On Education: A One -off Event or an Open -Ended Journey?

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THE onset and massification of education are a somewhat recent phenomenon. Till only a few decades ago or even more , education was the preserve of the elite. As the state, in generic and general terms, enhanced its remit, education, for most of these entities, became a necessity. The vast territories of states needed to be governed; for this the techne was married with logos and a typical bureaucrat/ bureaucracy created. This is not the only and sole reason for the spread of education but a major one. All in all an educated mind is one that is able to hold more than one view(s), be able to think, can be relatively more open and tolerant. Education also, from a utilitarian perspective, opens up career paths and options to people.  Skill development, From an economics perspective, an educated stock of people (human capital) also leads to economic development if not economic growth.

But is education a linear one- off event or an open- ended journey?

Ideally it starts with an event- as in enrolling at school or university and should be a never ending process, leading to  a sophisticated , subtle and fine society. But, in practice. In the main, this is not so. Mostly, education is seen and viewed in utilitarian terms- that is, it should lead to a profession, skill, or , in prosaic terms, a career. While the importance of a utilitarian aspect of education cannot be denied, but, in the final analysis, this approach and focus is a dull and narrow one. It can lead to a society where techne stands divorced from logos(knowledge) creating a plethora or an army of merely skilled professionals.

In the nature of a functional need for and by society and the economy, this marketization of education has almost become an imperative.  But this approach privileges skill. A veritable skill premium exists in global markets for skilled professionals. However , in terms of the input, education is a requirement for skill development but being skilled does not necessarily mean being educated. To rattle off a few attributes of being educated, these are a cultivated and refined mind, sophistication in outlook and perspective, an empathetic, sensible and sensitive world view, among other things. These are attributes that are not correlated with skill(s). Having said this, there is a silver lining in the marketization of education:  given the demands of the knowledge economy and the ongoing , putative IVth Industrial Revolution , life long skill development is now an exigent need. A degree, the ultimate symbol , in conventional terms, now has a shelf life. If employment is the yardstick for gauging the relevance of a degree, it now no longer suffices for long term employment. The corollary here is that an individual has to consistently and constantly upgrade himself or herself , an allied benefit is continuous education. This is because, nowadays, a job or a profession requires ‘soft’ skills that can perhaps only be acquired through education.

There is a flip side to skill development as well. It lies in fetishizing skill at the expense of philosophy behind. Because the world is headed to a condition where technology assumes primacy, if there is no philosophical underpinning of either education and skill development, then a manic focus on either can lead to unthinking , uncritical , members of society , where means become the ends. An insalubrious outcome, this can only have negative social and even political outcomes that reduce social welfare.

A positive return on skill development then warrants a philosophical approach and premise that can only be attained through vigorous ,open ended education, not merely formally but on a self inspired basis. But, there is a dark side here: highly educated individuals can get alienated from their respective societies. This estrangement can be mutual: society can also look askance at the highly educated. If this alienation deepens, then these individuals can either become reclusive or embittered. What is the way out? Perhaps only though sharing the virtues of education is the answer. An endeavour that requires patience , sharing of education and imparting it to the less privileged  can not only create meaning for the one transmitting education but also lead to social returns that lead to wider and broader social welfare. It does not require a person to be  a saint. To the contrary, it has utility in the sense that not only the pool of knowledge gets widened but the educated person staves off ennui and alienation by doing so.

Education, or more accurately, good education, not only has practical benefits but it is a virtue, something that is amplified by the nature and drift of the contemporary world. So that this world has equipoise, balance and a vigorous philosophical underpinning over its direction,  it Is exigent that education becomes broad based. The onus for this lies on the highly educated!

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Wajahat Qazi

Masters with Distinction in International Relations from the University of Aberdeen, Scotland. Worked as Associate Editor of Kashmir Observer.

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