What is the purpose of education? No one captures the most apt answer to this question better than Martin Luther King, Jr. when he once said that, “The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character – that is the goal of true education.” This leads us to the next important question: Do the modern education systems, especially in developing countries, ensure that the above stated fundamental purpose of education – as envisaged by King – is achieved? I really doubt. Can a person achieve the ability to “think intensively and to think critically, as well as have intelligence plus character, without having done much of the formal education system? YES.
With most of our education systems placing so much incentive on passing exams and earning colorful certificates, the original purpose of education is being gradually defeated. Teachers and their students are becoming more and more obsessed with performing well in exams, than the eventual application of the education gained in school.
Most of the African education systems are good examples in this category. It therefore comes as no surprise when we hear employers complaining that our institutions of higher learning are churning out half-baked graduates who, “have too much book knowledge” but, are totally green when it comes to the application of their skills in the job market! If intelligence and character are indeed supposed to be the yardsticks used to measure true education, then we can safely say that even a good number of our presumably learned leaders are not educated, since most of them are usually entangled in serious integrity issues. Whenever some of them open their mouths, their intelligence and character is highly questionable.
Putting so much emphasis on passing exams and earning good certificates has actually made exams a do or die phenomenon whereby students, in collaboration with their parents and teachers, are known to go to unimaginable extents just to ensure that they pass their exams. This is purely responsible for the corruption and exam irregularities that have been dogging our Kenyan exam system over the years. Some of the students have been forced to become cramming machines for the purpose of passing exams. Such students are likely to fill so much information in their heads whenever exams are around the corner, and once they pour out the information on their answer-sheets, during exam time, they are done with it! You might never see them voluntarily touch a book again till when the next exams are announced! Once such people graduate and get jobs, they say goodbye to books and restrict their knowledge to the necessary minimum that is demanded by their jobs.
This is the surest way of defeating the original purpose of education. As William Butler Yeats once said, “Education is not the filling of the bucket, but the lighting of a fire.” We all know that a bucket which is filled with water will eventually become empty due to leakages and evaporation, but a spark of fire ignited in a forest will soon engulf miles and miles of forested land. We totally miss the point of education, if it will not be able to ignite in the student: a self propelled passion to continue learning on their own; a passion to question the status quo; the curiosity of trying to understand why things are done the way they are done and inventing new ways of doing them; and a passion to shake up traditional institutions by coming up with brand new ideas and innovative ways of leadership, in different spheres of life.
This brings us to another big question: Must one go through a formal learning institution in order to be seen as educated? Albert Einstein once said that, “Education is what remains after one has forgotten what one has learned in school.” Therefore, if you have completely forgotten everything you learnt in school; then you are simply not educated, you are just but another learned fool. However, school is also relative in this case.
Some of the most intelligent people to have graced the face of mother earth never went to a formal school, but they were very good students of the school of life. This is the school that has sometimes been referred to as “The school of hard knocks.” Such people had great passion for knowledge, though they learnt the hard way. They eventually became world changers and made history. I think this fact must have inspired Maya Angelou when she said that, “My mother said I must always be intolerant of ignorance but understanding of illiteracy. That some people, unable to go to school, were more educated and more intelligent than college professors.” How true! I am sure you know many illiterate people who are by far more intelligent than most university professors today. I think my mother is one of them.