On education – Part 1

“What is education for?”

This is a question I sometimes ask in conversations about university courses. The response is usually a bewildered look, even on the face of some high ranking academics. After a few futile attempts talking about knowledge, learning and intelligence to give an explanation, they usually turn away, saying the question – or me, or both – is either too deep or just simply irrelevant. And they are the polite ones…

However, the question is not irrelevant. It might be deeper than we are accustomed to. It might be more philosophical in nature. However, it is a precursor to the next question:

“What constitutes an educated person?”

While it presents some intellectual complexities, neither this, nor the previous questions should be disregarded. They should be assessed carefully and rigorously. Both these questions lead to the final question:

“When is education enough?”

This question – when answered appropriately – can give clarity and meaning to educational activities. It can also provide a goal and purpose to aspiring higher education participants. There is little value in doing a Master of Data Analytics, if the purpose of it is just to gain re-entry to the work force. An industry training course, a Graduate Certificate or a Graduate Diploma can achieve the same. There is little point of having a Bachelor of Education degree, if the person just simply can’t teach. We wouldn’t want to release certified morons on the unsuspecting population, would we?

Yes, the third question indicates that there can be a limit to education. It doesn’t mean that learning is limited though. Perhaps a clear distinction between education and learning could be the first step to find the answers to these questions?

Why do these questions matter?

Why am I asking these questions and why am I concerned enough to even write a little public essay? Simply, because in many conversations the concern is raised that students do not take higher education seriously. Some even question whether higher education in its current form can be taken seriously at all. Academics, governments and individuals are equally concerned about the problem.

However, academic reforms hardly ever address the question what education is for. Even the philosophy of education is more concerned about the content and delivery methods of education. Definitions of what education is are abounding. What it is for is hardly ever considered in depth since John Locke of the Enlightenment.

Problem manifest

This lack of in-depth consideration of what education is for can manifest itself in practices of the institutions of education. Let me highlight only one, which Neil Postman called subversion, or teaching as a subversive activity. As a parent I witnessed it in the attitude of my children from early prep class. “As long as I give the teacher what she wants, I am fine.” As a lecturer, I witnessed it even in the mindset of MBA students focusing on the required minimum only in assignments. It is not difficult to find the roots of this mindset in the subversive activities of the early childhood education.

It is not my goal or interest to lay blame at early childhood educators. It is not my interest to lay blame anywhere. My goal in writing this little article is to encourage people to get a better understanding of how we can help students to take higher education seriously. How the years spent in university could be made exciting, memorable. How we could implant an unquenchable desire into young people’s hearts to learn more and more. How future generations could be enabled to make wise choices.

And your response is…

So let me ask you to contemplate these three questions. They need to be thought through rather carefully. Yes, you might need to spend a bit of time contemplating them. They might need to be researched. What you can find, I suggest is worth the effort.

I would be delighted to hearing your answers to these questions. They might be simpler than one would think. They might change the way we think about education.

I will read your responses with interest.

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