WHAT is the purpose of education? Is it about being "A" cut above the rest? Or is education about living a life of significance? Why is the topic of good grades being the epitome of a child's success constantly discussed?
If we trace back the purpose of education, the conventional answer is the acquisition of knowledge through reading of books and the learning of facts. Nowadays, as Eleanor Roosevelt once aptly put it, "there are so many books and, the branches of knowledge in which we can learn facts are so multitudinous today, we begin to hear more frequently that the function of education is to give children a desire to learn and to teach them how to use their minds and where to go to acquire facts when their curiosity is aroused".
She further writes that learning to be a good citizen is learning to live to the maximum of one's abilities and opportunities, and every subject should be taught to every child with this in view.
Knowledge is essential and much to be admired. But no one can know all there is to know in the world, and to inspire a spirit of
The function of education is to give children a desire to learn.. humbleness towards those who have a real knowledge in any subject and to add to that the "insatiable curiosity" is a greater achievement than to establish the idea that excellent grades are infallible and all-embracing.
Preparing students based on standards, so that they can score in examinations, carries expectations. Students should listen, study and learn. If they do that, they're doing what they are supposed to do.
But, when there is a mission, where teachers and students are equal partners in achieving new learning and they both realise that it is not simply about new knowledge, but more importantly it is about new potential, then we're not just producing cogs for an industrial and societal machine. We are all becoming better and more inventive builders of the future.
I despise it when my students question me if all tasks that I set out carry marks. Do all tasks have to be graded? Is that how knowledge is weighed?
Students fail to understand that their grades do not transit to knowledge in the practical world and they are ridiculed when unable to transform that knowledge to the betterment of society.
Students should be partners in their learning, and should be entrusted to go beyond what is expected. That is the challenge of education. They should be encouraged to freely extend and develop their own thoughts, skills, and knowledge, building on their own frame of reference, pushing and pulling through conversation, and being responsible for their part of the endeavour.
Today, there are two worlds that use the word education with opposite meanings: one world consists of the schools and colleges of our education complex, in which standardisation prevails. In that world, an industrial training mega-structure strives to turn out identical replicas of a product called "people educated for the twenty-first century".
The second is the world of information, knowledge, and wisdom, in which the real population of the world resides when not incarcerated in schools. In that world, learning takes place like it always did, and teaching consists of imparting one's wisdom to voluntary listeners.
R. Murali Rajaratenam, Kuala Lumpur New Straits Times Letters to the Editor 02 December 2012