Tuesday, July 03, 2007

What is Education?

Last night I watched a couple of movies. First one was “Agantuk” and then “Sakha Prasakha” by Satyajit Ray. Today I watched CNN news that Lewis Libby, a convicted former US vice-presidential aide, has been pardoned by US president. US Supreme Court sentenced Mr. Libby to two-and-a-half years in prison, two years of probation and a fine of $250,000. Sometime ago, I got an offer for a job with a specific US visa that required the prospective employer to give me a certain minimum salary. But the employer asked me to sign a document stating that I get the stated minimum salary while my actual salary would be less than that minimum salary. All the people concerned in the foresaid stories have one common virtue. All are well “educated” people breaking laws but do not find anything wrong in that. Such people include US president; aid of US vice president, a university professor in US and a highly educated entrepreneur in US. In short, all are successful people with some heavy weight degrees from some best universities in the world.

When I was a kid, my parents and many teachers in our village school used to tell us that we need to be a good human being first and then anything else. Marks in exams, monetary success all were non-issue for them. I learned that the main goal of education is to become a "good human being”. But when I see around after earning some heavy weight degrees, I realized that the aim of education is not to become a better human being but to gain knowledge to fool others without being caught. I started thinking if institutional education system teach us only that much to enable us to serve our masters and earn money, as much as we can. If we can do that, we will be considered “successful” and also “highly educated”.

In this world there is almost no place of sympathy, empathy to other less fortunate people around us, leave alone other animals. Educated professionals in present day world do not care much about anything other than his/her career. We do not care much but accept as "reality" about- sky high corruption in most of the third world countries like India, ethnic cleansing in Dafur, civil unrest in Sierra Leon, blood diamond in Congo, cleansing of rain forest, wiping out habitats of many animals, global warming… the list is endless. Many of the “educated” people tell, “why should I need to know all those”? Some consider those as "part of life and we need to accept the reality". Some are scared when they see Islamic terrorism on TV and don’t know “why these people are so angry and violent!”. Some assure themselves that they donate money when organizations ask and he feels like. This reminds me about my days in Calcutta University. I used to (rather, had to) donate money for students’ union, run and managed by SFI (student wing of the communist party). Not because I believe in their ideology but to avoid problem (fear of being out-of- fashion of being “intellectual” and humiliation).

More the world is getting populated more we are loosing faith on sympathy and empathy. One reason is surely competition. Worldwide reach of information explosion is another reason. In not so distant past economic backward people used to avoid effluent people thinking that they are more intelligent, hard working and noble. That’s why they are rich. Due to that awe, they used to keep a distance. But now they know (through wide reach of TV, internet etc) that this “elite” class is no more intelligent, no more hard working and no less corrupt than most other people. So people do not hesitate to grab the collar of a Vice Chancellor of a university or a bureaucrat or a doctor with slightest provocation. Can we blame those students or people when they do such thing? I don’t think so. To me all these behavior is a ramification of loosing our value system in our education. Many of us read great books, watch great movies, listen great songs but we hardly learn anything from those. As a person we remain the same; same corrupt, same dishonest, same hypocrite, follow the same sycophancy.

"Education" no longer grooms people to become a better, civilized human being. It only teaches us the art and knowledge to serve our master (employer), gather degrees (to distinguish ourselves from others) and most importantly, accumulate money by whatever means deemed necessary. It enables us to survive with a degree of personal comfort, but hardly prepares us to dream of a better world.

Nice video presentation on the same topic by Sir Ken Robinson.