Monday, November 17, 2008

The Purpose of Education

We hear in Malaysia that many of our millionaires and billionaires are illiterate. So, what is the purpose of education?

The purpose of education cannot be to make money. If your purpose in life is to be rich, then this can be easily done by following some of the age-old methods (without education), such as taking from others the fruits of their labour and their wealth and assets, by hook or by crook. To do this, you just have to have power, the strength to abuse, and to bend things to your own liking. You tell stories to your soldiers and get them to attack at the slightest displeasure on your part. You cannot be mean and unreasonable when you are educated. You really have to act foolishly and do all the things that your mother would have told you not to do when you were young.

This is why to some young people, and even to some of their older counsellors, education may not be a good investment, in terms of dollars and cents.

What education does to a person is to learn to think rationally. To be reasonable - to think and do based on reason. Reason comes from the mind and thinking, which is different from emotion that comes from the heart. Most of all, wisdom comes from reflection and an understanding of what this life is all about.

So, in so far as I am concerned, it does not really matter what you study so long as you study in a proper educational establishment in the formal system. The subject matter is a personal choice, a choice which may turn out to be right or not. It doesn't really matter. What is important, to my mind, is that you must study the chosen subject thoroughly, so that you understand the reasoning from the fundamental elements to the ultimate conclusion. This is called thorough knowledge.

Once you have activated your thinking by focusing on a specific subject matter, you would then be able to think for yourselves on a whole range of other subjects which you have not have studied in school but which you become increasing interested as you grow older.

So far, so good. You are now an educated person, and can think for yourself. You are able to understand what other people are saying about something which you may not have studied. You are able to appreciate the reasoning of other people for the stance in life they have taken, whether you agree with them or not. You become a more understanding and sensitive person, to the other elements of life surrounding you which impact you and others. You begin to see life in a constant state of flux, alive and well.

With a deep appreciation of the nature of life, you learn to live as simply as you can, with very few needs or with extravagant needs which you know are dispensible and which you do not have to hold on dearly to. With simple or dispensible needs, you do not have to be greedy in your pursuit of money because you do not need that much. You make do with whatever little you have. You rejoice in your own simplicity. You are happy just to breathe.

Having therefore reduced yourself to nothing, or near nothing, that is, a negligible footprint, your mind is then extended to the larger world around you. You can now feel the world and the cosmos, having, like the Hubble Telescope, gone beyond the clouds of your own ego, and see things as they are, as they actually are, rather than a figment of your own imagination.

You realise that you have been fortunate. You are living a good life, even if simple. You eat what is needed because you are hungry. You sleep when you are tired, which is not often because you do not have worries. In short, you become healthy and energetic and positive. You are quite happy to live and then go away. You have no baggage.

You realise that there are other people who are less fortunate. They have problems, and they are unable to overcome their problems.

You resolve to find solutions to their problems. They could be individual problems, i.e., problems relating to individuals, or they could be collective problems, i.e., problems relating to the group. But you set your mind to think and try to come up with solutions.

You will see that the problems are related to attachment to old habits, probably because it gives people a sense of identity and belonging. I call this problem "The Fear of Flying" - the reluctance to let go and soar to new heights. People forget that a dynamic thing is forever changing, and fossiling elements is like trying to create dinosaurs.

You come up with solutions. Solutions are often new ideas. You do not have to twist your brains to think differently from others. You only have to come out of the clouds of your own ego. You also have to come out of the trap of the logic of the mind - which is quite different from reason; logic is a slave the premise of the argument. You have to get out of the matrix of the system. What you take to be tradition and culture is nothing but a system for survival. If the environment has changed, it's time to change the tradition. In this way, people may begin to say that you are creatiev and innovative. But it is all really very hard work alone.

What becomes of your livelihood? How do you survive if you do not focus on earning a living?

I prefer not to focus on earning a living. I prefer to focus on living my life. If I can find out who I am, where my talents lie, and cultivate those talents to the fullest, and using those talents to help others, I find meaning in my life by being useful to others. When others benefit from your actions, they will reward you with words as well as some material things to sustain you. You live your life and get paid for it.

If what you are doing is good for individuals, you may discover that other people may need your service. You may wish to invest in some equipment to produce the service for others. You will have to take care of your finance, otherwise your operation will grind to a halt and cannot be a service to others.

It is good to make a profit. Since you do not need much, you can either plough the profit into the operations by paying your staff better or expand the operations to reach out to more people.

This is what I mean when I say that to nurture home-grown investments, you need to focus on the education system - not on the certificate-awarding machinery.


de minimis said...

This is a very good piece of wisdom for young and old, particularly during a time of reflection of the direction in which the world has moved. Our entire way of life, is now lived within the value system set by Americanised values of growth at any cost, at any price. The resulting effect is pollution and filth. This is not the correct direction. There will be no legacy to leave the future generations except a rubbish heap. I hope more people read this and reflect on it.

Anonymous said...

Hey this is a good piece on Monday.

De Minimis recommended your blog.

Ariff Sabri said...

a very thought provoking analysis on the purpose of education. thank you for sharing yr thoughts with us. have been reading and enjoying your articles for some time.

with warmest regards/sakmongkol

etheorist said...


The pleasure is mine.

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed the piece of writing- your thoughts are very well-articulated.

That said, isn't it ironic that while dismissing self-aggrandization, you appeal to the reader's emotions by writing in a personal tone?

Also, just wondering- how does education resolve the conflict between capitalism (which emphasizes individual success) and socialism (which emphasizes communal harmony) in a world that rewards the former more than the latter?

Anonymous said...

Sorry, I was unclear. To rephrase:

How would education help to increase social-consciousness when firstly, self-preservation is instinctive, and should not be condemned?

To add a point,how can education correct our belief systems when we are more rewarded for individual success than for moral character?

etheorist said...


Thank you for your comments.

1. Yes, ironic indeed. A communication device I use. The note of arrogance could be an unfortuate personal defect. Very hard to distinguish it also from confidence. Humbleness too is hard to display without being misconstrued. The trueness of the heart is important.

2. To reconcile, be aware of the Matrix - the system we are immersed. Stay above the fray. Be in the rain, but not wet. Do not extract the last drop. Accept token payment for work done, contribution. A balance in itself. Capitalism vs socialism. Individualism vs commualism.