Tag Archives: education

Is the U.S. Education System Prepared for the Future?

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Recently I sat down with my teen daughter going over her math homework. She wanted me to check her homework. Sad to say that I was able to solve the basic algebra but anything more than that I was clueless. So my daughter asked me what I studied when I was in high school. I told her I learned the same math and I forgot most of them because I never have to use them in real life. Then she asked me why she has to learn something that she never have to use. Yes, indeed why?

I grew up in Malaysia and learned using the education system that is very different from the US. However, both of them have one thing in common, they tend to teach you subjects that you will never use again. Is this necessary or just a waste of time?

I’ve been working professionally for over 20 years and I can tell you my profession never have to use math above grade 6. I never have to use science because as a banker that is not required. I never have to recite history because none of them are prerequisites for employment. So why do we have to learn all these subjects in this age where majority of them are not applicable in real life. Plus we have everything at our finger tips? Why is the education system today so archaic that it fails to recognize that learning life subject will prepare the students better than learning these core subjects?

Yes, I realized that many of the subjects will prepare the students to learn and think logically, but there should be a balance between learning core principles and life subjects. My son is taking several Advance Placement (AP) classes because they are recommended when he applies for universities or colleges in 2 years. However, he has been putting late nights and spending every waking hours on weekends completing the homework and assignments. Needless to say that he hardly has time to get any exercise. Is this healthy?

After I graduated from high school, I applied to the college in the US and was accepted to Bernard M. Baruch College, CUNY and graduated with a Bachelor degree 4 years thereafter. As part of the requirements I had to learn English, algebra, civic, foreign language and even history. For business management degree, I had to take statistics. Statistic was perhaps one of the most difficult subject to master that the exam was an open book exam. After graduating from Baruch, I thought I had all the necessary skills to prepare me to get a job. I was wrong!

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When I interviewed for the several jobs I applied for, I found out that I was qualified at all. The interviewers were only interested if I graduated and if I had any work experiences. They never asked if I aced math or language arts. They never asked if I was good in science or civic. By the time I received the fourth rejection, I realized that college degree is not all that. I needed some real life experiences to allow me to find a job.

As I began to work full-time I realized that I’m lacking many skills and the higher education that I completed did not teach them at all. The course I took on Excel, as an example, was not advance enough to help me to do my job correctly. I had to create a template using macros by learning from my coworkers. Working with data was an eye-opening experience too. I never knew data can be altered, sliced and presented in trends to tell stories. None of them were in my college curriculum.

As I started to have a career, I began to explore what I wanted to do in my life. One subject that came up was if I am prepared when I retire. Then I realized that I do not have the knowledge in personal finance. Unless I am in the financial planning or work in the investments, I would not know what to do with my money. I had to learn everything using Google and read Kiplinger’s Personal Finance magazine.

Needless to say I was excited about the personal finance and the potential of earning more so I can retire comfortably. I shared what I learned with my kids and started to teach them how to be responsible individuals when it comes to finance. Then I realized that personal finance is not a subject that is being taught at schools – from primary to high school. The higher education such as universities and colleges do not even have this course as a prerequisite.

Let’s switch subject and move to technology. My son is attending local high school and commented that the computer science class is not teaching anything. He learns programming that a 5 year old can do. The teacher was not even experience enough on the subject. That begs the question, is this how we want to prepare our future generation? With the advancement in Artificial Intelligence, robotics and even smart systems, the education system is not doing enough to prepare them at all.

There are various reasons why the education system fails the students. Resources could be one, but they are usually out of our control because funding for schools are entirely federal, state and local governments control.

If I have to point one major reason for the failure, it will be lack of experience teachers. Majority of the teachers are career educators who have been teaching children all their lives. They follow the program and teach what they were told to teach. I would say all of them do not have real life experiences in the world so they cannot relate what they teach.

Here is one good argument on language arts, or in other words good command of English language. I took English 101 during my freshman year where we have to follow the structure in writing essay. This has been passed on from elementary school all the way to higher education. Here is the shocker – not all of the concepts we learn are applicable to the business world! The executives of a multi-national companies do not have time to read an entire page of “essay”. In business writing, we have to “boil the ocean” to summarize the activities of the entire quarter and year to just a few sentences for the executives to read.

The education system today needs a full overhaul to prepare our children for the future. Is there a silver bullet that could solve the problem. Yes, but it will require collaboration between educators and parents.

Let me know your thoughts. How is your education system in your country? Or do you agree with my assessments?

What the Coronavirus Pandemic has Taught Us about Financially Responsible

The world is under the grasp of a murderous virus that is beyond any of our imagination. It has disrupted everyone’s life, destroyed numerous businesses and took hundreds thousands of lives. The virus not only cause massive disruptions in everyone’s life, it also reveals an unfortunate truth of majority of citizens around the world – a lot of people are not able to face the virus financially.

