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The Utility of Knowledge

January 18, 2017

Knowledge consists of facts, truths, and beliefs, perspectives and concepts, judgments and expectations, methodologies and know-how. Knowledge is accumulated and integrated and held over time to handle specific situations and challenges. We use knowledge to determine what a specific situation means. Knowledge is applied to interpret information about the situation and to decide how to handle it - Karl Wigg.

Utility is the want-satisfying power of a commodity. It is a quality possessed by a commodity or service to satisfy human wants – Natasha Kwataiah.

Therefore the Utility of knowledge is value of knowledge acquired to satisfying human wants, solve problems or improve quality of life.

I would start with an unusual question from which a sincere answer would lead to a conscious realization of how far we have drifted of course.

Consider a typical educated adult. Of all the knowledge acquired over years of primary, secondary and tertiary education, how much of it does he/she apply to solve the daily challenges of life or satisfying human wants? What is the level of Utility of the Knowledge he/she has acquired?

The illusion that the assimilation of volumes of pages of information guarantees or implies the utility of knowledge is not always true. Our educational system is one that rewards assimilation of volumes of information over impact of knowledge acquired on humanity. A classic example is a personal experience from my MBA program. We were “coerced” into doing 11 courses per semester with 9 of them designated as 3 unit courses. The volume of the course content was substantial but the utility of the knowledge was abysmal in comparison. And it wasn’t up until that period I realized that knowledge isn’t power, the knowledge that is applied to life, is.

My postulation is thus; “the greater challenge is not in the learning, but in the becoming”. We are made by our professors to believe that all we need to know is what they have shoved down our throats. This gave rise to the system, in local parlance, called ‘La Cram – La Pour’, were we are graded by our ability to give back what has been taught us during the semester in exams.

Meanwhile, in reality, the relevance of your education is not weighed on your ability to cram but on the utility of knowledge acquired. In the words of Wendy Priesnitz, “Our rapidly moving, information-base society badly needs people who know how to find facts rather than memorize them, and who know how to cope with change in creative ways. You don’t learn those things in school”. John Holt further buttressed this when he said “The anxiety children feel at constantly being tested, their fear of failure, punishment, and disgrace, severely reduces their ability both to perceive and to remember, and drives them away from the material being studied into strategies for fooling teachers into thinking they know what they really don’t know”.

In today’s world, utility of knowledge is rare but of tremendous value especially in the world of works. Beyond the theories, the question of what you bring to the table before joining an organization is one of utility of knowledge, rather than theoretical purview. And our educational system isn’t doing just enough in preparing the student to answer that question.

And to assume that this problem is only limited to tertiary institutions is misleading. When the Federal Government of Nigeria decided to introduce computer education to secondary schools in 1987, one of the general objectives of the National Computer Policy (as it relates to children) was to “enable present school children to appreciate and use the computer in various aspects of life and in future employment.” Therefore, the curriculum for computer education in primary and secondary schools is mainly focused on getting students to know about the components of computer systems and how to ‘use’ computers. Don’t get me wrong! There is value in learning how to use a computer, but there is far greater value in learning how to build one.

We would only be going around in circles in terms of computer science education, if we continue in this trend without making a conscious effort to create a process that encourages the utility of knowledge acquired in our educational system. How so that employers pay more for experience hands than they do to fresh graduates? The fundamental truth is that they understand the concept of the utility of knowledge and how experience is a yardstick for ascertaining one’s value to the organization. As commonly said “action speaks louder than words” – “experience speaks more volumes than theories”.

How do we get from knowing to becoming? A great deal of research on the concept brought us at iMyque Code Academy to a conclusion that the transition from knowing to becoming is attainable by weaving experience into our learning processes. Beyond the theories, we create challenges that exposes these kids to diverse realities as we guide them through the development of solutions to tackle such challenges. Therefore, with every child, there are bag loads of experiences which is true currency for utility of knowledge.

In summary, the deception would be to shy away from situations that exposes you to challenges as we progress in life. With every challenge you overcome, every solution you proffer, every stumble you encounter, you acquire a fundamental currency (Utility of Knowledge) which would pay off in diverse ways. Don’t shy away from the experience, if anything, embrace it early enough and see the beauty in utility of knowledge. It was John Holt that said – “Learning is not the product of teaching. Learning is the product of the activity of learners”.

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