is through a 6 months online training program. Valuable information you shouldn’t joke with. You can thank me later.
Schools Value Proposition
Disrupting the monopoly called school is no walk in the park. Every system has those who profit of its inefficiency and ineffectiveness – these people will usually resist any change that may negatively affect them, regardless of the material good it does for the system in general. The Nigerian School system is ruled by ASUU overlords whose major concerns are their own welfare, rather than the quality of the product (education) being delivered to their users (students).
All disruption is primarily a function of a competitor’s superior execution of the incumbents value proposition.
The first step in disrupting school is finding out school’s value proposition and superiorly [sic] executing on it (doing a better job).
The schooling system has 3 key value propositions:
There are many reasons people go to Church – some go to hear the Word of God, some go to admire the scenery of the building, and some go to look for fine girls.
As much as school is primarily for learning, some people’s most valuable reason to go to school is the community experience – meeting new people, getting to rub minds with interesting people, and potentially having a classmate whose dad is the commissioner of something that can help you get a job, or potentially close a deal.
Humans are communal by nature; there are certain kinds of experiences that cannot be obtained via virtual channels alone.
Platforms like Coursera and edX will usually falter in replicating this value proposition due to their primarily remote business models. Businesses like Utiva that have better on ground presence can deliver on this (and they usually do).
The core value proposition of school is learning. When a business fails to properly perform its core purpose, it is only a matter of time before it becomes completely morbid.
School has now become a platform for cramming, memorizing and regurgitating theoretical concepts that even the regurgitator [sic] themselves have no idea what they mean or do.
The goal of school has now become the acquisition of a certificate, rather than the acquisition of knowledge and pattern’s.
Most Edtech startups are well positioned to disrupt this value proposition.
A year of consistent and focused learning on Coursera, edX, Udemy and the likes is usually a way more valuable investment than four years in a Nigerian higher institution of learning (unless you’re studying a course like medicine or law).
My mother gives a lot of value to a Bachelor’s degree – I do not. The system has so rubbished the concept of having a Bachelor’s degree, that people now seek advanced programs (Masters) just to be relevant in the marketplace.
Unless you’re hiring for a tech role where academic qualifications (should) have little value, and employers hire for skills rather than degrees, a Bachelor’s degree in computer science from the University of Lagos has way more value to any employer than 20 MOOC’s (Massive Open Online Course) from God knows where.
Although some people say a Bachelor degree isn’t just about what the student has learned, but his/her ability to learn, it could also mean many things; It could mean the student is good at cramming (low value workplace skill), an expert at malpractice, wealthy or beautiful enough to bribe, and a host of other things.
MOOCs have a global completion rate of less than 4% of all participants. A student with 20 or even 10 MOOCs has effectively proven that they both have a desire to learn, and the dedication to finish what they start (which are exceptional workplace skills if you ask me).
Until a certificate, or some kind of proof of learning from an Edtech startup is enough to convince employers to hire (or consider) an applicant over a basic Bachelor’s degree (the way an AWS Solutions Architect certification will draw some attention to you), Edtech startups still have a long way to go.
Create a Learning Incentive
There’s a video I came across some years back where some young boys were performing a song with lyrics like; “last last school na scam”, they gave examples of people who had ignored conventional schooling and had been able to accumulate certain things of monetary value to validate their decisions.
As long as school is less likely to help you get rich, people have less of an incentive to be serious about it.
More people are interested in learning how to trade Forex (because it pays), than those interested in learning how to plot any graph of Y against X. According to DailyFX, Nigerians trade an average of US$1.2 million a day in Forex trading alone.
The proliferation of technology globally has created a strong demand for software engineering skills. Since software engineering is primarily a skill based profession, and can be obtained with very little (or no ) traditional schooling – everyone has a seat at the table.
According to Github’s 2020 State of The Octoverse Report, Nigeria had the highest percentage increase in contributors from last year at 65.9% – 140 basis points ahead of the runner up – Hong Kong.
As long as people believe and are assured that a specific kind of education can guarantee them a job or a steady source of income – adoption rates of that kind of education will definitely increase.
The Internet Fraud Paradox
I do not in any way support internet fraud, and I have personally witnessed firsthand what internet fraud is doing to Nigeria’s global perception – but as much as internet fraud is a negative to our global perception, it is a plus to our local economy.
Internet fraudsters deceive people in foreign nations, and subsequently divert that money down to Nigeria where they spend a majority of it within the confines of our local economy.
One of Nigeria’s greatest exports is talent. The Central Bank’s new policy that allows you receive money directly in foreign currency when money is paid into your domiciliary account means that as more remittances are made to Nigeria – our currency will begin to improve (basic supply and demand stuff).
If more well trained Nigerians in the technology industry can get access to remote development opportunities from foreign businesses; remittances will increase, our local economy will see an improvement, and our currency will be bolstered. Edtech firms have the capacity to make this shift a reality.
A good number of top schools in the U.S. offer some kind of job search assistance to their students on graduation.
When formal schooling as we know it today was originated, it was more about creating opportunity than just doling out certificates. Edtech startups today may have to recalibrate and shift their focus.
If Nigerian Edtech startups of today are to stand a chance at disrupting school, they have to switch from not just selling education, but to selling opportunity.
School as an institution (from a Nigerian perspective) has failed to deliver on its core value proposition – this has created a loophole for innovative and forward thinking Edtech startups to capitalize on.
Edtech startups seeking to disrupt the monopoly called school must become opportunity oriented businesses whose focus is more on bettering the lives of its users (students) than just doling out certificates.
Inspired By The Holy Spirit
P.S: for consultation services, or to talk about all things strategy, you can send a message to the email below or reach out on LinkedIn (https://www.linkedin.com/in/maro-elias-184685b3/), let’s talk.