Purpose of Education

Not by design, but for some reasons, since last three months I shifted to reading a lot of business magazines and the common theme of course across magazines had been Slumdog Millionaire, Lok Sabha elections, IPL and ongoing recession. But in not so highlighted way, lot of magazines carried stories on education. There was a story on executive education offered by most leading business schools across the world and how it benefited some of the managers. There are number of stories on how the industry wants the education system to prepare students for employability. Lot of industry leaders come out with the preparedness that they are seeking in their potential employees, as they want them to be productive as soon as possible.

This led me to think about the basic purpose of education in Life. The question I had, and I am sure this would have been discussed earlier many times over, is if employability is the only purpose of education or if it is more than that. I tried to look at my life back from the time I started my formal education to the time I was employed and my continued education on various fronts as I moved forward in life. I also thought about the way our education system is structured and what it imparts us during various stages.

In the initial stages of formal education, say till the primary education, the purpose of education is to impart us with widely accepted conventions of communicating with the world. This includes imparting us the knowledge of languages and basic rules of grammar. We are taught to learn the basics about numbers and how to add, subtract, multiple, divide and a few more operations. We learn the basics of social science, something about the plant and animal kingdom, a bit of poetry and a lot of stories, most of which give us the ability to visualize and dream what we probably can not see with our eyes. Basically we get acquainted with the world around us and learn the basics of communicating with this world. There is mix of knowledge and skills that we receive at this stage of education.

Moving on the senior school levels, we start looking at different subjects and get the basics of them. For example, if we study Botany we understand how the Botanists look at the world and how they classify it? It is still learning the conventions of the world of Botany but a level deeper than what we learnt in primary school. We appreciate the classifications of the world in terms of subjects. We study history to know how the world around us evolved to this stage, how our ancestors lived and how various civilizations evolved. We study geography to know the world as it exists today. We study science to understand the unseen and to probably be able to define the future one day. We study social science to understand the society that we live in, and the way it is structured. We start getting introduced to the literature and the world of various art forms. We study the applications of mathematics and some theory behind it. We play some sports and it’s the only place where we learn to operate in teams. Unfortunately we are not explicitly taught the interlinking of the various subjects at any stage. At this stage we understand the worlds of various subjects.

After the school, we choose our area of interest and go a level deeper into the chosen combination of subjects. We understand the nuances of the subject. Pure students look at the subject from learning perspective, they look at its evolution with an objective to potentially contribute to the evolution. The practitioners look at the subject from its application perspective and try to see how the humankind can use its application for improving the quality of life. E.g. a physicist may study the laws of motion and in the process study motion theories of movement of particles to movements of heavenly bodied in the universe, but an engineer may use these laws of motion to design a vehicle that can be used by people to move from one place to another.

On the sidelines, there is life that keeps teaching its own lessons. We learn from the place, society and company that we live in. The more no of places we live in the more we learn and the more we learn more we are open towards other people, cultures and places. We learn skills based on the events and surroundings in our lives, on the basis of interests that we get to pursue. We learn everyday, almost every moment from everything that we do and from everything that we see, hear, feel or touch. The trick is how much of it is added to our knowledge and how much are we able to convert into our wisdom. Everyone does it to some extent but some people do it more than others.

At any point in time, there are a few industries that are in high growth stage and they require specific skill sets in huge numbers. This is a very transient requirement in ever changing world. There are a lot of people who choose to respond to these transient requirements and equip themselves with the skills required, irrespective of their area of interest. The euphoria in the air says that if you are not equipped with these skills you are probably not prepared for a good future and a good life. In the process, the industry probably manages to the get the quantity of manpower that they need, quality is always a point of argument. But what looses is the subject area where the student would have been interested and might have made his or her best contribution. After a few years most good minds would get a feeling of going back and pursuing what they really want to do, some people manage to do it, some get lost in the rut of life. This is where the real education comes in play, people who would have gathered the wisdom from their education would be able to pursue their professions and their passions and lead a satisfactory life.

There is no undermining the fact that we need employment and hence we need skills that would make us employable. But then should the whole focus of our education be focused upon getting employed, or should it take a part of our time and effort to build our skills that would provide us employment. Should education not focus on providing us with the basic life skills and an open mind which is adaptive to the external changes while developing the inner core? Being employed is necessary for surviving, but living is more important than surviving and education should prepare us for a living a quality life.

A well rounded education gives us or should give us the knowledge, skill, attitude and an ability to be a learner forever. The skills that are in demand today are bound to be obsolete tomorrow, so at the skill level we should be adaptable and ready to learn new things at any point in time, depending on what field we are in and where we want to be. At the knowledge level, we should develop an ability to keep enhancing our knowledge by being open to learning from everything and everyone around us. We should learn from our experiences, be open to new experiments and experiences, while also absorbing from experiences of those around us. Attitude is something that always is a function of our grooming in initial years and in later years our ability to use our observations and experiences to define our behavior towards everything in life. A good education in the initial years can help us with an attitude that helps us in living a full and complete life.

Though they say that education is something that is a lifetime affair, but learning is more of a habit and that too an acquired one most of the times. Learn for no reason or for any reason, but as long as you are learning, without limiting yourself by the employability factor, the returns will also not be limited by the returns that the employment gives.

Anuradha Goyal