Higher Education for What?

Posted on December 8, 2008. Filed under: Education |

Higher Education for What?
by
Jagdeep S. Chhokar

Published in Phi Kappa Phi Forum, Fall 2004, p. 36

The most common response that the question posed in the title elicits, at least in my experience, is “to get a good job”.  My experience is not limited to only the developing world where good (whatever that means) jobs are difficult to get, generally because of low levels of economic development and large populations, but I have found this to be the most common response even in the developed parts of the world.  It is possible that this happens because all my teaching experience, in different parts of the world, has been in Business Schools.  However, I have been told by several professors in more traditional, academic departments that the general response of students in their departments is not too different.  The answer that I hope for, and hardly ever get, is “for the sake of learning”.  The questions this raises are: Why does this happen?  Can, and should, professors, as important participants in the process of higher education, do something about it?  What can be done?

An outcome of the above narrow view of education as training, is the inability and unwillingness of people coming out of institutions of higher education to get involved in the processes of the larger society.  This manifests itself in several ways. Inappropriate business practices which have come to light in the past few years in several countries including the US and India are too well known to be mentioned, but there does seem to be an increase in the frequency of such cases.

Another example of the inability and unwillingness to participate in processes of the larger society is the low voter turnout during elections.  This also is not confined to the developing or the developed worlds but seems to be an across the board phenomenon.    This has serious consequences for societies and nations.  In the words of Plato: “The price good men will pay for not getting involved is to be governed by bad men.”

Undue focus on job oriented education combined with neglect of citizenship oriented education overlooks the importance of citizenship.  And it goes against a well known statement made by a Justice of US Supreme Court, Felix Frankfurter, several years ago: “No job in the country is more important than that of being a citizen.”  Professors engaged in higher education seem to ignore training students for most important job in the country.

Professors engaged in higher education obviously can, and should do something about it, if not for anything else, to fulfill their own duty as citizens.  What they can do is to focus on good citizenship in along with whatever they teach their students to become good managers, architects, doctors, accountants, historians, economists, and whatever else.  The almost complete de-linking of higher education from what can be considered basic education about how to be a responsible and good citizen is risky for every society.

It is difficult to be a good citizen without being a good human being.  Higher education therefore also needs to focus on inculcating good human values among the students, in addition to preparing them for jobs.  Professors of higher education cannot escape responsibility for developing and offering courses that the students find interesting and useful.  While societal trends are macro-phenomena over which individuals have very little control, each of us, professors of higher education, needs to work towards not only making her/his courses relevant and interesting to students but also to ensure that in the process the focus on assisting students to become good human beings and good citizens is not lost.

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    This blog contains Jagdeep S. Chhokar’s views, opinions, and comments on variety of issues.

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