I am a student. I have been as long as I can remember and I will be as long as I can keep remembering (stuff). I am also the son of a teacher, tutor and language specialist.
You see, I was born and raised in a multi-cultural, sometimes-traditionally European family. My parents hail not only from different countries, but from different continents and as such, I had the privilege of being able to immerse myself in a number of other cultures at a rather young age.
Through that very immersion, I was (and, indeed, still am) not only able to understand other cultural traits and traditions better, but I also gained a lot of insight into how my own culture is being thought of by outsiders.
This kind of understanding of course, is not only limited to cultural items but also expands into areas such as education and success and that is indeed what I am going to talk about today.
Before we start, I should probably give you some background information on my (educational) past, simply because I believe that this way, you will be able to see where I am coming from:
In the past decade, I attended five different high schools and one college. I have taken part in a number of non-secondary education related events such as language courses both in-country and on-location and have seen and, of course, experienced more different learning / teaching methods than most people can shake a stick at.
Note that I am not saying that my experience is beyond exhaustive, but I do believe that I have gotten a fair amount of information on this topic.
Now, after two years of college and various talks with students and teachers from around the world, I have come to the conclusion that us Europeans don’t need no education, or at least not like it is now anyway.
Education, without a doubt, is important, very important in fact and while I am not going to go as far as saying that people without proper education are less important members of a society, we all know that the better educated you are, the more options your future (and present) has for you.
I think we can all agree that educational systems were put in place to prepare you for life, to enable you to become a good, heck, great, member of society and contribute as good as you can to the greater good of the whole.
But, I ask you, what good is education that fails to do the one thing you really require: prepare you for life?
The most important part about, well, just about everything, is being able to present yourself, your product, your project, your team, … your anything and not just presenting it, but presenting it the right way.
I have been to a couple of (international) conferences in the past years and if there is one thing that I noticed it is that those speakers and hosts that know how to “work” the audience, generally are able to sell their product, be it a service or a thought or simply an idea, are always more successful than those that have no clue about giving a presentation.
Funnily enough, it seems that eight out of ten times, the bad speakers are of European descent and the great speakers are, most of the time, of American descent or at least have found a way to rid themselves of the European way of presenting and it makes me wonder, why is it like this?
I have talked to educators in the past and I am still talking to educators on a daily basis and many of them seem to be deadlocked in their ways, not realizing that not only they are keeping themselves from learning something new, but also are putting unnecessary obstacles on the road to success of us European students.
The problem is that our education system is, dare I say, hell-bent on training students to become hive-workers, there is little to no incentive to teach us, or at the very least, show us the ways of being a hive-queen.
In the Netherlands, for example, there are exactly two universities that teach classes around the subject of entrepreneurship. During high school, students, in general, give no more than five, maybe six presentations in front of a group of other students.
Translated into numbers, this means that only 8%, that is, less than one tenth, of all Dutch students are thinking about creating a start-up, the other 92% are, more or less, looking toward a job that provides safety until the age of 65 and a good pension.
Only a handful of students are willing to take a chance and there is a deep set angst of risking some (human, financial) capital and either succeeding or falling flat on the floor and that is the problem.
Europe, all in all, has very few failing economies, most countries are stable and provide good working environments. The man even stimulates many new companies with financial contributions and, if need be, even with the right knowledge that is needed to start a company.
Yet, whenever I have heard people asking for or giving advice business advice, it always comes down to “go for the stomach”, which means nothing else than to shoot for the market that everyone is going for, because there is little risk involved and a moderate chance of small-time success, “one would not want anything else…“.
Eight per cent, you really have to stop a minute and think about that number. Now take into account that approximately half of those eight per cent will not make it past the three year mark and we end up with less than one twentieth part of the student populace.
This prompts the question as to why are we not taught to go for the throat, take that long shot with a big chance of missing and a small (tiny?) chance of actually hitting it off big.
The answer: social environment. Family, significant others, friends, coworkers – all of them are conditioned, by our educational system, to tell you that following through on a brilliant idea simply is not done, well, not done in Europe anyway.
On the other side of the pond, your friends would most likely encourage you, tell you to go through with it, heck – the worst thing that could happen is that you burn a bit of money and have to go look for a new job or return to your old day job.
The problem is the mindset of the bigger part of Europeans: The views are simply black and white, you either win, or … you fail. There is no “you may have failed but you gained valuable insight” option. Annoying, to say the least and dangerous to the economies of Europe at best, dangerous because it robs Europe of many talented people, basically turning Europe into one big classified.
Out of a listing of thirty cities, only five are part of the European Union. The reason for this low number is simply that people with the right ideas would rather move overseas (that is, the United States) than to spend their time here, because, again, it comes down to the social environment issue.
And honestly, I can not blame but one of them. I, too, would rather move to a country where the whole “thing” is set up to enable me to create something amazing from scratch. A place where I do not have to shell out twelve large ones only to get a company started.
In closing, let me say this: If you are a student, do yourself and those that come after you, a favor and beg, no, FIGHT for changes that will enable you and your peers to compete with the American economy, but most of all: do not be afraid to shoot to kill…
Take a minute to think about what you want to be able to look back upon at the end of your life - “a sheltered and risk-free life” or a life full of accomplishments?
This article was first posted on NachoTalk in August 2007 and has been reposted here for posterity’s sake