What is the purpose of education?

The key to life: Education is more than the words and numbers
The key to life: Education is more than the words and numbers

We now intend to zoom in on formal education. Henceforth, the noun education shall be used to represent formal education.

A human being is like an onion, and education should peel their layers off, revealing their gifts, talents, strengths, weaknesses, and overall potential. Expressing the same sentiments, Debashish Mridha said, “The whole purpose of education is to turn green buds into beautiful flowers”.
At its apex, education should help humanity to coexist with each other and their environment. For, we are creatures, created to live, and live in harmony. Perched at the summit of the food chain, man has the primary responsibility of protecting other creatures and vegetation. Anything else is secondary.

Paul R. Cohen a Teacher believes, “the main aim of education is not making a child read or write properly. But making him independent, making him aware of good and bad things in the world”.

Whatever we learn, intends to make us know ourselves, each other and the universe better. Thus, Rabandranath Tagore wrote that the highest education is the one which does not merely give us information but makes our life in harmony with all existence.

Each society coins and consequently aligns its educational goals to their desired end results, as per their culture, norms, values, belief systems and resultant aspirations. If a society treasures culture for instance, its educational goals will be such that in the end, learners will be cultural beings.

It is generally believed that one can easily understand a nation by, studying its curricula for out of goals, curricula are made.

Traditionally in Africa, educational goals were agrarian and emphasised self-reliance, as demonstrated by the Kenyan Harambee Schools and Julius Nyerere’s Ujamaa, as philosophy for Tanzania. In Botswana, one of the national founding principles is self-reliance, hence one would have expected the initial educational goal to be based on the principle. Education the African way is a topic to be dealt with later.

Sean McAlevey postulates that, the main purpose of education is to grow children into productive citizens that use their knowledge, talents and learned skills to sustain themselves and help others, while pushing the human race forward in areas of equality, equity and harmony.

Thuris, a polished product of education should be cooperative, compassionate and should use their gifts and knowledge for the uplifting of humanity.

Some of the aims from curricula across Africa are to help a child to: develop a sense of his personal worth through healthy mental, physical and spiritual growth; develop language skills – communication; develop ethical character; to acquire permanent literacy and numeracy and to become a better producer and consumer of goods, according to Farrant.

Educational goals can lean towards politics, culture, philosophy, knowledge, spirituality, all round development and or character building depending on societal values and aspirations.

In a democratic state, the aim of education would naturally be to produce individuals who treasure democracy. As a result, learning will emphasise active participation in the classroom, respect of others’ opinion. Schools will give learners the power to make decisions about their own learning.

An example is: A teacher of English walks into class to teach speaking. They have activity in mind. When they share it, learners chorus, “no we want to play radio!” She takes them to the school hall and they play radio! After all, radio is speaking. Though it was the learners who chose the activity, the desired objectives were met. DEMOCRACY.

Once learners are given the power to decide how they want to learn, they are more receptive and enjoy learning. Democratic learning atmospheres, produces good leaders, not despots. Learners from a young age, learn that power is shared.

Education goals are by and large, influenced by the state’s political system of governance.
Annapurna Krishjeev had this to say about education and politics, “Education and politics enjoy a symbiotic relationship. That is, education affects politics and vice versa”.

He further states that education is encapsulated into the political environment of the nation state. That each nation from liberal democracies to totalitarian systems, use education as one of their state apparatus to transmit their political ideologies.

Progressive states have inculcated voter education into their curricula, ensuring that from a young age, children know the importance of voting. And not just voting NJE, but voting sound leadership. This has grown democracy and decreased voter apathy.

Concurring Franklin D. Roosevelt posited, “Democracy cannot succeed unless those who express their choice are prepared to do it wisely. The real safeguard of democracy therefore is education”.

Educational aims that lean towards culture are concerned with art, crafts, drama, literature, music religion, beliefs, norms values and practices.

Consequently, the school becomes a microcosm of the society. Focus is more on preserving and imparting cultural norms, values and practices. Also, learners are encouraged to be innovative with culture and to use it to empower themselves economically.

The school’s end results are cultural ambassadors. An example of culturally inclined education goal can be: to preserve and impart culture, but also to integrate and be innovative with it.

If the aim of education is knowledge, then the objectives and activities would be focussed mainly on the acquisition of knowledge, skills and attributes. Knowledge helps one to understand their environment and hence navigate through life better.

To provide acquisition of knowledge, institutions should emphasise activities that promote intellectual growth such as reading and research.

Spiritual aims of education are to teach one to explore and utilise their mind to the fullest. In the process it fulfills the divine potential in children, whilst building them on all levels to become virtuous beings. The aims of such is personality building, as values like truth, righteousness, peace, love and non-violence are imparted. These values are fundamental in relationships and career life.

Philosophers believe that educational goals help us to evaluate ourselves. They believe that they can be used as a yardstick to measure success or failure, necessary to access the outcome of the educational process. The aims of Education are divided into four: idealism, naturalism, pragmatism and realism.

Philosophy of Education is a topic on its own to be dealt with in due time.

One great Philosopher Plato said the purpose of education is to turn the soul towards light. He once said that the main function of education is not to put knowledge into the soul, but to bring out latent talents in the soul by directing it towards the right objects. Teaching the child, not the curriculum.

*Mmaotho Segotso is an educator and former teacher. She is a new contributor to Mmegi and readers can expect more of her insights on education

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