Dear reader, last week I asked a question whether education today has become a rite of passage. It was a “shock and awe” strategy that painted a gloomy picture of education and its purpose in our lives, let alone in society.
Admittedly, as much as the education is a problem, it is also the solution – for better or worse. Which leads to another question: what are education’s redeemable features?
Let’s start at the heart of the matter. This is the idea that today there is a struggle – an undeclared war – for the soul of that thing we call education.
It is the tension between the dark forces that bring about anxiety due to education’s disappearing promise, on the one hand; on the other is the ecstasy that we get from the sense of fulfilment and accomplishment that comes from education, that deep happiness we feel on graduation day.
The purpose of education
Education enriches two aspects of our lives. One is tangible; the other is an intangible. Both are important to human beings as they negotiate relations with one another, but also in their interaction with nature. The tangible aspect of education has to do with its practical purpose, as a vehicle for upward social mobility.
In this regard, education improves our prospects for living a comfortable life, the ability to escape poverty, as well as being able to provide support to our loved ones not only as a show of gratitude and reciprocation for what they’ve sacrificed to put us in such a privileged position, but also for the intrinsic reasons of helping others.
The fact that our ability to do these things is disappearing is what is threatening our view of education. Moreover, it is what is undermining the excitement that is supposed to come from this achievement.
Imagine being unable to provide for aging parents who sacrificed so much for you; that alone can be a cause of shame for many a graduate. Needless to say, such hopelessness has the potential to undermine education as a worthwhile pursuit.
But education also has a higher purpose. Abstract in nature, it transcends the practical aspects mentioned above. This is the pursuit of education for its own sake.
It’s a pursuit that is motivated by the quest for a deeper meaning about life. In this sense, education is supposed to provide the tools necessary to grapple with life in order to discover its meaning, avehiclethat ensures that a human being is made whole.
An educated person, having acquired these tools, is prepared to pursue a more meaningful, purposeful life (the symbolism of the graduation ceremony is to bear witness to this fact).
It turn, the graduate wittingly or unwittingly makes a promise to society that they will attempt to pursue a life of meaning to self and society – a dignified life. In other words, “education means responsibility,” as the President said on graduation day at StadeAmahoro.
These reasons are why education is – or should be – magical. It follows, therefore, that due to its purpose – both practical and abstract –we cannot afford to allow it to fail. And, despite the anxiety that results from the challenges in its practical promises, this is a battle we, as a society, cannot afford to lose; it’s why we must exercise our collective will to ensure that this ecstasy around education prevails over the dark forces of academic anxiety.
Reinforce education’s meaning in our lives
One of the ways we have tried to reinforce the meaning of education in the lives of our graduates has been to tell them to become entrepreneurs.
However, most graduates are aware that many successful entrepreneurs inside and outside the country either never went to school or dropped out. But the underlying message is clear and quite honest: become innovative with the education you have received; make meaning out of it; don’t wait for anyone to come do that for you. Fair enough.
However, much as the onus is placed on the graduates, it is also important that there is innovation on the part of policy makers. As they interest graduates to shapetheir own meaning to their education, the policy makers should also try to meet them half-way by conceiving an education that reinforces its meaning – both practical and abstract – in their lives.
On entrepreneurship, for instance, what are the qualities that make entrepreneurs tick? Can they be taught in class? If so, how can they be integrated in the curriculum? What is the role of such entrepreneurs in designing that curriculum?
What would it take to get them to teach courses that are designed on the basis of their experiences? Or should the students spend more time in the natural setting of the entrepreneurs to observe first-hand what those qualities are that make them so successful?
I’m sure many of these questions have been asked before. But the point is to find ways to recalibrate this thing we call education. This is because we can’t afford the challenges in the practical aspects of education to undermine the entire purpose of education.
In any case, the consequences would be dire. That is because education – when properly conceived – is what gives meaning to life. And we clearly cannot afford a society that has lost meaning for life. That’d be collective suicide.
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