I remember reading an article from Time magazine several years ago that we were about to fight a losing war against superbug. While I can’t recall the exact date when I read the magazine, but it clearly stated several reasons why we were on the brink of disaster. Fast forward several years the Walking Dead TV series became one of the most watched drama on cable. The show’s premise is that there was a super virus that would kill the humans but left the cadaver intact; the virus would take over the hosts and make them into killing machines. I remember thinking to myself that this would never happen in this world because we have the technology and medical know how to prevent such disaster. And I was wrong.

Obviously the world did not fill with zombies but the virus did bring the world down to its knees. Medical institutions are overwhelmed and all medical staff are overworked. Economies around the world stopped functioning and all citizens are fearful of the infection. What people did not realize was how deep the virus has impact on their finances. A lot of people lost their jobs and many are not able to sustain their basic needs such as food and shelter. The question is why did this happen and is this preventable?

I have no intention to help solve this world problem but to make an argument that some of this could be prevented if people are more aware of their financial standings. Additionally, a good strong background in education is a must if someone wants to have a sustainable income. I am very sure this argument will invite a lot of criticism – however based on what I have observed and personal experience having a good education is extremely important. Let’s discuss the flaws and what are some of the solutions.

Lack of Savings

The savings I am referring to refers to availability of fluid assets that can be converted to cash quickly. I am not referring to the money saved in a saving account or any assets that can be used when there is a need for them. For example, this could be asset in any bank accounts and in equity such as stocks can be sold and obtain cash. Credit cards and line of equity are not considered as asset as they are liabilities.

When the pandemic hit a lot of people believed that the lock down was only temporary. However, as time dragged on the infection rate did not let up and more and more countries were impacted. Businesses began to shut down and a lot of local stores lost a lot of businesses. The immediate impact was many people lost their jobs. There were multiple articles with alarming concerns that many Americans do not save enough to be able to meet such dire consequences. New York post recently published and article that states one in four Americans do not have savings account at all. A CNBC article pointed out that one in three raids their retirement savings or stopped contributing to the retirement savings.

This has considerable long term impact on one finances. Not only it forces everyone to think of short term needs, the pandemic totally destroyed any long term outlook such as retirement savings. Some Americans still rely on Social Security to provide retirement income when they retire. However, the Social Security coffer is expected to run out of funds in 2035. There is even talks that it may run out in 3 years. Majority of Americans will not expect to see any retirement funds when they retire. Thus it is extremely important for all of us to invest in other retirement savings such as 401K or IRA.

What is the possible solution to such a predicament? There is no silver bullet answer. The best possible solution is everyone should plan their finances accordingly. For decades we are the “spend” culture. With availability of credit cards or plastic money, they have exacerbate the problem. More and more Americans are in debt and some have even file for personal bankruptcies. It is important that everyone examine their finances thoroughly and determine if any purchases can be put off. Financial planning involves placing saving in retirement and savings as priority and place purchasing big-ticket items as secondary (i.e. the new iPhones and new car can wait). This subject is an important but remain elusive for a lot of Americans. I touched on this subject in my posts earlier.

Education is Important

When the pandemic hit most hourly wage workers were impacted the most than salaried workers. Companies are less likely to stop employing hourly workers when the economy is bad to reduce cost. This is particularly true for blue collar workers where they tend to be let go. Examples such as restaurant workers or part time workers. The least impacted are white collar workers where their expertise remain in high demand.

Another example that I can provide is more close to heart. My wife is a Zumba instructor and she gets paid by the hour at my town’s fitness center. She was immediately placed on leave and lost all the hours as all fitness centers were shut down. Another great example is my brother-in-law who live in another country. All of them are in their 60s and suffered considerable damage as their businesses evaporated. Now they have to look for other sources of income such as direct sales to make end meets. In discussing this with my wife about her brothers, I discovered that most of them never graduated from high school and no one had advance degree.

As I observed the unfortunate events of people losing their jobs, I realized that some of them do not have proper education or they never had the opportunity to obtain a higher degree. Having an education will allow better opportunities when it comes to securing a stable job. Education not only open more doors it also allow better career advancement. As an example, a college educated person is more likely to secure a six figure job in an accounting firm than a high school drop out. Having worked professionally in the financial industry for over 20 years, I also noticed that employees are more driven to pursue advancement and increase their financial standings. Hourly wage employees only care about completing the task at hand and getting paid.

Obviously well educated population did not avoid the damage from the pandemic unscathed. There were quite a number of workers were laid off as some of the companies were not able to sustain the businesses. As the economy starts to pick up again, these workers are likely to land on their feet faster than hourly workers.

Conclusion

Personally I considered myself lucky and blessed as my family is safe during the pandemic. Additionally, I never resorted to go through my savings as I am quite discipline in ensuring there is a safety net in case if I am out of job. Finally, I continue to improve myself through continuous training at work and ensuring I am adding value to the company that I work for. That continues to prove useful as my company values my contribution (what’s better way to be paid to work remotely?). The pandemic thought me one important lesson – having a financial plan is extremely important. My children is experiencing the pandemic first hand and it also showed them they need to have financial resiliency as they are going into the adulthood. To begin, they understand the importance of having good education.