Schooling or education? The difference lies in relevance

Wednesday May 15 2019

A graduation ceremony at Kenya’s Maasai Mara University. We never connected out education to our environment and so though we were intelligent, we still had to import the brains to harness our resources. FILE PHOTO | NMG


As I have shared my thoughts on the difference between civilisation and development, one other area that we need to address is the difference between intelligence and relevance; something that could be one of the problems plaguing our society.

The owners of the future will not be paid for their intelligence. They will be paid for their relevance. Relevance is not a function of how intelligent you are, neither is it a function of size or present day success.

It is not a function of how deep your pockets are today. It is a function of how solution oriented you are and how well you are able to read the future and use your innovation to capture the future.

Value never follows the irrelevant. You need to be concerned about the shelf life of your current model or way of thinking. This brings me to the core of today’s argument. To understand the difference between intelligence and relevance, we cannot but address the issue of schooling and education.

Mark Twain said that he refused to allow his schooling to interfere with his education. What is the difference, if any? We have placed such a premium on schooling thinking we were placing a premium on education and that is what has produced the crop of leadership we have in many parts of the continent both in business and politics.

Is it not interesting that some of the people driving the way the world operates today were not schooled in conventional settings like those that we place a premium on but nonetheless were very educated?


Their education made them relevant while a lot of our schooling produces irrelevant puffed up people who have nothing but a degree to show for all their years in school. The reality is that in 2019, a college degree is not a proof of education. It is a proof of schooling.

The ability to think in a way that solves problems is the greatest proof of education. In essence, the person who is intelligent but not relevant is not an asset to the society. Schooling produces intelligent people with papers to show for it while education produces thinkers.

Never forget that wars are fought by soldiers but won by thinkers. In this context, our educational systems churn out soldiers in their masses. Where are the thinkers whose minds can connect with the problems of our society and create unique solutions?

The Oxford dictionary defines relevance as the quality or state of being closely connected or appropriate. Being intelligent does not guarantee relevance.

This is one huge pitfall that a lot of intelligent people fall into. They are deceived into thinking there is a notion such as once intelligent, always intelligent. That is a fallacy.

A person who was intelligent and skilled at fixing typewriters in the 70s and the 80s may still be intelligent but because their intelligence is not relevant, it is useless.

If your intelligence is not solving today’s problems, then it will not bring much value to you. A person who may not be that intelligent but whose service is relevant will outshine an intelligent person who is not relevant.

The transformation of the continent must begin with a transformation of education. When we look around us we see the effects of development.

When we see the way the Internet of things and artificial intelligence is fast becoming mainstream we should not be surprised.

We are living in an era where social media is so mainstream that the world waits to see what the president of the United States is tweeting about and then that becomes mainstream discussion until his next tweet.

Now if this is the world we are living in—where a three- year-old knows exactly where to slide to turn an iPad or Iphone on, are we not playing with irrelevance when our educational system is still training people using the same format that existed four decades ago?

So many jobs that exist today will be irrelevant in just a few years, yet we continue training people for these jobs. So, again, we have loads of schools but what is the value of a school that does not prepare people for the future but rather entrenches them in the thinking of the past?

How connected is our education to our resources? Think of the African tragedies where the experts who understood our natural resources had to be imported simply because we embraced and imbibed schooling as is.

We never connected out education to our environment and so though we were intelligent, we still had to import the brains to harness our resources.

Until we begin to deliberately develop curricular that can solve our own unique problems and churn out people who can maximise our resources, we will continue to build malls at the expense of factories and we will continue to celebrate schooling at the expense of education.

Wale Akinyemi is the chief transformation officer, PowerTalks. [email protected]