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Friday, July 15, 2011

The gift of education

Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.
-William Butler Yeats

In 2009 there was an article in Businessweek that revealed a stunning discovery made by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Commission to Build a Healthier America. This commission found that there is a direct relationship between people's physical and mental health and their level of education. Their research found that there are much larger groups of high school drop outs, for instance, who suffer from poor health than people with college degrees. Now, you may wonder what education would have to do with someone's health, and I will say: a lot!

Here's the thing: education doesn't only grant you a certificate or degree. That's the formal part, which many people focus on. But what many overlook is the fact that education also helps you to look at life more critically and creatively. You think things through in a more methodical, deeper way, and you learn to see opportunities where others don't. You stop taking things for granted and start questioning them more rigorously. You draw your own conclusions and don’t just go with the opinions of the masses. You verify and look for alternatives. You become more inventive and innovative. Steve jobs, the genial CEO of Apple, talks about it in a speech he gave at Stanford University in 2005. While Jobs is a college dropout, he did continue to take classes that he liked, and learned a lot this way about things that turned out to be extremely helpful to him when he started designing and developing his first Mackintosh computer. He gives the example of a caligraphy course he took, which helped him create the nice fonts for the first Mac, and basically determined the option of nice fonts for computer use overall!

A few months ago, President Obama made this point very clear again in a different light. He stressed that America needs highly educated people to increase its global position and competitiveness. Countries such as China and India have long realized the value of education and have been gaining tremendous ground in global performance. Educated people set trends. They think outside the box, no matter how cliché that may sound. When people engage in higher education they learn the things that cannot be taught: they learn to think for themselves. As a result, they understand better than others how important it is to become lifelong learners. Investment in education, says Obama, is critical for a nation's performance.

My endnote is that education is essential for you as an individual, as well as for the community in which you live and work. It is never wasted, and it will be up to you how well you choose to use your education. But you do have all the tools in your hands to make your life work out.

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