What If We Were Paid to Learn?

Education in an alternate universe

The way education exists today, there is an automated system to regurgitate what we are taught in school(s), grab the degree in the end, get a job and earn money to survive. That is the road everyone is expected to take.

What if it were not so?

What if, instead of having to pay to go to school, we were paid to learn? Not paid to rote learn school books or score on tests, but paid to l-e-a-r-n. The education system as it exists today does not encourage learning. It encourages scoring on tests. Be it any test - school tests, board exams, university tests, JEE, NEET, SAT, GRE, … name it and it is invariably aimed at scoring. Not necessarily at learning. People supposedly “study” a lot of things in school but have absolutely no memory of it even a few months later, leave alone a few years later.

The Learning Environment

What if we were paid to learn? So imagine that there is a learning environment, where the teacher is excited and enthusiastic about teaching concepts and students are enthusiastic about learning. There is a selection process which tests the student’s interest and enthusiasm for learning, not for getting good grades alone. The student is checked for depth of concepts, not for knowing formulae. The student’s abilities, not personality is assessed. Some of the most genius students are the quiet kids, who may not even score well consistently, simply because they score well if they understand a subject, and not if they don’t. They enjoy learning, not testing.

No test as of today assesses a student’s ability to learn.

Why being paid to learn? Because learning is a time consuming journey. Some of the best kids never get to taste that journey because they are in a hurry to score, get a job, make money. If we are paid, say just 5-10$ per week, to learn at our own pace, so that the 5$ can take care of some expenses we might have, it might be a far more rewarding experience. As of now, any learner is not spared the financial stress associated with education. Education loans are all the talk everywhere. This model doesn’t have to be only for kids, but can be for continued education, business specific learning and more.

Who will pay for it? Philanthropists, Businesses.

The learning could be topic-specific. For example, I want to hire 10 people in my blockchain enterprise. But I don’t mind educating 50-100 people on the technology. I can pay 100 people who are keen to learn to join the program, and hire 10 from those. The other 90 people still get the knowledge and can actually take time off to learn, without having a huge financial stress on their heads. Right now, half of us are multitasking many things while trying to learn a new technology or topic.

Financial stress considerably reduces are ability to learn and focus on anything.

Learning should be a rewarding process. It is rarely ever useful when made free, partly because of non seriousness of the participants. But the flipped pay model can ensure seriousness much better than the pay-for-learning model. If you are paid to do something, you generally do it better. It also makes it easier for many people to learn, as not everyone is floating in a sea of $$$s. It seems counterintuitive at first, but it seems to make a lot of sense. The concept does not arise out of some sort of a Communistic idea of making everything free, but rather to shift the emphasis from regurgitating content in tests to actual, conceptual learning & rewarding the same. The pace of the testing system itself makes it difficult for anyone to immerse themselves in learning. The system does not allow room for it.

It May Help Pull Kids to School

This model can help solve a lot of the education crisis too. This is only a hypothesis at this stage, but it is a possibility. Kids are often seen to improve their attendance in schools when they are given free lunches. Parents are more likely to send kids to school when their food is taken care of. Most of the working class parents do not want to send kids to school because it is one working hand less available to them, and because the expenses of the school are more than what they can afford, or don’t want to afford even if they can—because they don’t understand the utility of education for kids. If kids are paid even a small amount per week, the likelihood of their sitting in class and learning can be, possibly, increased. There can be other ways to monetize it, say, for example, by teaching kids some arts and crafts and selling the artwork to raise funds. But the idea is that the flipped model can help pull kids to school.

The PhD Model

I like to call this the “PhD Model.” In that sense, the PhD is a perfect example of this model: you are paid some reasonable stipend to cover your living costs, as you spend your time in immersing yourself in a field of study, going into the depths of the subject and experimenting with its subtleties. It incentivizes learning. Not everything needs to be of the level of the PhD, but the central idea of what I outlined can be the same. There is one thing that is absolutely right about a PhD and that is accepting people who have a genuine interest in the subject, are keen to research it and give a big portion of their lives to it. That kind of commitment does not come easy. Ofcourse, not everyone who does a PhD has it “right,” —some do it simply as an alternate route to getting a job, but the idea of the PhD itself is that, whether people follow it or not. And I believe that is one part of education which is right.

In a nutshell, helping genuinely curious people learn, making it easier for them by paying them to learn, can actually help grow the economy in the big picture. It will help create experts in so many fields, who have the robustness of a PhD, even if not that degree. Even the kids who graduate from this model can potentially do their jobs better and not be caught in crippling poverty. Just my 2 cents :)

Photo by olia danilevich from Pexels