Saturday, June 9, 2012

What is education?

When I posted this question on my facebook wall, one of my dear friends replied "At present it taught us to earn livelyhood in this world..... It make us intellectual.... bring to us... the knowledge of world....[sic]".

Is this definition enough for our education system, in which our children (future of the parents, nations and the world), spend the most formative years of their lives. Does making them livelihood earners, intellectuals and knowledgeable, enough? OR are there important things to learn, which we would not like our children to miss during the first 20 years of their lives, which may actually determine the course for the rest of their lives?

Let’s first understand what we are doing here. Our purpose is to define ‘education’ here. This is the actual purpose. Some of us may say, why we should bother about that. After all, it’s a word, a symbol, which could mean different things to different people. How would defining it, do any help? 

I think it’s important to define words or alternatively, to clearly put forward the ideas they represent, when such definitions could alter our perceptions about something important to our lives. For example: the way we define the words ‘government’, ‘regulators’ or even ‘friends’, has a profound impact on the objective of their existence. This is because their definitions determine their relations to our lives and hence, purpose of their existence. (I have included ‘friends’ here, which is lot more personal than a government or a regulator. But you can think of possibility of any correlation between today’s definition of ‘a friend’ and increasing loneliness in people’s lives in general).

So, it is important to define ‘education’, since its definition would outline its purpose. Given the importance of education to our children and future, we better, have a purpose of education, than otherwise.

But, if you see, my friend has already defined the purpose. His idea of education also defines the purpose, which is to enable people to earn livelihoods, make them intellectuals and provide them the knowledge of the world. Definitely, one needs to earn livelihood to survive in this world. But how does becoming intellectual or possessing knowledge of the world, help? Don’t these both objectives only help in achieving the first objective of earning livelihood, and nothing else? And even about livelihood, don’t uneducated people earn livelihood? And if education is eliminated, won’t we be able to earn livelihood? Definitely yes. Since, everyone will be uneducated; there’ll be equal opportunity for all to earn their living.

Here, one could argue that the objective of education is to increase the standard of living of people. This, education has well served, over centuries. Standards of livings have, indeed, increased over the years. Air conditioners, cars, air planes, TVs, even electricity, would have been unheard if we go back in time. I agree with this. Overall society has benefitted with this purpose of education. But what about individuals? Are they better off, than before? Better, I mean, happier.  Are today’s people, happier than people, a generation, two generations ago? 

If yes, then indeed, we are on the right path. We have defined and understood the purport of education correctly.

But, if not, then, we do need to change the definition. This, I say, assuming that we hope life could be better and are willing to work towards that. Well, here, one may say that I am just mixing the cause and the effect. Accepted that people today are unhappier than their older generation but how does it tells us that the cause of this, is our definition of education or our current education system.

Yes, I can’t prove the cause and effect of above relationship, since I have not done any research on the same. Besides, in the first place, I think it would be near impossible to measure and then compare the happiness level of people of different generations. 

But since we accept that our happiness levels have fallen, it is natural to first point fingers on a process, which significantly impact the personality and attitudes of the people. Ultimately, a man is, more or less, a product of his experiences, especially if these experiences pertain to his adolescent life. So, I am not entirely wrong in pointing fingers at our definition of education.

So, now it’s time to ask, how should we define education? If the current definitions have not helped us, what definition would help us?

The answer to this, must come out of our definition of happiness. Since happiness is the ultimate objective, our education must support all those things, which make us happy and discourage all those, which do not.

To be continued....