In recent years, cultural and academic education has been disproportionately influenced by the concept of “competence,” at the expense of pursuing a well-rounded, liberal arts foundation. With tuition costs rising and the job market always changing, it is understandable for students, their parents, and academic leaders to find this idea appealing. It seems practical to focus your education on the skills needed to land a job after graduation.
Unfortunately for this generation of students, a competence-focused approach is based on the erroneous idea that school should be a factory for building skills, rather than a workshop of ideas.
The pursuit of knowledge, not constrained by job placement metrics, should be capable of inspiring great minds. The kind of knowledge that provides tools to grow in life and helps you face any obstacle. The knowledge that keeps you in line with the times, not left behind by them. The knowledge which ignites the flame of creativity and critical thinking in every individual.
On the other hand, a preoccupation with competence has, in fact, led to an increasing gap between students’ academic experience and their prospects in the job market. The skills learned in a competence-driven environment are inherently static. Some skills learned in professional schools may already be outdated by the time you get your diploma. Without the foundation of reasoning and problem-solving provided by a more well-rounded education, workers can find themselves barely keeping up with the demands of a rapidly changing world.
The increasing gap between campus and the job market derives from a misunderstanding that competence can replace individual critical thinking. Claims that attending a university is useless, driving young people away from any type of education, in search of false promises of something better, only results in creating job-seekers with an expiration date on their value to the labor market.
Generally speaking, schools and education are the only chance we have for building a better future, by creating more value for society in the one thing that the market always needs: new ideas. We must also remember that new ideas are born only from knowledge and not just competence. Technical competence comes later. Young people must learn to think first, and then do. Attending a school or a university is essential in order to achieve that.
Dr. Antonio Giordano is the Founder & Director of Sbarro Health Research Organization (SHRO), based at the College of Science and Technology, Temple University, Philadelphia.
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