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What is the purpose of education?

  • Published at 06:19 pm July 26th, 2018
Are we breeding mediocrity? MAHMUD HOSSAIN OPU

We must strive to nurture minds that can change the world for the better

This year’s HSC results have been published, and the results have been “rough” to say the least. A couple of students I personally know were unable to secure GPA-5, even though they think they deserved it.

Preparing for the HSCs is an arduous endeavour for candidates. Students are given around 18 months or so to learn everything on every subject. If they somehow fail to do so, they are doomed.

Like everyone, I am the product of our education system and societal values. If our education system were a complete failure, I wouldn’t be where I am today. But no doubt, I could have been a far better human being had our education system been a bit better.

Having said that, preparing for the HSC exams was one of my worst academic experiences. It was then that I had discovered the arrogance of some of my teachers who considered themselves to be on par with Albert Einstein, letting that attitude go to their heads, and becoming incredibly lax in teaching their students.

Where my mind was supposed to be opened up to new ideas and concepts, all I witnessed were self-proclaimed kings and queens of academia further exploring their own arrogance in front of an audience of young men and women.

Which eventually gave way to a culture of fear and false-flattery on behalf of the students.

I can’t separate my student life from that feeling of fear. It has left such a lasting impression on me that even today, when I think of any of my teachers, I feel a shiver run down my spine. Which ultimately led me to associate education with punishment.

Over the last 10 years or so, things have changed, thankfully. However, you can hardly tell that, judging by the state of our education system in general. Even if we set aside all the bad press it has been getting lately, it’s hard to tell if the system has seen any real progress to balance out all the negative factors.

The system is churning out the same individual with almost every student. The system is failing to create individuals in the real sense -- failing to fix the more dogmatic elements of our society in the process. In fact, discriminatory divisions within our education system are making things even worse, which, in effect, are exacerbating conflicts based on class, religion, and ideology, impeding national development in the process.  

As it stands, our education system makes us conform to existing societal regulations and norms -- elements which are undoubtedly manipulated, corrupted, and void of truth and transparency. It doesn’t help us to think beyond the existing structure and to try and change it for better. It inspires and motivates us to fit in, and not to question the existing power dynamics and legitimacy of our existing institutions.

I believe, to truly bring positive change to our education system, and thus our society and culture at large, we need to take a couple of steps backwards and ask ourselves: “What is the purpose of education?”

The purpose of education is to shape a mind that will be able to see things clearly and differentiate what is right from what is wrong, and will be able to question anything and everything. A truly educated mind takes nothing for granted.

Clearly, our education system is failing to foster such minds.

Many students were unable to secure the expected results in this year’s HSCs.

They are upset, and many of them who could have had the potential to change the nation, or even the world, have no chance of doing so anymore. 

But how great it would be if our education system could ensure that all of these examinees never gave up, and kept reaching for their goals?

SM Musa is a PhD candidate at Erasmus University Rotterdam.