The important things we learn at school and college

8 min readNov 29, 2023

For the first 17 years of my life, I was taught so many things in English, Tamil, Maths, Science and Social Science (History & Geography). I don’t remember anything except the multiplication tables that were hard wired into me through memorization.

The subject that I liked the most in school was English. I was taught English by teachers who had studied in Tamil mediums and who didn’t know how to pronounce English words in the correct fashion. All the English that I know came from reading newspapers (the Hindu) daily and from the sportstar magazine. My reading had helped me to navigate the grammar easily and if I ask myself honestly, this is the language that I rely on heavily in my life. My vocabulary is limited to around 300 words and with grammar, I survive by using those words.

Tamil is my mother tongue. I didn’t like the language when I was a kid. I know nothing about the grammar even now. We had a few passionate, devoted and well versed Tamil teachers at school but since I had no interest in my culture and my language, I stayed away from it. My interest for Tamil started growing only after coming to Europe and understanding why they give so much importance to their language. I am now an avid reader and an aspiring writer in Tamil. I read one Adhikaram of Tirukural everyday for the last 4 months and I have also plans to write interpretations of Tirukural in an easy to grasp and humorous manner in order to take this great book of values to the next generation. My readings in Tamil have helped me to understand, appreciate and respect the greatness of Tamil & its culture. So, my interest for Tamil didn’t come from school.

At school or at home, I was not taught the importance of a language. All we were taught was to focus on Maths and Science. I now learn French. My French teacher is so passionate about his language and he made me realize that every other subject, the culture of a society and the thinking of the society rests in a language.

Maths was my least favorite subject at school. We were taught Algebra, Trigonometry, Calculus. I don’t remember anything. Since I had a good memory, I used to memorize formulas without understanding it and somehow managed it. Even if I didn’t know what is 1+1, it would have made no difference. Yesterday, I went to buy a Pizza and the shopkeeper was counting his fingers to calculate 27+5. He got it right. He also had a calculator in case if more people were there and if he had to do it fast.

At school, they taught Pythogoras theorem which is Square of C equals Sum of Square of A and Square of B. Where could it be used?

Imagine you are in a city with a grid-like layout of streets (Madurai streets around the temple), and you want to find the shortest path from one intersection to another. The streets form right-angled intersections.

Walking Distance: You decide to take a combination of horizontal and vertical paths to reach your destination. The horizontal distance is �a, the vertical distance is �b, and the total distance you walk is �c.

Optimizing Your Route: By finding the shortest path using the Pythagorean theorem, you can optimize your route and minimize the total walking distance. This can be especially useful for pedestrians or when planning travel in urban environments.

Nobody taught this way. If they had taught this way, may be I would have enjoyed studying Maths.

In science, there were endless theorems, rules and principles. I didn’t see the need to learn anything that I learnt at that time because I didn’t know how it could be applied in real life. Science is not about understanding theorems and principles. Science is about discovering the truth in an objective way.

Today, I read a lot about Nobel Prize winners as I find their work very deep and inspiring. I am fascinated by their research and discovery. Forget about Nobel prizes, things as basic as how the heart functions and how the skin functions in our body are so basic but I don’t know them properly. The miraculous design of these organs pushes us to ask who created all the things in this planet and who created the planet as well as the solar systems. Physics allows us to ask metaphysical questions about our existence on this planet(where we came from and where we are going), Chemistry helps us to understand the composition of matter and Biology helps us to understand the evolution of life from matter.

They were taught in a way that I stayed away as much as possible from these two subjects. But through my fascination for reading, I have started liking these subjects and these subjects are,in fact, beautiful if we can go to their spirit instead of spending time on learning formulas. The famous people who created the theorems were solving a problem and ended up creating the theorem whereas we were taught at school to study the theorem and reproduce it.

Once my father’s colleague from Delhi came to our house and he asked me, ‘What is your favorite subject?’. I said, ‘English, History and Geography’. My mother later scolded me saying, ‘You should have told Maths and Science’.

History is a subject that I liked but all the history that were taught were all not accurate. History is about the past and it is an interpretation of the past with limited data and limited context. We were taught about the Gupta empire, the Chalukyas, the Kalinga empire, the Moghul empire but nobody taught us the history of Sri Meenakshi Amman temple or the Tirumalai Nayakkar Palace that were prominent works of art and history in my hometown Madurai. The first human settlement in India from Africa happened in a village called Jyotimanickam near Karumattur that is less than 10 kms from my school. This finding by a study led by Prof. Pitchappan of Madurai Kamaraj University along with the University of Oxford (a Discovery series on The story of India by Michael Wood) challenges everything that we learned at school. All the history that we studied at school was redundant and useless.

