What do we mean by education?
The word ‘education’ can be derived from one of two latin words or from both. These words are educere, which means ‘to lead out’ or ‘to train’ and educare which means to ‘to train’ or ‘to nourish’. But this etymology does not give us a understanding behind the term itself.
Colloquially it can mean the sort of training that goes in schools, colleges and universities.
We see some meanings by different people who were related to education and philosophy of it.
Education is “an all round drawing out of the best in child and man – body, mind, and spirit.”
Education is regarded as the development of “all those capacities in the individual, which will enable him to control his environment and fullfill his possibilities.”
We see that the term education refers to two things: they point to education as the process of development of the individual form infancy to maturity a lifelong process.
J. S. Mill explains it thus:
“Not only does it include whatever we do for ourselves, and whatever is done for us by others for the express purpose of bringing us somewhat nearer to the perfection of our nature; it does more; in its last connotation it comprehends even the indirect effects of things of which the direct purposes are quite different, by laws, by forms of government, by the industrial arts, by modes of social life; nay, even by physical fact, not dependent on human will, by climate, soil and local position. Whatever helps to shape human being, to make the individual what he is, or hinder him form what he is not… is a part of his education.”
This is the wider meaning of the term ‘education’, for the narrower meaning Mill says
“the culture which each generation purposely gives to those who are to be its successors, in order to qualify them for at least keeping up, and if possible for raising the level of improvement which has been attained.”
Now we look at what are the Indian views on education. The Rig Veda [ऋग वेद] regards education as a force which makes the individual self-reliant as well as selfless. The Upanishads [ऊपनिषद] regard the result of education as being more important than its nature, the end-product of education is salvation [निर्वाण].
Panini [पाणिनी] identified as the training one obtains from nature.
Kanada [कानद] considers to be a mean of self-contentment.
Yajanvalaka [याजनवालक] regarded education as a means to the development of character and usefulness in the individual.
While Vivekanand perceived education as the manifestation of divine perfection already existing in man.
“Education should aim at man-making”
By man making it is meant formation of character, increase in power of mind, and expansion of the intellectual capacities.
While Tagore says that education should help the individual child realize in and through education, the essential unit of man and his relationship with the universe – an education for fullness.
The Indian Education Commission of 1966 says:
“Education, according to Indian tradition is not merely a means to earn a living; nor is it only a nursery of thought or a school for citizenship. It is initiation into the life of spirit, a training of human souls in pursuit of truth and practice of virtue. It is a second birth द्वियाम ज्ञानम – education for liberation.”
Past this we now have a look at some Western views on the same.
Plato thought that education should enable one to attain the highest good or God, through pursuit of inherent spiritual values of truth, beauty and goodness.
Aristotle held that education exists exclusively to develop man’s intellect in a world of reality which men can know and understand.
St. Thomas Aquinas considered education to be process of discerning the truth about things as they really are, and to extend and integrate such truth as it is known.
More recently behaviorists consider education as a process of conditioning, of providing stimuli, repetition, rewards and reinforcements. ‘
The social scientists define education as the transmission of cultural heritage – which consists of learned behavior, and includes tangible objects such as tools, clothing, etc. as well as intangible objects such as language, beliefs etc.
“Education is the transmission of knowledge, value and skills of a culture.”
The meaning of the term ‘education’ can be summarily expressed as:
- A set of techniques for imparting knowledge, skills and attitudes.
- A set of theories which purport to explain or justify the use of these techniques.
- A set of values or ideals embodied and expressed in the purposes for which knowledge, skills and attitudes are imparted and so directing the amounts and types of training that is given.
The educational system of any society is a more or less elaborate social mechanism designed to bring about in the persons submitted to it certain skills and attitudes that are judged to be useful and desirable in the society. The gist of all the educational system can be reduced in two questions:
- What is held valuable as an end?
- What means will effectively realize these ends?
For ordinary day to day working of the society itself makes it necessary for its members to have certain minimum skills and attitudes in common, and imparting these skills is one of the ends of education. This minimum will be different for different societies.
So we see that in the meaning of what education is, is determined by what are the aims of education. Every educational system must have an aim, for having an aim will provide it with a direction, and make the process more meaningful. One of the objectives of education from what we have seen in the definitions above has a connection to the meaning of life, which in turn is connected to philosophy of the person at that time. Thus the aims of education are dependent on the philosophy which is prevalent in society at that time. The aims of any educational system tell us what it is for. The aims determine the entire character of the educational process: curriculum, pedagogy and assessment. Just because the aims are not explicitly stated it does not mean that they are absent. They can be both implicit and explicit, and can be embodied in the everyday practices of teachers and students, as well as in the government documents. The printing of aims of education in a document is neither necessary nor sufficient for education to have aims, since documents can be ignored.
Education can have more than one aim, so long as the aims are not mutually incompatible. It is not possible for example to aim to produce citizens who will obey the state unquestioningly and at the same time produce people who will question any proposal that they encounter. Many aims are broadly compatible but there exists certain tension. Partly, it is because some aims can be fully achieved at the expense of others. A society has to agree on the priority of the aims, which it wants its future citizens to have.
A listing of general educational aims is as follows:
- To provide people with a minimum of the skills necessary for them [a] to take their place in the society and [b] to seek further knowledge.
- To provide them with a vocational training that will enable them to be self-supporting.
- To awaken an interest in and a taste for knowledge.
- To make them critical.
- To put them in touch with and train them to appreciate cultural and moral achievements of mankind.
But are these the normative aims of education or the descriptive ones?
Following Peters [Ethics and Education 1966], the differences between education and other human pursuits are given in three different criterion.
- ‘Education’ in its fullest sense, has necessary implication that something valuable or worthwhile is going on. Education is not valuable as a means to a valuable end such as a good job, but rather because it involves those being educated being initiated into activities which are worthwhile themselves, that is, are intrinsically valuable. This is contrasted with training, which carries with it the ideas of limited application and an external goal, that is, one is trained for something for some external purpose, with ‘education’ which implies neither of these things
- ‘Education’ involves the acquisition of a body of knowledge and understanding which surpasses mere skill, know-how or the collection of information. Such knowledge and understanding must involve the principles which underlie skills, procedural knowledge and information, and must transform life of the person being educated both in terms of the general outlook and in becoming committed to the standards inherent in the areas of education. To this body of knowledge and understanding must be added ‘cognitive perspective’ whereby the development of any specialism, for example in science, is seen in the context of the place of this specialism in a coherent life pattern.
- The process of education must involve at least some understanding of what is being learnt and what is required in learning, so we could not be ‘brain washed’ or ‘conditioned’ in to education.
Well this is really an incoherent attempt to list out things that I have read about education? So far all the philosophers that I have read appear to give a normative meaning of education i.e. to say they tell us “What education ought to be…” Thus they give us what according to their philosophical outlook is the ‘normal’ version of education. But what I am interested in is the descriptive version; “How actually things are…” The more I look and think about the current educational system the more I think it has deviated from the aims of these great thinkers. Thus the descriptive version will tell us how much this deviation is, and also whether it is for good?