I’ve gotten a lot of questions about my quitting school, especially since I’m not too focused or bothered about my A level exam. People are asking me about what I plan to do with my life and questions like that. Everybody seems to assume that since I quit school and don’t really seem bothered about my A levels, it means I don’t plan to do anything useful my life. And that train of thought really irks me, to say the least. Today, I just bought The Dip by Seth Godin and it made me think about all those questions, and the formal education system in general.

From the book:
“The Cul-de-Sac (French for “dead end”) is so simple it doesn’t even need a chart. It’s a situation where you work and you work and you work and nothing much changes. It doesn’t get a lot better, it doesn’t get a lot worse. It just is.

That’s why they call those jobs dead-end jobs.

There’s not a lot to say about the Cul-de-Sac except to realize that it exists and to embrace the fact that when you find one, you need to get off it, fast. That’s because a dead end is keeping you from doing something else. The opportunity cost of investing your life in something that’s not going to get better is just too high.”

And it got me thinking. Is the formal education system a Cul-de-Sac? You go to school day after day, study for and take exam after exam, but does it really make you the best in the world? Does it really set you apart? What does the formal education system really do for you?

To me, it seems like it’s just something we do because it’s expected, because everyone else does it and thinks it’s the only way to succeed. It’s something few people – especially here in Singapore – quit, because it’s perceived as failure. It’s perceived as giving up on making a decent living. But does it truly give any value? In my opinion, no. Paper certificates are so abundant in society now. Everybody has them, that there isn’t really any scarcity and thus there isn’t much value in them. There’s nothing special in having an A level certificate. It makes you feel good about yourself, it makes you look better, perhaps, but it doesn’t truly add value to you.

What truly adds value is the lessons you learn. And that’s what the education system is supposed to be about. It’s supposed to be about learning, not about exams. And that learning can take place anywhere in life. Especially in today’s world where information abounds over the internet, it’s easy to gain knowledge outside of school. Even the social aspect of school isn’t really that valuable, because everyone can get connected to everyone over the internet.

So what is the true value of school, of the formal education system? Yes, I do understand that the same thing brings different values to different people. And perhaps it does add value for certain individuals. And especially at the start, when you’re a young kid, it does help. It gives you basic reading and writing knowledge, for example. It does build a good foundation. But there comes a certain point where it hits a dead end, where it spreads you too thin and doesn’t add much value.

Personally, in my life, it seems like I’ve hit that dead end. The formal education system is (or has become) a Cul-de-Sac. I ended up doing the same thing over and over, going over the same routine just to get by. Yes, I could cope, but what’s the point of merely coping? There are rewards from quitting the Cul-de-Sac, speaking from personal experience.

Without the pressure of the formal system, I’ve been more free to pursue what I’m interested in. I’ve been more free to read widely, to search on different things, to gain inspiration and knowledge I would never have gained while in school. Since quitting school, with the time I’ve freed up, I’ve discovered Seth Godin, Guy Kawasaki, TED Talks, among many other sources of knowledge and inspiration.

I’ve come to the conclusion that the formal education is in fact a Cul-de-Sac, at least for me. It’s safe. There are sunken costs that have been invested that you will feel you lost if you quit. It’s very easy to just stay on the bandwagon and not take the risk. But I think there’s much to be gained from quitting.

From the book, “Quitting a job is not quitting your quest to make a living or a difference or an impact. Quitting a job doesn’t have to mean giving up. A job is just a tactic, a way to get to what you really want.”

It’s the same for school, don’t you think?