The Value of Education

If you read about Albania, you will learn that education is valued, a large percentage of the population holds a college degree and nearly everyone speaks 3 or 4 languages (Italian, English, Greek and Russian are the most prevalent). Over the course of 2 years, we have had an opportunity to observe the educational system and have come to appreciate that an education is more than passing an end of year examine.

First and most disconcerting is the impact of teaching to the test. The only requirement is to pass the final examine. Some students rarely attend class, cram for 2 days to pass the test and then forget it all. At the end of a course, they can repeat the answers to specific questions but are unable to apply that knowledge outside of the testing environment.

For instance, one computer engineering student in his final year was wiring the batteries for a uninterrupted power supply and the idea of positive and negative current never was considered as he attached the batteries to the controller. 250 euros later, with a new controller for the UPS, the connection between classroom training and work was made.

A second constraint of this system is critical thinking is not taught or required. Even advanced postgraduate degrees can be obtained by (1) repeating the information for the final test or (2) paying the professor for ‘tutoring’. Learning is memorizing and degrees are just documents required as prerequisites for consideration of a job.

Once on the job, as long as a procedure can be standardized, memorized and repeated everything is fine, but problem analysis and problem definition are very rare talents. Any problem that falls outside of the memorized procedure is too difficult to solve and is left unresolved, with explanation that it can not be done in Albania.

Along with the lack of critical thinking comes the unwillingness to try something to see if it works and an immobilizing fear of mistakes. In a system that only rewards the correct answer on a final examination, fear of making a mistake paralyzes action. The perception is that it is better to do nothing than to risk making a mistake (does that sound like government everywhere?). Rarely is innovative action pursued, generally maintenance is not done, new ideas are not tried and only those with a certificate of training in a field of expertise can work in their specialized area. If you do something and it fails, it is your fault. If you do something and it succeeds, you only did your job. If you do nothing, then it is not your fault, no risk is assumed, no blame is assigned. So let’s go have a coffee!

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