Why education should never become business

I have quite an old-school academic background. This means that you are supposed to do all the work yourself, and the professor only suggests you some guidelines, leaving it up to you to spend the rest of your life in the library. It seemed normal to me, because such an approach raised true researchers, independently thinking and able to work without constant supervision. At least all the examples I saw around me (read: my fellow alumni) proved my thoughts.

A few years later, when I got interested in markets and trading, I came across one of the best resources on the net, a public forum where established traders shared their ideas. It was not a kind of a marketing gimmick, like “and now Joe will reveal his best-kept secret for just $10!” It was a community of really successful people who at times dropped a hint or two to the public, sometimes very vague and unclear. Needless to say that every hint was immediately carefully studied and every idea examined by a host of aspiring newbies. No one expected anything explained in full details, and as a side-effect of such a learning process we all have learnt a lot of things which were not immediately connected with a particular trading idea, but expanded our understanding of markets dramatically — which in the long run allowed me to survive in at least 3 global changes in market regimes.

With all this prior positive experience of mine in mind, when I started the Certified Algorithmic Trader program which I run for Algorithmic Traders Association I also tried to make it as old-school as possible. I thought that the ability to be independent, to be able to research the market and find new trading opportunities without guidance was the most important feature of a successful systematic trader. Therefore I did my best to make every student think and to be self-supporting, which basically means that I only provided guidelines during the class, leaving a lot of further research for the homework. I thought that such an approach would be appreciated, as this is the only way of developing a true researcher in that old-school, academic sense.

Well, to make the long story short — I was wrong.

During the past 10-20 years education has undergone dramatical changes. I don’t mean online courses, interactive classes, and other technological advances: they all provide great convenience and flexibility to the process of learning and teaching. I mean something different.

Education has become a business.

Or, if you prefer, education has become a service.

This means that now the professor and the student have swapped their roles. Earlier the professor had been supposed to be aware of what he’s doing and the way he guided students to the new domain of knowledge. Now the student dictates the way they’d like to be guided. No, not even guided — they don’t want to research anything, they want only to consume readily prepared information, to learn it by heart and brilliantly pick correct answers in the final exam test.

I can understand why such a dramatical change with education has happened. Only a very few students actually want to be independent. Only a very few students actually want to become successful on their own. The predominant majority of them seek employment as a comfortable and stress-free, stable source of income, and they consider any education only as a means of adding another 3-letter acronym to the list of certifications in their resume.

What’s that so wrong with such an approach to learning, you might ask?

This is why we can see lots of hedge funds and CTAs losing money every year, despite their traders having many certifications and their analysts having proudly sounding degrees. That’s why most of financial institutions are able only to replicate the most popular approaches without being able to adapt to the ever changing market reality.

If looking at education from a more general standpoint, we can see that all the crucial, breakthrough achievements of the human kind were done by those brought up by that old-school education. They discovered quantum mechanics and electrodynamics, genetics and evolutionary principles, created antibiotics and computers, flied to the Moon and discovered new Earths — and all that became possible only because they were ready to discover, and not to copy someone else’s examples.

And all these modern graduates, who demand that the education would fit their “learning style” (sic! — quote taken from a real complaint of one of such students), who are unable to think independently, to do anything but guessing the right answer in a test paper — what will they be able to discover in the world around them?


— Alex Krishtop, founder of Edgesense

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