Wednesday, 4 January 2012

Education for what?

By Vidya Jonnalagadda

What is the purpose of education? Today, most students (and their parents), expect that following the yellow brick road of the ‘3 R’s will lead them to the magical Emerald City of the ‘3E’s. In other words, Reading + Writing + Arithmetic = Excellent Education Ò Easy Employment Ò Enormous (or at least enough) Earnings!

Recently I read in the news that fewer than 20% of our fresh engineering graduates are employable! If a technical course holds such bleak job prospects, what can basic science promise? As a teacher of basic science, my colleagues and I often ponder on how what we teach can be translated into employability for our students, because one main reason cited for the falling enrollment in science courses is the lack of career opportunities. 

A couple of years ago, our college held an annual function for the MBA students. As I could not attend the Inaugural Session, I asked my father’s friend, a distinguished retired officer of the IAF (Indian Air Force) and a guest at that function, about what the speakers said. He told me that he was shell shocked by what he had heard – (paraphrasing here): “When I was a student, I was told that the purpose of education was to lead a refined life – to appreciate good science, powerful literature, and beautiful Fine Arts. Jobs were just for keeping together body and soul. Today, speaker after speaker told the students how education (degree) is a weapon to bludgeon one’s peers (read competition) into oblivion and soar to success (read corporate positions).”

So, what is right? Do we learn to earn (and lead a lavish lifestyle)? Do we read to breed greed? Or do we study to clear from our minds the muddy mess of ignorance, arrogance, and intolerance? Learn to turn into gentle, considerate, and creative beings? 

I like best the 'definition' of education given many years ago by my friend, Dr. Mokshay Madiman (now at Yale) – “Education should make us good citizens”. Which means law-abiding, responsible builders of strong communities (good parents and good neighbors), and of course, tax-paying (good employers and employees) people who also know and exercise their civic rights.

So, is it possible to design syllabi for high school and college science courses which not only impart strong subject knowledge, but also inculcate skills to convert this knowledge into employment or entrepreneurship?

1 comment:

  1. Education should train a person to think for himself and learn to take decisions in life based on knowledge of the issues involved. For this, he should be able to access information and to then interpret the available information.
    So irrespective of whether a student studies Physics, or Microbiology or Economics, the thing he/she should learn is to access information, and then derive knowledge from it. So, it does not matter if he/she studied Physics and has then become a journalist or a bank manager... the thing he/she has learnt through the Physics can be put into practice for the banking/whatever.
    Another point is livelihood...we need a livelihood, so training for that is important.In today's world, what is good business today is obsolete tomorrow. So, if the person can switch businesses with ease...retrain to do something else, he/she survives. Training for living a good life and training for a livelihood are not, in my opinion, mutually exclusive , or even different.
    However, we are failing to do any of this... we have failed to train children in this manner. Many of us can see what is wrong, but no one seems to have a solution.