Is a Formal Education Necessary for a Successful Future?

We have all hit a point in life where we may have felt lost or doubtful and found ourselves standing at a 'cross-section of life', not knowing which path to take. Education has led us all one step closer to our future goals.

“Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.” - Mahatma Gandhi

Covid-19 and lockdown have taught us that hard times create opportunities for those brave enough to take a chance on themselves - everything you learn can help you become the strongest version of yourself. Education for me is a slow, painful and lifelong process which brings positive changes in a person’s life and behaviour. It involves two paths that at some point overlap - formal education and informal education.

Path 1 - Formal Education (Structured Path - Learn the Easy Way)

  • Schools, universities and students who enjoy academics (I am not very academic but made some valuable connections at school and university).

  • Structured learning and teaching a set curriculum, where your knowledge is tested through a series of exams.

  • Learn how to conform and become an efficient member of the workforce.

Path 2 - Informal Education (Unpredictable Path and the ‘University of Life’- Learn the Hard Way)

  • Learn on the job - think of an actor/actress going to workshops or an aspiring entrepreneur on their first sales job.

  • Self-education - learning from life experiences, social media, friends, mentors or family etc.

  • Learn not to conform and think outside the box.

But don’t take my word for it, I spoke to a few young British Asians who shared their own experience and unique views on education.

Chitraj Singh is an enthusiastic CEO and co-founder of MindHug, an online platform that offers a range of activities, therapies and digital content that can help a person with depression and anxiety via a mood diary that tracks their emotions and finds out what works best for them in managing their mental health. Chitraj is also a board member and consultant in Innovation, HealthTech and FinTech.

“We are seeing a cultural change in how the world, including the Asian diaspora, is defining education. If you asked me this question 10 years ago, chances are my answer would have been skewed towards the more formal definitions of education. However, as I have moved into entrepreneurship, innovation and MindHug in particular it has become clear that most human activity is in pursuit of happiness and improving the human experience. The emphasis of education is shifting towards solving human problems and adding value. More people are also wanting to learn for the enjoyment of learning. I think, traditionally, a large focus of formal education has been to indirectly signal discipline and commitment, as well as an ability to think. I now believe this can be demonstrated through a plethora of alternative learning methodologies.

"Don’t feel invincible but also believe you are only one throw of the dice away from happiness and/or success."

Education is now evolving to directly equip people with skills to be curious, innovate and mobilise resources/relationships. Many of these skills do not need to be learnt in a formal classroom. This is not to take away the benefit of some types of classroom education. For example, you want a medical doctor or lawyer to be formally trained. Some people also learn better in a classroom setting. I, myself, have studied economics and entrepreneurship at university. Nevertheless, with the help of technology the age-old models of learning are being disrupted. Education is moving towards directly catalysing palpable positive change. This no longer needs to happen via a classroom. I think society still needs to break the “university” glass ceiling, but we are seeing this slowly happen. The most important lesson I have learnt, through personal experience, is individual moments can change your life. Be it one amazing business opportunity, or on the flip side, a single spate of ill health. Don’t feel invincible but also believe you are only one throw of the dice away from happiness and/or success.

As I mentioned, I personally enjoy the academic and social rigour of academia. While I do not believe it is essential for everyone to have a degree - it works for me. Studying economics at LSE was helpful to give me a framework to think about human behaviour that I have been able to apply in various aspects of my life. It helped me in a career in financial services before I chose to become an entrepreneur. Studying entrepreneurship at UCL was life-changing for me. Yes, some people are born entrepreneurs. They get how to build a company. I come from a family of academics, civil servants and corporate workers. So, I needed to learn the ropes. Learning by doing was an option, but a risky and daunting one. The mix of hands-on startup experience within a theoretical framework at UCL introduced startup concepts that I would have normally overlooked. In conclusion, my university degrees helped me immensely. But again, I stress, another person’s path can be very different and equally rewarding”.


Chandni Sembhi is an incredible journalist who shines a light on global issues. She currently creates outstanding social media content for many Channel 5 shows as well as having interviewed musicians and written several reviews on albums in popular magazines such as Kerrang Magazine.

"Trust your gut."

“I would define education as learning and taking in new information every day. It doesn’t always have to be academic. The most important lesson I’ve learnt in life is to trust your gut. Usually, if I get a funny feeling about something it’s an indication that something isn’t quite right. I did a Journalism degree which I think has definitely helped me in my current role. I wouldn’t say a Journalism degree is always essential to working in media but for me, I feel like it equipped me well for working in newsrooms”.

