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The true purpose of education

  • Published at 06:03 pm October 8th, 2019

It’s not just about earning money

I had just arrived from the coffee shop and entered my living room. It was drizzling out there. I am currently living at the Rhodes University campus.

I made a new friend from the law department, and he invited me to a coffee discussion and I gladly accepted.

At the end of our getting to know each other, he made a rather incisive observation: “If you go and observe the law department, you will see the amount of competition people have with each other. It’s hard to even make friends. Even if you are talking to someone, they will make you feel like you have the word ‘competition’ written all over your face.”

I totally get what he means. I had been brought up in a super-competitive education system. But my head seems to think otherwise. I tell myself that this should not be the case. This is a confusion that needs to be cleared up.

“Why would we even compete with ourselves when we have the opportunities to learn and share knowledge with each other?” was my question.

Let’s look at it another way: Why are we going to the same institution to get the same education but still end up competing with each other? It’s not just law, it’s almost all departments and disciplines in a lot of universities in the world. So far, I have seen three countries from three continents, but it still seems the same to me.

Isn’t education supposed to help us grow?

What does a “doctorate of philosophy” even mean when you are learning chemistry? It means that you are engaging yourself to think critically in the domain of chemistry. So, in a causal explanation, the ultimate use of education is to think critically, effectively, and to engage a concept or idea in a wholesome manner. The more perspective, breadth, and depth your thinking pattern has, the more active and engaged you, can be over a topic -- whether its business, politics, or religion.

We see from most societies, and even history, how the rich are given flexibilities to study history, philosophy, and the arts in general, whereas the poor are sometimes forced to become a doctor or an engineer mostly because the political economy of that country demands so.

And the universities attain themselves with the demand and supply mentality with the education that the economy needs.

I totally understand this. We need money. However, do these students get at least a lesson to engage their critical thinking skills to whatever they are learning? To question, to ponder, and to understand exactly what these theorists are talking about in academia? 

As a parent, pushing your child to become someone (an engineer or a doctor) can be detrimental when even you yourself don’t know who you are. Therefore, I would argue that it’s not the money, it’s the ability to grow oneself, and improving one’s critical thinking ability that should be education’s purpose.

And that gives birth to inter-disciplinary and more wholesome work, imitating cooperative behaviour among departments and disciplines. This also eliminates competition, because knowledge is a growing resource. And the more people you are with sharing and learning knowledge, the bigger you are.

Whoever adheres to the use of education as a means of getting a job engages in competition because the narrow focus looks into a limited amount of supply, narrows the worldview, and makes it look like a finite apple pie. Whereas, the more knowledge you have, the more tools you have to grow. 

Let’s use education as a means to truly educate ourselves -- not simply as a means to earn some money. We can spot the money better -- even create money out of thin air with our ideas -- when we learn to think wiser. 

Touhid Kamal uses anthropology to learn more on micro-cultures and human behaviour, and is a UX researcher and team culture builder. He can be reached at [email protected]

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