PILLARS OF EDUCATION

The aim of education has not changed since ancient times. It has never been merely the acquisition of knowledge. It has always prepared us for life and the liberation of the self. We can’t ignore what our predecessors believed. Education is based on four pillars, says a UNESCO report. The first pillar acquires knowledge and the ways of learning to benefit from the opportunities education provides throughout life. The second pillar acquires, not only an occupational skill but also the competence to deal with many situations and various challenges of working life. The third pillar teaches us to live together and appreciate the spirit of interdependence. The fourth pillar helps us to develop our personality and our ability to autonomy. We expect our students to develop ‘foundational skills’ of literacy and numeracy, higher-order cognitive skills such as critical thinking and problem-solving skills, social and emotional skills. The more the pillar an education system has, the better it serves the purpose.

When we look at the present we find that many things are happening simultaneously. The Standard of living is going up. There is the mood of enhancement as well as disenchantment. There is progress and there is disillusion. In some sectors, there is an increase in job opportunities, while in some sectors job opportunities are dwindling very fast. There is economic growth as well as inequity. There is material progress and there is moral decadence. The world has always been like that. The changes that are taking place now are much faster.

Academic qualification alone is not the true measure of one’s suitability for a job. The prime suspect is the examination system. “At best, exams capture a student’s ability to provide a snapshot of a field in motion. But photography is a medium better suited for the dead or the immortal than for ongoing inquiry, where a premium is placed on the prospect that many of our future beliefs will be substantially different from our present ones,” writes Steve Fuller.

There is no need for all to become innovators, nor are all capable of becoming innovators. Innovation is a difficult and expensive process. Moreover, most of us like to follow, rather than take the lead. The herd instinct comes naturally to us. By observing others we can choose the best idea without going through the difficult process of innovation. Good copiers are instinctively good observers. There is no need for everyone to know everything. Few things should remain hidden from the purview of the majority. Our social structure and learning mechanism have sculpted us to become shrewd and intelligent at copying, but, perhaps, less adept at innovation and creativity. The paradox is we want to be both innovators as well as copiers. We want to recreate ideas, as well as make efforts to create a variety of things already known.

The ability to discover the ability of others is not easy. The assessment system usually tries to find out if one knows or doesn’t know. It tells if one has ‘arrived’ but doesn’t tell if the persons who haven’t arrived are on their way. This has prompted the development of technology-based assessment tools with the support of experts in diverse areas such as cognitive and developmental psychology, educational technology, neuroscience, and education policy. The design of the tools takes into account the three legs of assessment: cognition (how students develop and represent knowledge), observation (tasks or situations that allow one to observe students’ performance), and interpretation (method for making sense of the data). It is time to make a move to change the assessment approach in the education system. There is a need to move cautiously, as there are logistic and funding challenges.

How many of us would have done Ph.D. if it was not a requirement for a position or a promotion we were aspiring for, particularly in the scientific and academic fields. Many say, ‘surplus schooling’ often is unproductive. In some countries, the ‘disposable academics’ are considered the ugly underbelly of academia, because many of them can’t be suitably employed. In our country, it is necessary to recognize that more than the number, the quality of PhDs produced is important. It is well known that unlimited production dilutes the quality of PhDs by pulling less able individuals into the system. Maybe some kind of ‘academic production control’ is necessary. Some supervisors are too ‘inspiring’; they don’t hesitate to supervise more than a dozen Ph.D. students at a time. The fifth observation: Creative scientists are different from creative artists. Scientific creativity requires much more formal training than artistic creativity. “Indeed, some studies have found a curvilinear inverted-U relation between artistic creativity and formal education levels so that those with higher degrees are at a relative disadvantage,” writes Dean Simonton. Simonton believes, as you lengthen the required training, you narrow the base of expertise.

Talent is an essential component for the prosperity and growth of a country. A talent can combine depth with breadth. A large proportion of engineers go into non-engineering professions. Engineering-based organizations need to create incentives for engineers so as not to lose potential employees to other sectors. It is not to suggest that engineers don’t contribute to the economy when they are not working directly in engineering.

As Jacques Delors points out, educational policies can help to create a better world. And for doing this, it has to overcome tensions of various kinds. 1. The tension between the global and the local, 2. The tension between the universal and the individual; cannot ignore the promises of globalization nor its risks, particularly the risk of dissolving the unique character of individual human beings,3. The tension between tradition and modernity; how can autonomy be acquired in complementarity with the free development of others, 4. The tension between long-term and short-term considerations in a world where an over-abundance of transient information and emotions continually keeps the spotlight on immediate problems, 5. The tension between the need for competition and the concern for equality of opportunity; in terms of lifelong education to reconcile three forces: competition, which provides incentives; co-operation, which gives strength; and solidarity, which unites 6. The tension between the extraordinary expansion of knowledge and human beings’ capacity to assimilate it; in the already prevailing atmosphere of too much to know, it is wise not to lose the basic features of education, 7. The tension between the spiritual and the material: often without realizing it, the world has a longing, often unexpressed, for an ideal and for values that we shall term ‘moral’.