Monday, September 17, 2012

The Purpose of Education

I haven’t written an actual post on here for so long, it feels so strange, but I guess Life Happens and responsibilities have to take precedence over other things. Anyway, part of my reason for not blogging for ages was because I was asked to lecture a course at University. Naturally that takes a lot of preparation and the amount of reading I have to do makes me feel like I’m back at university myself. But all of this got me thinking about the true purpose of education.

I think I may be a bit idealistic when it comes to this topic, but I’ve always believed that the purpose of education is to learn, to gain knowledge and understanding about the world, about our role in the world and of course about ourselves. I guess I rather naively believed that most people study what they enjoy. This is perhaps why I had people looking at me strangely when I was in first year in university and I told them I was studying psychology. I still remember some of the comments; “but there’s no scope in that”, “will you be able to make money”... Okay, so these are realistic questions, which of course had no place in my “idealistic” idea of education.

It seems that nowadays “education” is about financial security and career advancement. People study with the idea that a degree will help them earn money and “live a good life”. Somehow we’ve all been led to believe that without an “education” we will be left to dwell in the lower socio-economic classes of society, struggling in poverty. This idea may make a lot of sense to many people, but not to me. You see I know people who haven’t even completed high school properly but they have multiple businesses and a lot of money, simply because of good business acumen and skills. (And of course firstly because that is what Allah Almighty had willed for them) In fact I can think of quite a few of these people, who have not studied further, but today they are “stinking rich”.

So clearly, receiving an education is not the only way to get rich and have a financially secure life, and placing economic value on education, in my opinion diminishes the true worth of education. There are many ways to get money, but education gained solely for the purpose of making money is questionable. Not only does it take away the value of important knowledge but it also gives the wrong impression to society. For instance, it makes people feel that they are inferior if they do not have a university degree. This is strange, especially considering that many people have a high degree of education which they have received in an informal way. And once again, can we really devalue the people who have knowledge about everyday life, just because they don’t have a university education. Take the mechanic for instance, or the plumber, or builder, these people don’t have a university degree, but I like to argue that their intelligence far outweighs mine. Think about it, if my car gets stuck on the side of the road, or if the pipes in my house are leaking, or if I need to build something, is a university degree really going to be able to help me?

So what then is “education”? Can it really be reduced to a university degree? And shouldn’t we be saying that our education should be ongoing, for the rest of our lives. It shouldn’t end when we receive the degree certificate, it shouldn’t end when we’re making a lot of money. In fact, we should “seek education from the cradle to the grave”, this is what was taught to us by our Beloved Prophet Muhammad (pbuh).

So I guess, we need to go back and look at our intention for receiving education. The reason why university degrees are regarded as “prestigious” is because it’s associated with money, power and status. In this sense then, the true value of education is lost. Someone can have a university degree and still be completely uneducated, because their purpose for “learning” was simply to get a certificate, which would gain them a career and money, but no real knowledge.  

When the purpose of education is removed from the money, power and status, then a different picture emerges, one that may not appeal to many people. Think of the Sufi dervish for instance, who gives up his life in pursuit of true knowledge, who lives in poverty and goes through difficulty just to end up learning life’s most important lessons. This is education!

This point can be debated, and I don’t claim to know it all because in fact I know very little, but this is simply my opinion. Education should be for the correct purposes and for the right intentions. Otherwise, you will have the status, the power, and the money, but not the knowledge. The knowledge will be lost when all those other things come in. Also, an educated person does not necessarily have to be one who went to university and received a degree, and in fact I’ve found that the most educated people are those who seem to be the stupidest.