Omar Mehtab is a guy with brilliant comic timing who is currently a broadcast assistant at BBC Click which has an audience of over 330 million viewers. He has produced great social media content for BBC Click, reporting on topics such as technology and social media influencers.

What you learn, how you learn it, and how you apply it in life - it's relative. There is no one true path to gaining an education”.

“I'd define education as the intake of information passed on by another. I wouldn't limit it to academics - whether it be job experience, training, street knowledge - all of these can comprise what education is. Whatever route you go down in life, it's imperative. It sort of ties into the most important lesson I've learnt in life - never stop learning, because you can never know enough. Whether it's taking extra degrees, training courses at work, reading in your spare time, talking to people with rich experience and wisdom in different aspects of life - you can never know enough, and you will always find some time in your life where you wished you knew more.

My degree, a Masters in English Literature, has helped me a bit. I work in journalism so the writing aspect of the degree comes in use from time to time. Some of the smartest people I know are less academically qualified than I am, and usually with less of an ego because they don't lay the foundations of their confidence in their achievements. Which, in turn, is also fragile because it cracks as soon as someone smarter comes along - and there is always someone smarter than you. What you learn, how you learn it, and how you apply it in life - it's relative. There is no one true path to gaining an education”.


Sundeep Shergill is an inspiring Mathematics teacher who is currently on the Leadership Development Programme at Teach First but is also a skilled marketer having previously worked as a Social Media Marketing Manager.

“For me, education is synonymous with opportunity. I believe education should offer equal opportunity for all to better themselves and achieve their goals, whatever they may be. No matter what your background is, education should offer a level playing field. The most important lesson that I have learnt in my life is that you often learn the most and make the most progress when you are pushed outside of your comfort zone. When things seem the most difficult, persevering through the challenging times makes the outcome so much more worth it. You are building resilience.

"Education is synonymous with opportunity."

Ironically, I studied English Literature but am now working as a Maths teacher. Whilst it may not seem directly related, English gave me the realisation that I wanted to build a career around making a difference and helping others as I learnt about different inequalities and cultures in my degree. There are transferable skills that I use on a daily basis such as promoting good literacy and unpicking the meanings of key terms to help my students' understanding of mathematical concepts; being more creative and analytical in planning my lessons and managing my time effectively. So, I am still very glad I studied English because it is a subject I really enjoy even though I prefer to teach Maths”.

Ritika Arora is a high performer especially when it comes to academics. She graduated with a MPhil in Education and International Development from the University of Cambridge and is currently doing a PhD in International Development at The London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE). But crucially it is Ritika’s volunteering in primary healthcare centres in rural South India and significant research for UNICEF regarding human trafficking that makes her stand out in terms of going beyond the classroom.

"Education is not restricted to the four walls of a classroom."

“I truly believe that education is a fundamental human right. It should empower minorities and various disadvantaged groups to carve their own paths in life, free from the social, political and economic baggage they're continually labelled with. Education in any part of the world is perhaps the greatest opportunity we can support as a human race. Education is not restricted to the four walls of a classroom. It's a life-long journey we embark on from the second we're born. Although I've decided to head back to university for a third qualification (a PhD) for another 4 years, I feel like there are certain theoretical intricacies which we learn as academics, that reflect particular ideals which we would like to see implemented in the 'real world'.

Unfortunately, in the world of work, more often than not, projects are directed by the flow of funds and the "needs" of a particular client. So somewhere or the other, the impeccable ways of doing something which you've studied during your degree, end up being replaced with "this is what the client needs, and they need it now". This is personally what led me back into academia. Particularly in the field of Development and Education, there are no shortcuts, and people's lives and futures are of greater value than a short term project. So, I do not feel like my degree was used 'enough', or as much as I would have liked it too. Unsurprisingly, the greatest lesson I've learnt in my life and something which I continue to practice every day was not "taught" in a classroom. No one has the power to define you, or your worth, besides yourself. Sometimes it just takes one moment of courage to believe in yourself, even when the world around you may not”.

Formal education and informal education can be compared to a double-edged sword. You will go through life with many deep cuts because of your education or lack of education that you have. But the important thing is that there is no time limit or boundaries to education, you're constantly learning.


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