An Argument about the Purpose of Education
No progress is possible without education. It is an axiom, which does not need any justification. Since the beginning of the human evolution, educated people have been guiding the rest of society towards the most essential economic, social, cultural, and political goals. Education is the foundation for the society's continuous development. Unfortunately, under the influence of numerous contextual factors, the original mission of education has undergone a substantial philosophic shift. Many modern educators view colleges and universities as a convenient instrument of depositing knowledge in their students. They define the boundaries of acceptable and unacceptable knowledge and expect that it will benefit their students in the long run. One of the biggest mistakes made by modern colleges and universities is that they limit their functions to job preparation. In reality, the mission of quality education extends far beyond professional development and preparation for future employment. In my opinion, education should go beyond job preparation and enable students to solve their real-life problems, providing common knowledge and cultural literacy, encouraging critical thinking, empowering students to develop new brainstorming capacities, and reflecting regular changes in the social, cultural, and political contexts faced by modern students.
One of the main purposes of education is to provide students with common knowledge about the world and expand their cultural literacy. Cultural literacy is much more complex than reading and writing proficiency. Students must have the level of cultural literacy needed to cope with the most essential daily tasks, from reading newspapers to fulfilling their workplace obligations (Hirsch 237). Today's world has become much more demanding in terms of cultural literacy. The rapid expansion of technologies and the growing availability of information require that students have a high level of literacy to understand the meaning of the pressuring information inflows. As a result, the intended function of modern colleges and universities is to "make us masters of this standard instrument of knowledge and communication, thereby enabling us to give and receive complex information orally and in writing over time and space" (Hirsch 238). Once I asked one of my friends about William Shakespeare, one of my favorite poets. I was deeply surprised at the fact that the student, who was earning outstanding grades and beat everyone in his group, had no idea of who Shakespeare was and why he was so great. This is what is meant by cultural literacy – going beyond the narrow curriculums, which college and university educators enjoy so much. It is high time college and university curriculums were expanded beyond the traditional limits. Students deserve to see and explore the world in its brightest colors, which alludes that the main purpose of education can be achieved through cultural literacy. The world of a mathematician is not limited to mathematics, and the world of a sales manager is not limited to sales. Colleges and universities should implement curriculums that include the basic knowledge of various topics and subjects to help students make a better sense of the sophisticated information-rich world. I believe that cultural literacy means that students possess broad knowledge in more than one discipline that helps them make the most difficult decisions. It is not the only factor of individual success. Curriculums that include numerous topics and subjects can also make students better prepared to face the challenges of life.
One of the main purposes of education is to promote and encourage critical thinking. Being culturally literate is never enough to bring students to the desired social, professional, and personal goals. Better cultural knowledge will shape a good basis for the development of students' critical thinking skills. Unfortunately, many colleges and universities view themselves as mere depositories and transferals of information (Freire 7). According to Freire, the modern system of education resembles a network of banking institutions, where teachers and educators act as depositors of knowledge, and students are expected to accept and store this knowledge. This banking concept of education is invariably linked to the concept of domination, because college and university educators often assume a dominating position in their relations with students. Many educators believe that they are more knowledgeable than students. I am confident that university and college teachers make a huge mistake, when they assume that they can define the boundaries of students’ knowledge. Such education will never make students more knowledgeable and productive. Once I had a serious conflict with a teacher, who made us learn poems and prose texts by heart. She insisted that we had to expand our knowledge of literature but never encouraged us to explain its meanings. One time I asked her to describe and explain her favorite literary passage but I received a very paradoxical answer: the teacher said that my question did not fit in her curriculum and she could not devote her time to abstract discussions. Poor are those students, who have no chance to express their opinions in class, and poor are those teachers, who fail to establish an open dialogue with their students. The teacher and students should unite around their core learning goals; the teacher should pose problems and make students solve them proactively. In my opinion, these problems should change, depending on the context in which students exist and the social, cultural, and political issues they are facing. Students need to be culturally literate and critical-thinking, and the entire system of education should be tied to the realities of students’ lives.
I think that the system of education must prepare individuals for real-life challenges and, for this reason, students should be empowered to brainstorm. Brainstorming means avoiding censorship and providing students with enough freedom to express their ideas. Nafisi speaks about the dangers of political limitations and censorship in the field of education: when political considerations govern the choice of learning and knowledge strategies, this system of study becomes a failure (336). Nafisi shows that brainstorming helps students find their own inimitable self (337). They are finally free to express themselves in their own way.
Certainly, the situation in the western world is not as tragic as it is in Islamic countries, but it is not as good as it could be. Colleges and universities take a reluctant position in everything that relates to students' personality development. Many curriculums do not leave any room for brainstorming. Many teachers do not know how brainstorming strategies should be implemented. Several years ago, one of my written works was not graded because, according to the teacher, I went beyond the classroom material and applied new ideas. That was one of the most shocking encounters with the modern system of education. After the incidence, the only question I had was whether our colleges and universities were in a position to grow job robots. If a student is not allowed to go beyond the classroom material and generate new ideas, how can he (she) be creative later, when competing in the job market?
Students are the full members of the learning community, and they do have the right and opportunities to insist that brainstorming benefits them. Students should and must go beyond the classroom material to persuade their teachers that they are creative, wise, and unique. The role of colleges and universities is to create a productive ground for the development of exceptional and self-fulfilling personalities instead of robotic students. In this context, teachers should ask students about what they need to study most and figure out how their learning needs could be met. A simple survey of college and university students could bring the system of education towards the new state of openness and dialogue with the learner.
I am convinced that education should be personalized. One of the main purposes of education is to ensure that the learning process is aligned with the needs and expectations of students. The learning process must be personalized and reflect the regular changes in politics, culture, social and economic life confronting modern students. It is not enough to turn students into good workers. Education must be real and tangible. "We are now in a Conceptual Age, where our problems no longer have a single verifiable answer" (SAP Guest). As a result, colleges and universities should enable students to reconsider their problems from more than one perspective. The modern system of education must assume a problem-solving stance, and individuals who come to the system of education looking for new knowledge, should be able to use their experience and skills to solve personal problems.
For example, I decided to continue my education because I wanted to expand my worldview, establish new ties, reconsider my earlier mistakes, and develop a new, more realistic vision of the global reality. I have become a student because I want to be useful to my community. Today, people are valued for their unique contributions, for something new that they bring with them, but many colleges and universities are still blocked by the simplified one-correct-answer logic of the Knowledge Age (SAP Guest). This problem does not have any simple solution. It cannot be solved by merely adjusting curriculums and making them personalized. It requires a global shift in the education mentality, and students will have to become the primary drivers of the proposed change.
For years, colleges and universities in the western world acted like banking institutions. Their functions were limited to depositing theoretical knowledge in students and making them learn the proposed educational material by heart. Today, the purpose of education is to go beyond job preparation and enable students to solve their real-life problems successfully. In my view, to meet these goals, education should cultivate cultural literacy, encourage critical thinking, and empower students to brainstorm. In addition, education should be aligned with students' needs and be as personal as possible. The humanity has entered the new conceptual stage of development, when most questions have more than one answer. Students must be able to review their problems from more than one perspective. They should be able to generate new ideas and apply advanced knowledge to solve true-to-life challenges. Colleges and universities must assume the role of knowledge facilitators, while treating students as full members of the educational community. Students must have voice in curriculum decisions. They should be free to go beyond their curriculums and become fully educated and culturally literate professionals with a sophisticated vision of the world.