What’s the point of education? Do you learn about things, because the learning itself matters, or is education all about the signal you -- and your degree -- send
What’s the point of education?
Do you learn about things, because the learning itself matters, or is education all about the signal you -- and your degree -- send out to the world? Is education really about building skills, or does it serve only to transmit intangible traits, like your level of talent or your persistence?
These are the questions we’ll be tackling in this new Econ Duel debate from Marginal Revolution University.
And since we believe that nothing beats a good friend-vs-friend duel, we’ve picked two friends, whom you’re probably familiar with. For this debate on education as signaling vs. skill building, we’ve got Tyler Cowen and Alex Tabarrok, ready to go head-to-head.
You’ll see them argue about nearly everything—from peacocks, to private markets, to street sweepers, to Scandinavian education laws, and even the real value of Harvard University. In the end, you’ll see them duke things out, in a quest to determine education’s effect on our lives and well-being.
The video also asks:
- Why do students tend to rejoice when their professor cancels class?
- When we’re talking education, what really counts? Is it the soft skills, or the hard facts?
- If evolution still can’t sort out good vs. bad, can we really expect the market to do any better?
- Can the things you learn today still matter 20 years down the line?
- Why do peacocks still sport huge, colorful tails, despite the fact that evolution should’ve come up with a better signaling device by now?
Once you reach the end of the video, we have one specific request. It’s hugely important.
Ask yourself: “Is education only about signaling, or is it really about skill building?”
Think it through and then let us know by voting at the end of the video!
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This might vary depending on the academic major. For an electrical engineer, it's mostly knowledge. For an art history major, it's a lot of signaling.
Doesn't it depend on what LEVEL of education you are talking about? If you're just talking about Undergrad college, then Alex is mostly right. By the time you complete high school, which is mostly real skill building, marginal returns to class based learning have diminished severely and the marginal return to applied experience is very high. Grad school is mostly real skills in the liberal arts, because it isn't just learning ABOUT things, but rather HOW TO THINK about things and process information. MBAs I imagine is mostly about networking.
Education is more of skill building than signalling. Take for instance the case of ancient India, where we had a system of Gurukulas, where students would go to their teachers place and request them to provide education. When students are thirsty for knowledge, they would've never felt happy when classes got cancelled. Moreover these ancient gurukulas never provided and certificates, further no one even needed to know where you undertook your schooling. But the level of knowledge imparted was unparalleled and produced many great rulers and scholars.
It is about TIME. We have a limited time to live and earn (knowledge, money, reputation, recognition.....). If a person has natural ability to understand exactly how the world around him is, he need not go to school at all. But if someone is not sure what is happening around him and needs someone's (school) help, he needs to go to school until he realizes he is now prepared to face the world. We have people around us who never went to school but are running a good business. We have people around us who left school in middle and are doing great. We also have people who earned the highest level of education and are doing great. It is TIME but I may be wrong. Please comment.
Like the other commenters have noted, the correct answer is that it's a bit of both with the precise balance depending on the level of education and the field of study. Hard to argue that you can walk away with a PhD without learning much or that a person can be a doctor without going to university.