What’s Education For?

by on July 8, 2016

An enquiry into what’s wrong with our education system, and how we can fix it.

In my essay, ‘OK, so you just graduated. Where the hell do you go from here?’, I argued that education is a non-linear, lifelong process. Today, and for many decades now – especially in my home country, India – that process is under systematic attack. Rote memorization is prized over true understanding. Conceptual knowledge is pushed aside. Students are instead expected to regurgitate textbook-given definitions, question-answer pairs, software code, even mathematical proofs word-for-word.

Learning happens by doing, experimenting, asking questions, and making mistakes. And yet too often, our educational system punishes students for doing exactly that.

In this video short, Alain de Botton – the philosopher who has previously given us a meditation on the nature and true meaning of love – lucidly points out both the fault and the cure for our educational system. de Botton claims that fixing education doesn’t just simply mean building more schools, hiring more teachers or making the tests more difficult.

Instead, de Botton argues that we need a more radical change. He calls for a new curriculum, one that emphasizes pairing theoretical knowledge with real-world implications. The fundamental tenets of de Botton’s curriculum include capitalism and economic theory, self-knowledge and relationships. Although I don’t entirely agree with his prescribed curriculum (any time we go over prescribed anything, we are entering problematic territory) – I do agree with his basic approach of teaching students the real world applications of their education.

Fixing education is a broader issue and fixing the curriculum is only one (albeit huge) part of it. I think what’s also needed is a greater change in our fundamental approach towards learning: allowing students to learn by doing, actively cultivating student-teacher relationships, inculcating a wholesome balance of science, rationality and humanities. The best kind of education is one that harnesses the student’s curiosity.

(Image: Education-Éducation by DFATD-MAECD/Lana Slezic)

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