Sunday, May 9, 2010

Education and Empowerment

Education, regardless of the cultural or temporal context in which it is taking place, should result in the empowerment of individuals. Education should leave a person better than what he was and this precisely is the aim of education. Thus, if education does not result in the empowerment of individual, then, it means that education has not performed its function in a proper way.

Now, the question is what it means to empower a person through education? The traditional notion, that has come to us form Plato defines knowledge as a virtue. According to this traditional idea, it is knowledge that actually empowers the individual. This idea is also supported by the thinkers like E.D. Hirsch, who relates the extent of knowledge that a person has with the success in life. Thus, for the people who follow a traditional notion of human well being and empowerment, it is knowledge that gives a person the opportunity to live a better life. The more a person knows, the more a person enjoys value in the society.

However in modern times knowledge becomes obsolete in a very short span of time. The traditional notion that knowledge never changes and remains true forever has lost its credibility. Dewey in one of his writings says:
“With the advent of democracy and modern industrial conditions, it is impossible to foretell definitely just what civilization will be twenty years from now. Hence, it is impossible to prepare the child for any precise set of conditions.”

The above quote from Dewey shows that knowledge and values are not eternally true. Thus, we cannot predict what values and knowledge we will be cherishing after twenty years from now.

Same notion about the eternity and absoluteness of truth can be found in the writings of Nietzsche. Nietzsche rejects the notion that truth is eternal and remains true forever. On the other hand, he says that truth is a pragmatic necessity and we have to have faith in the existence of truth, in order to live a proper life.

Thus, from what Nietzsche and Dewey have said about truth, it is quite evident that there is no such thing like eternal or absolute truth.
In modern times, since everything is changing so rapidly, it has become difficult to have a set of fixed values and fixed knowledge. Dewey has pointed out that we even can’t say what it would be like after twenty years, thus, it is not appropriate to give a large body of information to our children as a preparation for life. For information is sure to lose its value in the course of time. Instead of giving them information alone, we can enhance their natural abilities to learn, to construct their own knowledge, to judge and evaluate things properly and to create their own way of dealing with problematic situations.

Traditional curriculum inculcates fixed ideas which are useless in modern day’s precarious world where an individual can exists as a free-decision-maker alone. To be a free-decision-maker we need freedom to know, judge, decide and act.

Individual and society are not either or terms. Thus, the fact that there are no fixed values has no adverse impact on the fabric of society. A community is nothing but a group of individuals living together, having common aims and sharing their resources. Mass culture that is meant to repress people and to facilitate ruling elite is being propagated through media and formal education. The undermining of originality and original works or high culture and the suppression of individuality through education shows that education is being utilized to serve the purpose of ruling class.

Thus, school in modern days ought to be a place where students should be kept free from learning and memorizing large bodies of information. Children should not be objectified through discipline. There should be no memory tests and traditional sort of examinations. School should support cooperative learning through practical work. Students should be given opportunity to experience things. They should be trained for giving proper judgments and evaluations. They should be encouraged to enhance their moral reasoning through acting freely, according to their impulses and contrary to their habits, in a community of people, without causing any bad consequences for themselves or for others. The teaching learning strategies should be student centered and oriented towards activity. The spirit of inquiry should be enhanced and pedagogical methods should be based on the method of inquiry. The values cherished at schools ought to be democratic. There should be no unnecessary externally imposed discipline in the school except a timetable based on the division of activities and the timings of the school. Students should be divided according to their age group and learning abilities. The hands-on activities carried out at schools should promote creativity and judgment power in the students.

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