Is education still relevant? A discussion on the meaning, purpose, value, delivery, and funding of contemporary education.

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From Aristotle to John Dewey, from Abraham Lincoln to Martin Luther King Jr., from Harry Brighouse to Sir Ken Robinson (to name a few), and from our teachers to the depths of the subconscious—we’ve all expressed our views on education in some form. It has been a matter of discussion for centuries. But why is this so? What’s all the fuss been about? And is education even relevant in today’s context? Before I go on to answer these question, we must work our way through the different dimensions of education, to get a better grip of the word itself.

What is education?

“Education is the creation of a sound mind in a sound body.” – Aristotle

Apart from the obvious, education is defined as “An enlightening experience.” It originates from the Latin word “Educare”, meaning “to nurture.” There is a lot of debate as to what education is or ought to be. The diversity of opinions surrounding education alludes to the discordance in its meaning and purpose. However, I am of the understanding that such discordances can be overlooked, as education isn’t merely a product of varying ideologies—but a culmination of the varying methods of its delivery. Every society entails its own baggage of misfortune, so the delivery of its education ought to be predicated on solving its own issues—however unique—to aid in its progress and prosperity.

Purpose of Education

“Intelligence plus character—that is the goal of true education.” – Martin Luther King Jr.

Why do we educate, and be educated? What is it that education hopes to contrive? The primary purpose of education is to promote human flourishing. And how does one achieve such a state of peace and prosperity? Via economic growth perhaps? Or is it through the promotion of our human values? Well, Harry Brighouse would argue that it’s both. The British philosopher proves this via income studies—showing that in America, beyond the threshold of $200,000 a year, there is no change in the quality of lives led by American citizens. Hence, it is the life-long values and skills that illuminate our day-to-day experiences, along with financial security of course.

Value of Education

“No matter what global problem you are dreading, whether it’s the elimination of poverty, whether it’s the creation of peace, whether it’s solving environmental energy problems, the solution always include education.” – Nicholas Negroponte (Founder, One Laptop per Child)

Is education paramount in the progress and prosperity of all societies, and for human flourishing? What drives nations to invest in systems that promote learning and inculcation of inherited values? The truth in the matter is that education seismically changes socio-economic structures and relations—effectively ameliorating living standards and quality of life. Without providing quality education to the youth, our coming generations would perish with the resulting inequalities, and the lack of resources and innovative solutions.

Education is also one of the primary objectives of the SDGs. In fact, Patrinos and Psacharopoulos (2013) in Lomborg (2013) demonstrated that there is a 1.4% reduction of the Gini coefficient with every extra year of education. Furthermore, I would like to add that every child now would either grow up to become a revolutionary leader in their respective fields, or the next criminal—hinging on the cultural norms and economic mobility of the child’s family, both of which are dependent on their level of education. Without it, we would be no different than our fellow inhabitants in the animal kingdom. Also, every opportunity missed by each student to excel in their respective fields, is an opportunity given to a misanthrope to cause harm—certainly a food for thought.

Delivery of Education

“Schooling does not always lead to learning. Worldwide, there are more non-learners in school than out of school.” – UNICEF

Why is it, after all its impact and importance, that the delivery of education seem to be outdated and insufficient? What factors influence its efficacy? It’s almost impossible to completely comprehend the complex nature of the delivery of education. The necessity of innovation in the delivery of education is an outgrowth of the pace at which we’re technologically advancing, further impacting our social interactions.

Contrary to popular belief, the learning crisis doesn’t solely stem from the lack of funding. This is evident from the failure of Bill Gates’ Intensive Partnerships for Effective Teaching initiative, which had cost more than $1 billion. So, what we need is smart investments in education over longer periods of time (UN Global Compact). From the lack of resources, to biased curricula—access to quality education is riddled with unfathomable socio-economic, cultural, and political influences.

One possible solution to this is to align our systems with our cultural and ideological values, as is the case with Finland—making Finnish education system one of the best in the world. But how do we address the learning crisis? For starters, our teachers, policymakers, and administrators should possess adequate philosophical understanding of education. In addition to this, they may also use the assistance of services like the DeliverEd Initiative, to provide quality education. Secondly, I would like to argue that the creation of a resilient and effective education system isn’t merely dependant on the relevant officials, but is rather achievable through the collective efforts of all the parties involved.

 

“It is paramount that young people are not only included, but recognized as valuable collaborators” – Youth Panel Global Call-to-Action (2016)

Funding of Education

Is education a public or private good? Should it be funded via state subsidies, or should it be locally funded? What are the implications of such funding? There’s no easy solution to this dilemma, and the implications vary between state and non-state support. However, a thorough analysis of the topic can surely aid in the articulation of its complexity, and help understand the necessity of certain funding modules.

In the context of a public good, education is thought to have no spillover effects over its consumers, i.e., one’s education does not trump another’s. Most learning theories adopted in public schools are outdated. So, children that are unable to receive private education naturally miss out on the various opportunities provided to the students in contemporary systems of education. Moreover, the curricula and teaching methodologies are greatly affected by the politics involved in state subsidies and endowments. This creates bureaucracies that develop their own interests and lobbying power (Salsman, 2017).

“A general State education is a mere contrivance for moulding people to be exactly like one another: and as the mould in which it casts them is that which pleases the predominant power in the government…it establishes a despotism over the mind and body” – John Stuart Mill (1859, chapter 5, par. 13)

Another factor into the failure of state subsidies is the lack of incentive provided to teachers to perform well.

“The endowments of schools and colleges have necessarily diminished more or less the necessity of application in the teachers. Their subsistence, so far as it arises from their salaries, is evidently derived from a fund altogether independent of their success and reputation in their particular professions.” – Adam Smith (1776, V.1.134).

When viewed as a private good however, education doesn’t seem to perform well here either. This is due to the misuse of education as a “conspicuous consumption.” Deane Neubauer writes, “Marketization affects how institutions of higher education recruit students; how they market themselves to donors; how they align their ‘products’ with market needs; and how they function as a useful laboratory for private industry and government” (2013).

This issue, though perplexing, may be resolved by the means of equitable and efficient allocation of budgetary resources. What we need is “designation of non-state agencies monitoring school work, complete financial independence of all schools, and allocation of funds on the basis of obtained results” (Jan Polcyn, 2015).

Is education still relevant?

I am confident that after going through education and its intertwined complexities, we can thoroughly answer this question. In essence, education is a process of the continual celebration and appreciation of being human. It should lay out all the factors and elements involved in our means of subsistence, for living a full life. Ultimately, irrespective of our cultural and ideological differences, the process and aim of living a full life on Earth is what binds us all together—and is the very basis for all forms of education.

“Education is a process of living and not a preparation for future living.” – John Dewey

As aforementioned, there are discordances in the meaning and purpose of education. Such discourse stems from our urge to ameliorate outdated systems of pedagogy. And as time goes on, it’s only natural for us to improve upon existing pedagogical systems—to keep up with the pace of our progress and innovation. Thusly, for as long as humanity exists, education is pretty much here to stay.

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