How the paper chase has made us less smart

Being educated does not equate to intelligence.

Nurul Amirah
Nurul Amirah

Published: 25 January 2016, 12:00 AM

We live in a world where many are no longer impressed by the different certificates people attain, yet there is still a significant number of people who do not realise this.

I remember my ex-tutee grumbling about how tough life was – after she calculated the painful number of school years left before she completed at least a degree. I told her that it was too bad she lives in Singapore.

But as I told her that, I realised that our obsession with the paper chase here should not be solely about competing for education; it should be the struggle to stay smart and educated. To some extent, I think the paper chase has made us less smart.


Are we really that smart after 16 years of education?
Photo credit: Luftphilia via Flickr


The traditional route for education in Singapore is to complete the GCE ‘O’ level exams, move on to junior college and then get a degree from a university. However, the things we learn from these institutes are mainly theory-based, and thus may not equip us with the necessary skills that we need in real life.

Being too caught up with theories, formulas, and structures will not make us street smart at all. In fact, it might even make us more silly and impractical. We are so used to theories that we think all real-life problems can be solved using them. Simply put, we now need manuals for simple tasks like washing clothes.

In an attempt to be more educated, we misplace our common sense because we start to think that everything is not as simple as it seems.


We need to have more practical lessons in school, so that we can actually work.


This is made worse when we think we are smart after we enroll into a junior college or a university, because surviving the intensity of the education system has fooled us into thinking that our knowledge has grown by leaps and bounds.

This can be exemplified by the case of a local undergraduate who looked down on a logistics company owner, because the latter did not have a degree. He sent rude messages and pointed out the latter’s grammatical errors, highlighting his lack of education.


Childish, isn’t it? And all because education has made him think that he is smart.
Photo credit: BACP


Sadly, educated Singaporeans think that that over a decade of education has given us enough knowledge for a lifetime.

Many of us unconsciously leave humility behind after we receive what we think is “enough” education. We start thinking that uneducated people are “uncivilised”, or not on the same level as us. It is so common that perhaps some of us are guilty of this without even realising it.


Math formulas are not going to help solve most of your problems in life.
Photo credit: Steven S. via Flickr


The moment we lock in this mentality, we deny ourselves opportunities to improve. We waste chances to gain new knowledge; our minds no longer progress and remain stuck within the four walls of our classroom or lecture halls.

The education system may not be perfect, but we can still maintain our common sense and humility while being educated, because they are within our control. We just have to ensure that we are not too obsessed with the paper qualifications.

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