No, education is about something much more important. It is about teaching people how to live, how to get on with one another, how to form relationships.
During my time in the University of Lagos, I met Biola. He is a doctoral candidate who hikes, swims in the deep end of Olympic size pools and finishes Jeffery Archer paperbacks in a day. He eats a ton too, but what did you expect; this is an intellectual who did not confine himself to classroom reading only.
The new tradition seems to be that scholars should pursue academic activities only. You know; be a regular at the library, read so much you forget to get a haircut and get the Einstein look, stock on the degrees and nothing else. This is a departure from earlier times when we had the Emmanuel Ifeajunas who boasted of Olympic gold medals to boot with a degree.
I think there is a crisis in our way of preparing youth for life. What has become increasingly clear is that education is not just about out conventional school matters like curriculum or standards or testing. The present training gives you technical knowledge and skills that are immediately relevant to the job market—for example, knowledge of legal precedents, software programming, jet engine maintenance, or surgical techniques but a rounded education should be much more concerned with life as a whole than with career prospects; it has more to do with character than with job skills.
This does not mean that classroom education is useless. Businessmen frequently complain about how difficult it is to find people who can write clear English prose, who can critically analyze complex arguments or who can compose and deliver an entertaining and persuasive speech. Such skills are in great demand in this Information Age and they are all part of a liberal education. But important as they are, it would be a mistake to see the acquisition of these skills as the main purpose of such an education.
This then begs the question, what is education about? Is it really about facts and figures, learning things by heart-you know, the three ‘R’s? Most of these have ceased to matter in the age of computers and calculators. No, education is about something much more important. It is about teaching people how to live, how to get on with one another, how to form relationships. It is about understanding things, not just knowing them. In the words of Noam Chomsky, ‘A lot of the educational system is designed for obedience and passivity. From childhood, a lot of it is designed to prevent people from being independent and creative’.
I envisage a future in which traditional schools face a challenge keeping up with creative learning institutions which have been set up to question the art of education as it is currently interpreted.
I see numerous articles on how to improve education and many reports about government leaders at all levels making various plans. These plans all centre on raising the salaries of teachers and professors. Of course, this is very important to education. However, education has two sides, not just those who teach, but also those who learn. Increasing the salary of teachers is just one way to improve education. It will not work without the co-operation of the other determinants, such as students’ love of knowledge and reading. Even if the teachers are devoted, it will make no sense if the students are not willing to learn.
How can we make more people love knowledge and reading? First, we all have to realize that knowledge is useful everywhere in society, not just in the classroom. Secondly, we have to understand and act on the fact that travel, motor skills and good interpersonal relationship skills work just as well as the appreciation of great books.
Also, people will love knowledge and reading when they have free access to books and information. Building more libraries and developing fine library services are important to improving education.
After the completion of my first degree, family and friends were abuzz with demands for a Masters, “Why not just push it straight to a PhD?” they suggested. And do what, I wonder? Education should not be treated as much as a task but an adventure. Why try to finish it all in one burst and sit back for a life of intellectual atrophy. I will rather travel a bit, learn a new language, improve my motor skills and return happy and refreshed to the Ivory Tower with the knowledge that I was also been educated during the brief spell that I was away.
I will leave with the words of Bertrand Russel that “Education is not to be viewed as something like filling a vessel with water, but rather assisting a flower to grow in its own way’’.
Osisiye Tafa (07033269584) is a Content Specialist with Terragon Limited. He is also on the Creative Nigeria Project which strives to create learning, mentoring and developing fora for creativity in youths.