FIRING LINE: A good education for whom?
By Shantal Munro Knight | Sun, April 15, 2012 - 12:00 AM
I grew up, as perhaps most of us did, in what would be called a “poor” household. Poor in this context refers to the fact that there was never any abundance. There was always just barely enough for the family and our finances were erratic enough that some days we just barely made it through.
There was also no money for “frills”. I grew up in an era when hand-me-downs were an accepted part of how the family ran, and new clothes or new anything was treated like treasure. In this circumstance, my father drilled into me the importance of a good education as a vehicle for a better life.
I have often said to others that one of the reasons why I always believed I could become anything I wanted and never saw my present circumstance as defining my future was because from the time I knew myself my father would say to me that I could become Prime Minister. As a child, you are not clear what that position is, but you know it is something important.
As I grew up, my interpretation of my father’s sentiment grew broader. The notion of becoming Prime Minister was just an indicator that there were no limits to my aspirations. I understood from my father that pursing education was a means of giving life to those aspirations. Importantly though, I also understood that the impact of my education was not just about me.
The better life my father spoke about was not just for me and the immediate family but there was a connection between my educational achievement and the fortunes of my community and country. It was the putting together of my educational achievements alongside the achievements of the person sitting next to me in class that would create a ripple effect on the well-being of my family, community and country.
I have come to realize, however, without wanting to offend anyone, least of all my colleagues in education, that most people with at least half a brain can perhaps slide through fairly well in the arena of formal education.
After a while, most students develop core strategies of how to do just enough to pass exams and how to do just enough to maintain the necessary averages to ensure they can be identified as part of the group that has been a beneficiary of a “good education”. I have become saddened by the fact that a good education is no longer seen as part of the “commons”, that is, educational achievement has now become very individualistic and ritualistic.
There is, in my view, very little connection being made between education and national advancement and very little genuine passion for the exercise.
What we have now is a large core of people holding academic qualifications and perhaps fairly good jobs or positions based on those qualifications, but with very little social conscience or awareness of the connection between their education and national advancement.
Is it asking too much? Is it unrealistic to think we should be aware that education is about more than our own personal sense of accomplishment or the paper you get at the completion of a course of study?
All of the strategies we have for national development and innovation will never be achieved if we continue to perpetuate a system in which the value of education is equated to the number of graduates, rather than their capacity to contribute to the end goal of national development.
I have had the privilege of being able to teach both mature adults and young people. Consistently, there is the suggestion that the pursuit of higher education is about wanting to fit into the “pack”.
Higher education has become an “in thing”. Everyone is studying - this is a good thing. However, if most people are aiming to fit in or just trying to get the next promotion, who will be the movers and shakers producing the new ideas to take this country forward? Who will be the visionary thinkers who understand the power of education as a tool for the benefit of the collective? Who will take us beyond the morass of the mediocre which currently passes for optimum effort in this country?
A good education can provide the basis for a materially better life for individuals but if education is disconnected from its overarching purpose nationally, we will continue to “spin top in mud”.
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