Purpose of Education

downloadRemembering Nani A. Palkhiwala1

Life is but a wintry day; Some come to breakfast and away,
Other to dinner stay; And are full fed,
The Oldest man but sups, And goes to bed.

The multiplication of universities and colleges has hardly kept  pace with the insatiable needs of the world’s most populous democracy. By and large, our education system has not been adequate for the task of turning out a sufficient number of young leaders who can lift the country out of the polluted waters of our public life and the slime and sludge of a corrupted economy.

The most important function of education- enriching the character. What we need today more than anything else is moral leadership- founded on courage, intellectual integrity and a sense of values. The objective of higher education should be to turn our integrated personalities in whom have been inculcated noble ideas. On the University  campus we must stress the importance of Individual self-fulfillment but not self-indulgence, group cohesiveness but not group jingoism, work and achievement but not power and acquisitiveness for their own sake. A university campus is the one place where the virtues of discipline and non-violence should be written as with a sunbeam on every student’s mind.    Your education has been in vain if it has not fostered in you the habit of clear, independent thinking. There are well-dressed foolish ideas, just as there are well-dressed fools, and the discerning man must be able to recognize them as such.              

It is essential that the student during education acquire an understanding of and a lively feeling for values. He must acquire a vivid sense of the beautiful and of the normally good. Otherwise he- with his specialized knowledge- more closely resembles a well-trained dog  than a harmoniously developed person.       

Professor Walter Raleigh said that the college final and day of Judgment are two different examinations. Failures  may also take some consolation from the fact that A.E.  Housman, the great scholar of Greek and Latin, and better known as poet, once failed in the papers on those very  languages at the Oxford University. His Biographer Richards comments, “The Nightangle got no prize at the Poultry Show”. Even Rabindranath Tagore (Poet from India) was an utter failure in school but a legendary poet. 

In ancient India, kings and emperors thought it a privilege to sit at the feet of a man of learning. Intellectuals and men of knowledge were given the highest honour in society. King Janaka, himself a philosopher, journeyed on foot into the jungle to discourse with yajnavalkya on high matters of state. In the eighth century Sankaracharya travelled on foot from Kerala to Kashmir and from Dwarka in the west to Puri in the east. He could not have changed men’s minds and established centres of learning in the far-flung corners of India but for the great esteem and reverence which intellectuals enjoyed.

Unfortunately, in our times we have down-graded the intellectual and have devalued the very word. Today an “intellectual” means a man who is intelligent enough to know on which side his bread is buttered.

It has been said that there are two kinds of fools in the world—those who give advice and those who do not take it. Education has been called the technique of transmitting civilization. In order that it may transmit civilization, it has to perform two major functions: it must enlighten the understanding, and it must enrich the character.The two marks of a truly educated man, whose understanding has been enlightened, are the capacity to think clearly and intellectual curiosity.

In the eighteenth century, Dean Swift said that the majority of men were as fit for flying as for thinking. Technology has made it possible for men to fly, or at least to sit in a contraption that flies, but it has not made it possible for men  to think. If your education has made it possible for you to think for yourself on the problems which face you and which face the country, your college has done very well by you. If this habit of thinking for yourself has not been inculcated in you, you would be well advised to acquire it after you leave college.

As the cynic remarked, a formal education at a university cannot do you much harm provided you start learning thereafter. The capacity to think clearly should enable the student to sift, and reject when necessary, the ideas and ideologies which are perpetually inflicted on him by the mass media of communication. It should enable him to realize that these mass media are in chains, – in chains to the foolish and narrowing purposes of selling consumer goods, and to the narrowing and stifling purposes of politics. A liberal education is a prophylactic against unthinking acceptance of the modern “mantras2” which are kept in current circulation by the mass media. If we continue to force children to memorize the dates of wars without asking why we have perpetual war; if we continue to force children to memorize mathematical precepts without understanding how and why we use math; if we continue to force children to learn to read while ignoring literacy, we should not expect anything different than what we have had for many years: a bewildered herd. If, however, we want something much different for our children, for our communities, and indeed for the world, then we must take a radically different approach to how we educate future citizens.

If we want democracy, we must educate for democracy. Democracy is a form of associated living that fosters the growth of the individual through her participation in social affairs. Free, reflective, critical inquiry and the welfare of others undergird interaction, communion, and community building. Unlike authoritarian modes of government, democracy requires its members to participate in the political, social, cultural, and economic institutions affecting their development and, unlike authoritarian countries, democracies believe in the capacity of ordinary individuals to direct the affairs of their communities, especially their schools.

The trajectory our schools now follow does not bode well for democracy. The No Child Left Behind Act produces a hyper-productive, blindly obedient, worksheet completing citizenry, one capable of voting for American Idols, but one unable to recognize larger threats to humanity. The country must develop education for democratic participation, a type of education that helps children mature into intelligent, critical, engaged, reflective, and compassionate members of their schools and communities. Active participation in institutions prevents authoritarianism and allows for individual and community re-creation and growth. Privatizing or standardizing institutions does quite the opposite.

Democracy is about majority rule by an educated and well informed citizenry, thus democracy is dependant upon a civic press that monitors the health of our democracy. Democracy is about the common good, the dignity and human worth of every citizen. It is about We the People and the higher angels of our nature. Again, it is about spirituality. Education is firmly in control by the State. It should be no surprise that the State uses this power to propagate its needs. Education will never be truly reformed until the State loses power over it. Education must be controlled by the people.

All the troubles may be summed up in three lines (T.S. Eliot )

“Where is the Life we have lost in living?
Where is the wisdom we have lost in Knowledge?
Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?”

Note: This article is compilation of speeches Delivered by Nani A. Palkhiwala during various convocations. Some part does not belong to his speeches.  

1 This article is a compilation of speeches of Shri Nani Palkhiwala delivered during convocation addresses at the University of Bangalore, 15th January , 1972,  Karnataka University, Dharwar, 2 Februrary 1974 and Xavier Labour relations Institute, 29 February, 1980  

2 Expressions or formulate meant to be recited and supposed to have occult effect. 

About the Author

kushKush Kalra

Kush is a practicing lawyer at Delhi High Court. He graduated from Rajiv Gandhi National University of Law, Punjab, India in 2012 and has authored a book titled – Be Your Own Lawyer.

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