We had a village near my locality called Achampathu. Nobody taught us to think about the history of the village name which I could now understand as ‘Drive away fear’ (Acham – fear, Pathu – drive away) and it is so powerful. I didn’t know the history of my hometown Madurai which is comparable to Rome or the history of anything. I didn’t even know the name of my grandfather’s father and my relatives. So I didn’t even know our family history properly.

History helps to understand so many things powerfully. It helps to use a hypothesis driven approach in the absence of strong data. It helps to detect patterns and behaviours that can help to predict the future. Later when I started working as a strategist, I realized the importance of historical facts when we tried to predict the future growth trajectory or choices a leader has to make that will have a big impact on the organization.

Geography is another favorite subject of mine. I used to know the capitals of all the countries when I was in 6th-10th standard. I had a fascination for learning about places and develop a strong general knowledge. Angel Falls is the highest waterfalls in the world. Mount Everest was in Nepal, not India. I liked places but that was also something that I learned out of my own interest. Again, this is a subject that was not taught in the way it was supposed to be taught. I learned more from Competition Success Review and National Geographic than from school books. We were taught that 71% of earth is water and 29% is land. When I grew up, I started asking what was under the 71% water. The simple answer is land. So earth has 100% land and 71% water. We were taught Tortoise and Rabbit race where Tortoise was slow and Rabbit was fast. I wish they helped us to think about the race in water instead of land to find out who was faster.

In all these subjects, we were given information. We were evaluated for our ability to remember the information and demonstrate that we have the information. None of the information sits in our brains but we spent 17 years learning this information. Do we really need all these information in our brain anymore? A 5 year old kid born in 2018 who started using smartphones can find and learn all the information and much more in a fraction of a second that I learned for 17 years at school. We were not trained to think, inquire, examine, explore and discover the essence of these subjects. What a waste of brain capacity!

After school, I spent 4 years at an Engineering college where I studied Mechanical Engineering. My professors didn’t know what they were teaching and I lost interest in those subjects quickly. I can say that I studied Engineering but learned nothing from those subjects. The only subject I liked in Engineering was English that was taught during the first year.

So for 21 years, I studied so many subjects out of which I know English slightly well. It is not because of what was taught at school and college. It was because of the newspaper reading habit inculcated by my father. I don’t know any other subject properly. They were the foundations but they were laid so weakly. In those 21 years, the learning came from my friendships, from playing cricket, from leading my school team, from participating in cultural events at college, from attending quiz competitions and from chatting & roaming endlessly with friends.

I recently read a book called Untethered Soul by Michael Singer. The book taught me about how to understand my self, how to work with my feelings and how to understand the nature of mind. It taught me lessons that were transformative. The first thing that came to my mind was ‘Isn’t this what they should be teaching at schools?’. Instead of wasting time on Maths and Science, shouldn’t our system teach exploration of self? If we don’t understand ourselves, how could we understand others?

A few years ago, I learned ‘Non violent Communication’ from my coach Subha. It is a life long lesson. It helped me to understand how much violence is there in our communication and how, we can be compassionate in our communication. Isn’t this what we need at this moment in time?

One of the greatest filmmakers Ingman Bergman summarized it beautifully,

“I’ll tell you something banal. We’re emotional illiterates.And not only you and I-practically everybody,that’s the depressing thing.We’re taught everything about the body and about agriculture in Madagascar and about the square root of pi, or whatever the hell it’s called,but not a word about the soul. We’re abysmally ignorant, about both ourselves and others.There’s a lot of loose talk nowadays to the effect that children should be brought up to know all about brotherhood and understanding and coexistence and equality and everything else that’s all the rage just now. But it doesn’t dawn on anyone that we must first learn something about ourselves and our own feelings. Our own fear and loneliness and anger. We’re left without a chance, ignorant and remorseful among the ruins of our ambitions. To make a child aware of it’s soul is something almost indecent. You’re regarded as a dirty old man. How can you understand other people if you don’t know anything about yourself? Now you’re yawning, so that’s the end of the lecture.”
Ingmar Bergman

The quote below captures the essence of learning at schools and colleges.

“The most important thing we learn at school is the fact that the most important things can’t be learned at school.”

Haruki Murakami, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running




Father, Entrepreneur & Writer; Edison award winning innovation; Daytime Emmy nominated animation; Author of two books; WEF Davos, Cannes Lions, TEDx