Education: Challenging Realities and Critical Questions – by K. Haridas Nair

We have recently read about the suicide of the last President of South Korea who was facing investigations questioning his credibility. Several Cabinet Ministers in the United Kingdom have resigned in what has been a most embarrassing issue for Prime Minister Gordon BROWN.

Dishonest claims and the manipulations of benefits by elected representatives have shocked everyone. A stadium completed only a year ago and built at the cost of about nearly thirty million pounds sterling has crashed in Malaysia raising issues of both corruption and credibility.

We have read enough about the recent global economic crisis that has rocked several banks in the first world nations and come to know about the excessive bonuses that ha been paid to senior executives. Greed stalks the world and poverty, corruption and dishonesty eat away the credibility of institutions and systems.

All this begs several serious questions. Where has our Education led us to? The problems of today’s world are not caused by the poor and illiterate but engineered and manipulated by intelligent minds with misplaced motivations. So as Educators globally we have to ask ourselves some very serious questions.

What are the outcomes that must motivate Education and inspire the educated? While there may be a difference in emphasis in different parts of the world one convincing need is for education to shape the values of globalization and that education is less manipulated by monetary expectations and market forces.

If it is purely learning through the cramming of information and the exercise of memory that produces for society highly intelligent efficient hardworking and successful individuals then there will be many crooks that would fit this bill. One could relate such characteristics to several corporate and political leaders the world over from Enron to Satyam, from Marcos to Mugabe. There are others who have graduated from the Harvard Business School and from the top Universities in the World.

The most challenging question relates to the source of values and the deeper questions relating to motivation. A recent article about the state of family life in the United Kingdom indicates that by 2013 the number of married people living in the UK will be less that those living together. So this is the reality but what does this say about the institution of the Family. The same challenges are increasingly felt in developing countries and the situation is contained because of the conservatism that is still very much a part of societies in Asia.

The family has always been the nursery from where children imbibed a sense of values. Yes, religion and practices have also contributed to this reality. What are the sources that people turn to today? It is this vacuum that is creating crisis of values that is becoming rampant in society as a whole. Trust and commitment are essential for the development of a trust worthy relationship. If this is absent as a personal experience then expediency becomes the norm and “I Me Mine” as a lifestyle takes over.

Education today while creating highly intelligent individuals, capable, hardworking and intellectual is also producing individuals who are rather primitive in the context of their motivations. Individuals who have achieved great heights but who have serious character flaws when it comes to relationship and who have very little understanding of themselves or their own lives.

It was Socrates who stressed that virtue must be based on knowledge and understanding so that these become part of an individual’s character. Everyone must question what these values mean for them, understand what this involves and appreciate the practical consequences that flow there from. Such reflections offer the best kind of knowledge in preparing one for an ethical response.

Only the person who knows what is good and how to do it can do good deeds; the ignorant person cannot do good deeds because he does not know what is good. “Know Thyself” as stated in the Temple at Apollo at Delphi stands as a good reminder. We must all know what is it that we want to accomplish, how to do so if we wish to obtain the best results for oneself and the community at large. An unexamined life cannot thus succeed and is not worth living.

Education must thus inspire this reflection, the examining of one’s life, the ownership of values that must guide one’s action and the power of the human mind to discipline, improve and remake itself. Silence and reflection are critical to this process and an educated individual is one who is then able to manage information and memory, motivated by seeking the larger good of humanity as a whole.

Education must inspire this greater sense of humanity beyond ethnicity, religion, colour or nationality. It is equally important to match intellectual development with inner personal development rather than an emphasis on economic development. Developing a sense of questioning and reflection will move as forward from conformity to initiative. A more inclusive approach should be another fruit of education inspiring a move from competition to cooperation for the common good.

In a world of consumerism and greed propelled by acquisitiveness we need to be inspired by the right motivation that only a learning and reflective mind can endow us with. While religion can be a motivating force we must balance dogma with scientific realities. All this cannot be achieved purely by educational institutions. This is where the partnership with the family becomes significant. Schools and educational institutions mirror the social realities that today challenge us.

We have to go back to issues like moral education, character building not through a theoretical framework but through the sharing of experiences, story telling and modeling. The process must be spelt out clearly so that outcomes reflect the difference. Counseling, mentoring and shared experiences can provide the base for such responses if education is to address the critical challenges of today and prepare capable and ethical leaders for the future.

(Appeared in ‘disha’ Vol 12 No 4-July 2009)

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