Saturday, December 24, 2011
What are the immediate aims of education? Do we seek, through education, to (i) create good workers, (ii) equip the young to become good citizens, or (iii) place them on the path to a flourishing life? Presently, to pick any one of these options would require a polemic to follow. I'd like to avoid that. Also, rather than delve deeply into operational methodology in a field which I'm no expert in, I'd like to engage in more high level commentary.
Education has multiple objectives, the service of which can have differing impacts on the interests of various parties in that society. They maybe described in terms of preparation for participation in different classes of activities. Analogous to the list above, they are (i) preparation for participation in the productive economy, (ii) preparation for participation in politics, and (iii) preparation for immersion in the world of experience. Allow me to introduce them in reverse order.
Preparation for immersion in the world of experience is, by no means, the actual immersion in that world of experience. There is no polity with the resources to run an effective educational program seeking to do that (ostensibly). Rather, this is about broadening horizons so the young can, later, pursue experiences which will enrich their lives and inform their major decisions. This requires that the classroom be connected with the world at large. There is a lot more to say about this, but I'd like to go on to the other two.
Preparation for participation in politics means equipping the young with the basic skills necessary to discern the merits of competing policies. That is to say, it is about basic logical and statistical reasoning, as well as bringing critical thinking to any proposal. It also entails teaching the young that they often should assess the veracity of evidence and the credibility of sources, that is to say, to have sufficient awareness not to be played for a fool. In a sense, this would be incomplete without some immersion in the wider world, which would give a perspective on different socio-economic environments and the outcomes arising from the policy decisions that have been made in each locale.
We now come to the element of education which most think about when sending a child to school: preparation for participation in the productive economy. This entails instruction in the foundational building blocks of technical and business knowledge. It should be noted, however, that without a dash or critical thinking and exposure to the wider world, such education would not be able to effectively prepare individuals to be innovators or good leaders. Depending on where a society is on the ladder of development, the capacity to think critically (and hence, innovate or lead well) may vary in importance from vital to good-to-have, and even to better-not-to-have.
At this point I would like to close. It is not my place to recommend some detailed allocation of effort between these three goals of education. However, it is important to have clarity on the societal goals that underlie the need for education. With that, a program can be crafted that takes precise aim at those goals, and, with sufficient resources fueling it, will achieve the goals set for it.
Afternote: If a knowledge-based economy is sought, then effort has to be dedicated to all three aspects, the second and third especially. While achieving the third goal might be said to be simple, achieving the second is very difficult, requiring deliberate effort from both educators and their charges. Singapore is taking steps to improve on its historically horrid record on the second goal, so it would be interesting to see the state of things in a decade.