Life experiences are not to be taught, but to be lived.

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Much as educational institutions strive to inculcate and imbue work skills into higher level/ tertiary students to enable learners to assimilate well into the work place, life experiences simply cannot be taught.

If it were that easy, then merely reading tons and piles of books will be sufficient for students to cope with the workplace.

But this is often not the case.

Handling office politics cannot be taught, because the scenarios are varied and numerous. I have even realised that there are tertiary students who are new to email writing. And any working professionals would attest to the fact that office politics happen in emails too. Now, how would students learn this in school?

Communication skills can only be taught to a certain degree. Students may be exposed to various communication styles but at the end of the day, they would need to develop their own verbal and written communication styles. Now, throw in the fact that bosses and colleagues have different communication styles (due to varying personalities) and we can see the complex mechanics at work here. Aligning one’s communication style with another is seldom easy, not to mention the fact that to build and sustain rapport with others, we need adaptability, tact, compassion and negotiation skills – all of which (except maybe the last factor) are taught in school but opportunities are often scarce for application on a regular basis.

Lessons from failures and the courage to fail also cannot often be observed in schools. This is especially so if students come from an academically competitive environment where failures are not permitted or at least frowned upon. To excel and to achieve are almost always the goals of these students – which are often thrust upon them by their environments. Competition often heats up in contemporary times as more countries become global education hubs. Educators – especially those in policy-making and implementation- should ask themselves if this is the direction they want to take the students. Without failures, can there be success? Of course, one can pass a driving test in a single go but when it comes to career success, how many of us succeed on the first try?  It’s regrettable that students are not encouraged to fail.

Universities have often regarded themselves as preparatory grounds for students’  successes, and often advertised in papers and magazines that their students have excellent academic facilities and amenities, go through terms of internships, have access to student exchange programmes from partnered schools and universities, provide large number of collaborative opportunities, and many more. Students in contemporary times are filled with hopes and possibilities, and that they can achieve anything that they aspired to be. In other words, the sky’s the limit.

While this is all well and good, students are best educated with their perspectives grounded in reality. It is always good to instill hope – for humans have thrived, flourished, prospered and progressed under the very pillar of hope.

Nevertheless, it is a thin line to tread between realism and  idealism.

Being both a realist and an idealist (yes, this is possible), I feel that idealism should serve as the ideal where one strives towards, but being realistic is equally important in achieving one’s goals.

Many schools can be seen offering educational degrees in cross-disciplinary fields (such as IT and business), which is great. Nevertheless, unless students want to be entrepreneurs on their own accord, they should be made aware of the fact that not all academic disciplines can be combined or more significantly, market demand usually determines the value of their selected education. If there is no demand, there will be no need of supply. One also has to look at how long the industry is going to be there.

These are things that life has taught me. And these are insights that students should be made aware of before they leave school – because they lack the one thing that determines career success – life experiences.  All schools have the responsibility to inform them of this.

What schools need to do is to facilitate students’ foray into the workplace. And yes, by all means, give them hope. And more importantly, educators should ensure that students develop the drive and optimism to carve out their own unique lives in the most beautiful ways that they can.

And along the way, teach them about challenges, about failures, about life.

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