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Getting your Money Worth from Your Education

In a world where the concept of education itself is being challenged by the speed of ai, it may be worth re-examining the value of our education in our world.

The first misconception that a lot of us have, especially true in Myanmar, is the mistaken belief that even if you do not have an education, you can still become a boss who would eventually employ educated people. Fact: only one in a hundred thousand people would be smart enough to accomplish that. If it is so effortless to become a boss, why would people even want to be employees! Simply put, having no education is not equivalent to becoming a boss in the near or far future.

Not just in Myanmar, even in the US, 56% of Americans now believe a degree is no longer worth the time or money spend on it. (WSJ, March 31, 2023). Yet the investment return stats do not support that. 1970, Americans with a university degree earned 35% more than a typical high school graduate. In 2021, this college wage premium has risen to 66%. Typical return for a bachelor degree is now around 14%, dropped from a peak of 16% in early 2000s.

We always wonder whether the choice of subject or the selection of school matters. Based on research, the choice of subject and timely education matter hugely, and choice of institution less so. As empirical evidence, those who has studied programming or IT related degrees in prestigious universities four or five years ago, are not getting the internships in any of FAANG group of companies. (Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix, Google). They aren’t offering any. Adding to that, a hundreds of thousands of IT related retrenchment of last year, it is fathomable why the wrong choice of subject might end you up in being out of work. The same reasoning held up for studying IT ten years ago. Those graduates from even middle ranked universities ended up having good jobs, as the demand exceeded supply in that employment sector then.

The third point to highlight is the dropping out misjudgement by youngsters. Those nonchalant about dropping out would often cite Mark Zukerberg or Steve Jobs as role models of success after dropping out. Yet, just like Colonel Saunders who only found success at the ripe old age of 80, these specimen are one in a billion. Dropping out is obvious way to make a big loss, based on empirical findings. In addition, taking longer than usual to graduate also destroys the value of the education. Base on global statistics, less than 40% of undergrad complete their courses in expected number of years. About one quarter still have no qualifications three years after that.

With Covid finally in oblivion, 98% of public schools were teaching all lessons in person by June 22. However, we now realise Covid has a negative impact on the educational standards overall. In 2021, pass rates for English and math tests fell by 6 & 12% points, representing 12% and 25% decline compared to the results from 2019. The cause was mainly attributed to online teachings, during the two years of Covid. Consequences of learning lost during pandemic still linger till now.

Myanmar has seen its heydays in its education. From being the centre of learning in Asia from the early to mid 1900s to now being ranked 6500+ globally for our then famous University of Yangon. Lack of investment in educational infrastructure and years of mis-management has left the country graduates in an undesired pool of young professionals, lacking skills to add value to organizations in the contemporary world. Incorporating soft skills, such as presentation, public speaking, fact checking, etc, and hard skills such as programming, information technology, second language, etc, into the present-day curriculum would definitely enlarge the value created out of our current educational system in the shortest possible time horizon.