Knowledge acquisition not just to fulfil market demand

By Alif Mustaqim

Education is the most important component that shapes civilisation. Yet, it is widely abused and misunderstood today. They said “the collapse of education is the collapse of the nation.” Undeniably, education shapes civilisation.

Education today just cannot be meant to fulfil market demand alone. I am not sure if this is true. However, believing the statement above to be the core problem of education today merely shows that I, myself, am a product of the failed education today.

The education system today failed in its purpose in the first place. Education is designed to produce graduates to fulfil job markets rather than graduates with minds of higher values and ethics.

The easiest way to see the symptom is in the very reason why most students go to school: which is to get a job. Ask any student in school and they will say that their ambition is to be a doctor, or an engineer, or a lawyer. The point here is, kids and adolescents were brought up to make them see that the purpose of schooling is to secure a job in the future.

Rather than saying “I want to be a doctor’, what should be said by the student is “I want to help people improve their health and safety” or “I want to revolutionise the medical world” or “I want to provide easier and cheaper access to medication in my local district”. The profession is more focused on what legacy they want to leave behind.

Throughout my life, I barely meet an educator who is committed to teach me about life rather than teaching me for grades and exams. It is rare to find teachers who are sincere in developing the intellectual exploration in students rather than teachers who teach and pressure us to get good grades, which in turn is to serve the company’s or organisation’s interest.

In any school today, physical education is painfully limited to only half an hour a week. Physical education is important to develop physical health and teamwork in games, yet very marginalised today. It is also widely believed that learning works better with playing. But these are all deemed as “not important” because it has no effect on grades.

Art, a subject which helps students to express themselves and expand their mind is also very limited, and, in fact, does not exist for those not in the arts stream.

Even in universities, and I’m sure many of my friends and acquaintances would agree with me, is how mechanical the classes have become. Too focused on grades and fulfilling job markets, rather than developing students to use their degrees to serve society or the community.

This is not to say, however, that education should not fulfil job markets. But the very purpose of education in the first place has been forgotten when the focus shifted from producing informed and ethical citizens to producing company-serving citizens.

Prominent education scholar, Alfie Kohn, in his book “What Does it Mean to be Well Educated?” (2004), pointed out that what we should be asking is about the “purposes of education”. With that, what should be asked next is “You seem to want this. So how come you’re doing that?”

If education is meant to produce competent, caring, loving and lovable people, then how come we are injecting into the minds of the young the doctrine of “study to get a good job”? Is getting a good job the only thing people today know what to do with education?

Nevertheless, teachers cannot be fully blamed. The social system we live in today has inevitably made us to be this way – where markets decide life. Capitalism is the driving force in the world today, and anything that doesn’t bring in profit ought to be marginalised.

That’s why subjects on ethics, civics, morals, arts, music and physical education are not given due attention. This had also made the teachers having no choice but to plan the school syllabus to meet market demands (which, in fact, gives the opposite outcome in practice).

A better thought system is needed when we shape our education system. Education should be about learning about the world and finding out the truth. To do this, education should be connected to higher ideals and purposes in life, not to low worldly ideals that serve us temporarily.

One will come to the conclusion that the true higher ideals and purposes are from the Holder of reality, the Creator of the universe. The man of God believes in benefit over profit, human welfare maximisation over profit maximisation, truth over superstition, certainty over assumptions, purpose over self-interests, education over graduate factories. ***

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