Our society’s misplaced hope on education

Our society’s misplaced hope on education

Ben Geoffrey

Protasis – misunderstandings of the role of education in human prosperity.

The masses seem to think education is a way to a better life. So having associated economic prosperity directly to education, the goal seems to be some how become a graduate. Since the end of education has been defined as getting a degree, route learning has replaced meaningful learning as popular quick means to attain this end. But knowledge gained through rote learning if it is to be called knowledge at all becomes useless in applying the knowledge intelligibly to solve real world problems(Mayer, Richard E. “Rote versus meaningful learning.” Theory into practice 41.4 (2002): 226-232.) This public disposition is reflected in our(India) spending 3.3% of GDP(in 2012) on education while only 0.8% of GDP(in 2012) being spent on Research and Development. The reason I contrast the money spent on R&D is because the elitist in the global community seem to think advances in science and technology is the driver of economic prosperity rather than simply education, the editor in chief of Scientific American Mariette DiChristina says “Science Is an Engine of Human Prosperity”. As it is true in most cases public opinion is ill-informed, lacks expertise and grossly wrong. The next section will bear the weight of the defense of the propositions made in this section

Epitasis – an apologia

As I said this section will bear the defense of the propositions made in the opening section. So back in the day in the medieval universities where the trivium(grammar, logic and rhetoric) and quadrivium(arithmetic, geometry, music and astronomy) were taught, it had very little practical value and did little or if not no help to put food on the table. The practical value had to wait until the industrial revolution. It had to wait until people understood the laws of thermodynamics and had understood how to convert heat energy to mechanical energy to do work, substituting for hard human labor and toil. Machines substituted humans in tilling and threshing. Joseph Foljambe’s Rotherham plough of 1730 was the first commercially successful iron plough. The threshing machine was invented by Andrew Meikle in 1784. Then came the huge offset in wages of the skilled vs unskilled labor, these new technologies required skilled labor to operate them and education provided the necessary skill required to work with these new technologies. But the offset is largely due to demand and supply, those skilled laborers were few and hence were in demand and hence the large offset. Today though we know how the tables have turned we have more educated people but technology has been unable to produce enough jobs hence a taxi driver earns more than an MBA graduate. So then came the discovery of vaccines, antibiotics which greatly improved life expectancy. This greatly helped human flourishing. We’ve already observed that producing skilled labor as being one of the tasks of education in servicing the industrial revolution which aided human flourishing but it plays second fiddle to innovation and discovery which is the engine which propels human flourishing. For no amount of skilled labor could have helped starving India post independence but for the innovation and genius of M.S.Swaminathan and his green revolution.

So the goal of education should be to apply all available human knowledge to solve contemporary human problems by bettering existing technology or striving for new ones. As Isaac Newton says “If I have seen further than others, it is by standing upon the shoulders of giants.” But our society seems to think the end of education is getting a degree and route learning has been substituted for meaningful learning as quick means to attain that end. As already pointed out route learning makes us unable to apply the knowledge gained to solve new problems. So we Indians continue as handmaid’s to foreign employers who are making these technological leaps instead of creating our own jobs through our own strides in science and technology.

Catastrophe – is education alone enough?

So far we have illustrated the importance of science and technology in human flourishing but does it complete us? Is that all we need or do we have higher needs ? Albert Einstein observes saying “Science has provided the possibility of liberation for human being from hard labor but when the ideas of humanity are war and conquest. . Those tools become dangerous as a razor in the hands of a child of three. We must not condemn man’s inventiveness and patient conquest of the forces of nature because they are being used wrongly. Thus the fate of humanity is entirely dependent upon its moral development.(paraphrased) ” Our education has been simply reduced to materialistic learning, it doesn’t cater to the needs of the soul. When Aristotle taught Alexander the Great he didn’t simply just teach logic, physics, botany and zoology, he also taught philosophy which brought everything together into an inter-linked worldview and answered basic existential questions of meaning and purpose. Bertrand Russel the Nobel winning philosopher regarding the value of philosophy says “The ‘practical’ man, as this word is often used, is one who recognizes only material needs, who realizes that men must have food for the body, but is oblivious of the necessity of providing food for the mind. If all men were well off, if poverty and disease had been reduced to their lowest possible point, there would still remain much to be done to produce a valuable society; and even in the existing world the goods of the mind are at least as important as the goods of the body. It is exclusively among the goods of the mind that the value of philosophy is to be found; and only those who are not indifferent to these goods can be persuaded that the study of philosophy is not a waste of time.”

Hence we need to rise beyond just materialistic learning to an holistic education which caters to the whole human, mind body and soul.

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