Among the many questions that educators face from freshman students, this one’s a perennial favorite: Is education necessary for success? The very framing of this question mandates a double-edged response with no clear answer, as it is easy to discover numerous counterexamples to the numerous cases affirming each stance. But this question is not just relevant to freshmen. In today’s knowledge society, with a record number of students entering university, it is fair to ask and seek answers on the purpose that education serves and what kind of education will serve that purpose best.
In true Socratic tradition, any attempt to go beyond the binary and arriving at an understanding requires raising fundamental questions of what it means to be educated and what is to be considered a success. Commonly and for far too long have these questions been regarded very narrowly, and have only been seen through the tinted lenses of the specific context in which they are being addressed. It is often repeated today that to be educated is to be prepared for the ‘future’, and to succeed is to achieve goals in the workplace or in other specific endeavours of life. However, most employers seek those who are well versed with concrete skills that are current, relevant and lead to tangible outcomes with the implicit belief that one cannot face the future if one hasn’t overcome the challenges and survived the present. Here lies the rub: there seems to be an irreconcilable tension between meeting the demands of the present as opposed to that of being future ready. Nothing can be far truer than a Danish proverb’s pithy message that prediction is difficult, especially of the future. This has been readily affirmed by innumerable cases of how what is perceived to be ‘hot’ today wasn’t even imagined or considered to be important by specialists a couple of years ago. There is no assurance that what is thought of to be a vital skill today will continue to be relevant a few years from now.
With varying trends in individual choices and societal mores, the meaning of success continues to evolve. While what it means to succeed is debatable, there is no doubt about the associated notion of happiness in life as a desirable goal. In that sense, the right question to ask would be if education can enable a life of happiness. The answer is unambiguous; education’s purpose is not just the acquisition of credentials and tangible skills, but it should help individuals move towards realizing a fulfilling life. An important element of leading this life is a sense of purpose that allows us to discover and nourish our passions and pursue important goals which ultimately leads to a feeling of genuine happiness.
Education in this sense becomes, in the words of the great philosopher, John Dewey, a process of living not a preparation for future ‘living’. The goal of education cannot just stop at the acquisition of specific skills relevant to the marketplace. It should recognize that these skills are transient and have to be updated continuously with the progress of time. Learning and unlearning must be a constant process that transcends the stages of life and education should not only inculcate but hone this ability. It should stress upon as much on the ‘Why’ as it does on the ‘How’.
By instilling the importance of looking beyond the self and creating the desire to meaningfully contribute to worthy causes, education should be responsive to the needs of society. It should recognize the importance of individual and collective well-being and shape a mindset that enjoys life’s challenges rather than dread them. The concept of Liberal Education enables all this and much more. Universities should look at encompassing a liberal approach to their respective curriculums and enhance the educational experience of a student. Only then can education truly ensure success in one’s life.
Dr. Santosh Kumar Kudtarkar,
Dean, School of Liberal Education, FLAME University Last Updated - 25 Sep 2018