Being Smart and Skills

When I was in education I noticed that there was a basic dichotomy between skills and intelligence. Those who were academically gifted went to university and other than those that did engineering and medicine pursued disciplines that gave them plenty of mental acuity but little practical skills. In contrast those who did less well in their school exams went on to technical colleges and apprenticeship schemes. These people learnt agricultural techniques, how to fix a car and to make carbon brushes and so forth.  The stereo types still exist to some extent, especially when they’re reinforced all the time on the media and UK television.

This dichotomy is found less today I think. This is because of the way that business has started to take a keener interest in universities. Moreover, now that university tuition fees are no longer free in the UK young people are discouraged from studying ancient history, classics and other academic subjects that have very little relevance to the modern world or finding a job.  After all having to service a large debt to finance your education increases the pressure to find a well paid job to justify it (and pay for it!).

This attitude does change however depending on your country, there’s certainly a different attitude to non-academic subjects in some places.  For example Australian students are often more drawn towards more practical subjects than in the UK.  Why it’s not certain although many of them are focused more on travel and gaining employment in other countries.  Many use apps like this one to access the BBC and job sites in Australia.

This is sad for scholarship, but perhaps inevitable. Part of the point is missed, however, as to what a good university education provides. It isn’t always the knowledge gleaned that is important. Rather it is the mental skills acquired. Being able to analyse, classify, categorize and make decisions based on the best possible evidence are skills that are maybe just as important as being able to turn a lathe, manage a leisure center or write javascript and setup a proxy server..

The case is that young people should decide early on what skills they have the most chance of refining, and their education while starting off broad in scope should finally focus on those skills. This is how to make the most of education from an economic point of view in the case of the majority. Of course, for people like Einstein the theoretical and the academic should be pursued because this is their true talent and in the long run humanity will benefit from any breakthrough in the field of human understanding.