The purpose of education is to create responsible, productive citizens

The purpose of education is to create responsible, productive citizens

“The whole art of teaching is but the art of arousing the natural curiosity of young minds in order to satisfy it afterwards.” – Anatole France

The goal of education is to create responsible, productive, and socially contributing citizens—people who can provide for their own families as well as contribute to their communities. As Toffler says, education in the 21st century should allow people to learn, unlearn, and learn again. But I am not sure that our schools and colleges are committed to it.

Education is one of the most unscientific human endeavors. You do well in school to get into a good college and get a good degree. A good degree is supposed to be a passport to a good job. Based on your educational qualifications, you can rise to a relatively high position without having to demonstrate any outstanding ability.

Beyond that, however, you may have problems. There is no established relationship between your performance at school and your performance at work. More importantly, there is no correlation between your performance at work and your performance in life.

To be true to purpose, education must help the child develop three basic abilities:

1. Discover, develop and continuously develop a vision to become a useful member of society:

Many of us have an advantage – our parents envision our future for us, making us work towards achieving that vision. However, this is not so common among the poor. The education system must step in to help everyone create that vision and build the confidence of even the poor child to pursue the vision.

Balaji Sampath, who heads Eureka Child, an NGO committed to improving literacy and numeracy skills in public schools, told us a touching story in this context. Returning from the US to do something meaningful in education, he immersed himself in local issues by spending several months in a village. He was in a rural classroom when a child asked the teacher if it was possible to travel to the moon. “You and I cannot fly to the moon,” replied the teacher. “But scientists in the US can…” We must stop robbing our children of goals and dreams.

2. Understand that questions are more important than answers:

Our education system places too much emphasis on providing answers – often to questions that children don’t have. In other words, too often we teach children concepts without context; we need to show them why learning is important. We should focus on awakening children’s natural curiosity and teach them to love learning. A good way to do this is to put children in natural experiences or in games where they can ask questions. In these settings, learning is immediate and powerful. Learning can be a structured process of discovery, offering students a variety of learning outcomes—just as our situations and decisions later in life offer a variety of outcomes.

For example, an NGO in Mumbai went to schools with an experiment to teach students about water conservation. Students measure the amount of water consumed while brushing their teeth with the faucet open and then again with the faucet closed. Imagine if we all learn these types of lessons in school, how we can apply the principles to so many other aspects of our home and work later in life.

3. To learn to learn:

The world is moving too fast for schools and colleges to keep up. What is being taught is inadequate and out of date, or soon will be. It is important that children are encouraged to discover the answers themselves – through the Internet, through experimentation, and through access to experts in each field.

It is important for students to learn the scientific method –

(a) creating a hypothesis based on observations,
(b) designing and conducting experiments to prove or disprove these hypotheses and
(c) reaching conclusions while recognizing that conclusions may change with additional information.

With the level of knowledge available in the world today, it is also important to consider what to learn and how and when you should learn it. We need to teach children when to rely on their own judgment and when to rely on the expertise of others. Our children need to learn that even when you outsource the effort, you retain responsibility for the outcome.

What do you think? Do you agree with these ideas about the critical skills our children need? Is our education system solving this? Share your thoughts and experiences with all of us.

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