I remember long time ago when I first entered into primary school, my teacher raised a question to her students: “Who do you learn for?” I was little bit surprised and confused to figure out the answer at so young the age while my friends unanimously shouted out loud: “Learn for ourselves.” Our teacher, satisfied at the answer, explained more: “Good answer. We do not learn for our father, our mother or anyone else but we learn for ourselves’ own goodness.” Hardly could I remember if anyone asked us “Why do you learn?” as the answer is quite obvious. We learn hard to get into a good high school, which leads us to a good university, which in turn helps us find a good job, which may guarantee a happy life. We were driven constantly by this chain of purposes during our 16 years at school and then suddenly feel abandoned after graduating from university as this chain of purposes get ceased day by day. Some of us may not feel this way as they might think about the opportunity to shift from a good job to a better job brought about by acquiring further degree or qualification like MBA, MSc, or ACCA, CFA. Lots of girls, at the same time, are warned by their families that learning is over now and it’s about time they have to find a husband to accomplish the remaining of their lives.
Coming back to the question, why do you learn?
After leaving university, I get into a big accounting firm where I meet lots of fresh graduates who have different education backgrounds. Some of them were specifically trained about accounting at university, which make them quite confident at coping with the accounting terms at first hand while I feel like falling from heaven for not having any ideas relating to the numbered ledger accounts in Vietnamese styles. I remember my first time on the job when I asked a seemingly stupid question like what the ledger account beginning with number 6 stands for or the difference between a value-added tax invoice and a retailing invoice. Time flies and fortunately I start getting accustomed to them and felt better and more confident after each fieldwork at clients. I actually realize that we can learn all these things sooner or later but at the same time wonder what the heck I have learnt at university.
So if we can learn all these things sooner or later, why do we learn?
This question made me relate to a recent concern that lingers in my mind recently. One year after graduating, I still have the habit of reading the confessions of the younger students in my university, which are mainly their concerns over their future after graduation. Lots of students criticized the program of our university for not being practical, or technical-oriented, which made them confused at the stage of job application.
I used to be among these students who keep wondering about our places after graduating. However, I feel grateful for this all-round education that I was entitled at university. (I mean “all-round”, not “well-round”). Such broad education puts us at a disadvantage place at our first start but somehow brings us with lots of benefits in our future. It makes me feel uncertain for a few times but it then makes me feel more confident when I know that “the only certain thing remaining is that there is no certainty” (Descartes). As life is full of doubt and uncertain, I feel grateful that we have been taught to discover everything by ourselves, learn how to stand on our own feet to make decisions and cope with lots of uncertainty at such young age. I feel grateful that we are not forced to determine our special major right at the beginning of university but free to pursue what we like. Many of my friends do not have a job that strongly related to what we have learnt at university, which makes lots of friends of mine coming from other universities surprise and they wonder if this situation could imply a failure of Foreign Trade University’s program. I, however, feel that such situation implies a success of the university as the job diversity that the alumni are entitled to is a very huge asset which may prove its huge benefit in the long term.
Why do I learn?
Fortunately, I have a liking for learning since I was young and I usually feel happy when I have the chances to have my mind challenged with knowledge. Like what stated in my favorite magazine “The Economist”, I have an uncommon interest in being well and broadly informed, and therefore, have an uncommon interest in being a well-rounded person. People often criticizes Vietnamese education for its lack of innovation or creativity and my friends of the same age often got disappointed when they have to learn History or Geography or Music for they thought these pieces of knowledge were kind of useless and not worth learning in comparison with Math or English that effectively served for their preparation for entrance exam to university. The pressure of the family and society on students for getting in a reputed university somehow has distorted the idea of real learning in the young people. They do not learn because of their appetite for knowledge but just for getting into good schools and then big firms. I myself, however, love the idea of learning for the learning’s sake, to have my mind enlightened, to understand how the world runs and to find that wisdom itself is a kind of happiness. This idea, beautiful and simple though, still left me with few concerns. Wisdom, say, is a kind of happiness, should it be a kind of happiness that exclusive to the rich and the middle class only. For the disadvantaged ones in the society, education may be the shortest way for them to get advanced in this society. May children coming from underprivileged family have the choices to pursue the majors that deemed for the rich ones like Philosophy or Music? For people coming from disadvantaged group in the society, defining learning a form of happiness, they will not question why they learn at the first time as learning is something that may lead them to a bright future. Learning, at this sense, would be somewhat like an escape for them to get access to a much brighter life. Defining learning a form of need, such need will be surely set at lower priority in the much more basic needs like the needs for foods, clothes, or sheltering. Even when they have chances to learn, they will choose to learn something that they do not necessarily like but something that may help them financially better off.
To sum up, the main questions set out in my post is “Why do we learn?”; “What’s wrong with the idea of learning for learning’s sake? (if any)” and “Should learning for learning’s sake be a privilege of the rich ones?” Should you get interested in this topic and have any ideas that may help me get out of such mind chaos, feel free to raise your voice.
Some articles I happened to read and I think you may find lots of insightful ideas to weigh and consider.