Education is not just about jobs
The Indian Express, June 27, 2006
Education is not just about jobs
Jagdeep S. Chhokar
Discussing the purpose of education would be unnecessary in normal times, because it would be obvious to everyone. But today’s times are far from normal and we, therefore, have to remind ourselves of the purpose of education, especially when it relates to the training of professionals who go on to build the future.
Embedded in education is a value system, the ability to distinguish between right and wrong, good and bad. In a way, it is also about making judgments. An ‘educated’ person, one with general knowledge and powers of reasoning and judgment, would be expected to make reasoned and therefore logical judgments. He would be able to understand what is good for him and also what is good for the society and nation. Helping individuals develop into good citizens is, and should be, one of the prime purposes of education.
The extent to which our education system, at all levels, contributes to the development of good citizens may be a matter of individual opinion, but I think we have a really long way to go in developing informed, responsible, and active citizens. This seems evident from the fact that a very large proportion of people normally considered educated and informed do not seem to be aware of the fact that being a citizen also involves some responsibilities. While there is fairly widespread awareness of the existence of fundamental rights, not too many of us seem to be aware of fundamental duties enjoined upon the citizen in the Constitution.
One of the major reasons for losing sight of what may well be the most
basic purpose of education is that education has come to be considered, almost exclusively, as a means of getting a good job. What seems to be overlooked in the process is that everyone is a citizen first and only then a professional. This brings us to the difference between education and training. The Random House Dictionary describes the difference between the two as follows: ‘Education’ is the development of the special and general abilities of the mind (learning to know); a liberal education. ‘Training’ is practical education (learning to do) or practice, generally under supervision, in some art, trade, or profession; training in art, teacher training.
Our education system seems to focus almost exclusively on the so-called ‘training view’ of education. And an outcome of the narrow view of education as training, is the inability and unwillingness of people coming out of educational institutions, even from the so-called institutions of higher learning, to get involved in the processes of society at large. This manifests itself in several ways — like inappropriate business practices and inappropriate behaviour in politics and administration.
An argument is often made that in a developing economy such as ours with a very large population and high levels of poverty and unemployment, getting jobs is the first priority, and that people can learn about the so-called good citizenship through their experiences in life.
Teachers often express their helplessness when it comes to inculcating values of good citizenship in students, given the strong countervailing social forces. I believe everyone involved in imparting education (and we must remember that education comes not only from teachers but from a variety of sources) has a responsibility to encourage students to question the existing value system if its militates against the social good.
If our students cannot exercise discerning judgment in matters of basic citizenship, are we justified in assuming or hoping that they will be able to exercise sound judgment in their professional decisions? This becomes salient when we think about the effectiveness of education which is the “act or process of imparting or acquiring general knowledge, and of developing powers of reasoning and judgment”.
It is difficult to be a good citizen without being a good human being. Education therefore also needs to focus on inculcating good human values among the students, in addition to preparing them for jobs. The neglect or reduction in the importance given to humanities and social sciences — under the influence of the argument that more and more students prefer the so-called ‘professional courses’ — is also a big concern. Inputs focussed on helping and encouraging students to become good human beings and effective citizens are needed at all levels of education, as these are the most fundamental purposes of education.
Those of us in the profession of education can ignore this only at great peril to society. And some of the recent developments in society, including an almost obsessive focus on the so-called ‘higher education’ with an almost total neglect of basic education, do not augur well for the country. Of course, we can always follow Mark Twain, who once said: “I have never let my schooling interfere with my education.”
The writer is a professor at the IIM, Ahmedabad