Sunday, 28 August 2016

The Whole Purpose of Education

For most of us, the first image that is conjured up in our minds upon hearing the phrase ‘educated’ is probably that of a studious, bespectacled guy who holds at least a post-graduate degree in his chosen field. Many of us might go on further to speculate that this figment of our imagination probably epitomized being a model student during his school and college days - always turning in his assignments on time, being the first to answer questions in class, and topping every god-damned examination! He has diligently hoarded up knowledge over the years, which he applies rather well In his professional sphere, and most likely gets paid handsomely for it too. However, the question we need to ask ourselves is: while our imaginary friend is no doubt a highly respectable citizen and deserves every bit of the success he has worked hard to achieve, does all that automatically entitle him to be called ‘educated’? In case you are tempted to answer ‘yes’ to that, then I would definitely beg to differ with you.

Firstly, having a degree and being successful professionally is not, and should never be the criteria for judging how well educated a person is. After all, whom would you consider more educated - a street urchin who picks up a plastic wrapper off the street and deposits it into the nearest trash can, or the high-profile corporate magnate who just chucked it out of the window of his swanky sports car? The latter is almost sure to be more knowledgeable in most respects - after all, he probably had access to better schooling and holds a professional degree - but he is just too engrossed in pursuing his materialistic dreams in order to be a responsible citizen; in my opinion, this makes him quite ill-educated, despite paradoxically having a greater amount of knowledge at his fingertips! On the other hand, the street urchin, despite his rather limited exposure to any formal schooling, has successfully assimilated the lesson imparted to him regarding his responsibilities as a citizen, and crucially, he decides to act upon it and performs his civic duties when the opportunity presents itself. That, I believe, is one of the hallmarks of being a truly educated person - when you learn to think beyond your own narrow circle of existence, and apply whatever knowledge you have acquired for the greater good of the society that you are a part of. This has been expressed brilliantly by Sydney J. Harris through the following metaphor: "Most people are mirrors, reflecting the moods and emotions of the times, but few are windows, bringing light to bear on the dark corners where troubles fester. The whole purpose of education is to turn mirrors into windows.”

Another intrinsic quality that marks out the truly educated is their insatiable curiosity and thirst for knowledge; they come to realize how vast the boundless ocean of knowledge really is, and how little of it they have actually explored. No one could have put it more aptly than the legendary Socrates when he said: “I am the wisest man alive, for I know one thing, and that is that I know nothing.” This constant inner drive to keep learning and growing is an essential character trait for a person to qualify as ‘educated’.

A proper education not only makes a man strive to constantly update himself, but it also teaches him to accept every new bit of knowledge only after rigorous verification and cross validation. This is especially relevant in the light of today’s educational system which tends to encourage rote learning by not providing enough incentives for students to question deeply what is being taught. This is quite disturbing, since a society which pushes men to merely hoard existing knowledge, without making any attempts to refine or add to it, is bound to stagnate sooner rather than later. The constant progress of human civilization down the ages has always depended on our ability to push the boundaries of existing knowledge, which ultimately leads to the creation of new technologies that benefit society as a whole. But the main impetus towards this expansion of knowledge has to come from the students belonging to the new generation, who must be taught to cultivate the habit of questioning ferociously before accepting any new piece of knowledge. For the sake of mankind’s progress, they simply cannot afford to be docile and accept calmly every new fact or solution that is thrown at them by their teachers; instead, we must strive to create an environment that promotes healthy debate in the classroom and encourages students to offer alternative solutions. For that is what education is truly about: it was never meant to be a one-way communication channel for passing down knowledge from a teacher to a student; rather, it was designed to be a two-way interaction that enriches and refines the knowledge of both the teacher and the student!

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