It has long been asked what the purpose of education is. What is it really meant to achieve? Why is it even necessary? We touched on this in Part One. Varying answers have been offered to these questions, going back to the ancient thinkers and right up to this present day. For the purpose of this discussion though, I will pay particular attention to one. Some posit that the purpose of formal education (better known as classroom education) especially for children is to learn to accommodate others (classmates) and their interest, by not expecting to always have their own way. On the other hand, education in the traditional African communal existence, which represents one form of informal education, was to inculcate virtues intended to mould each individual into becoming an ideal member of the community. Virtues which place an obligation on every individual to be his brother’s keeper. Virtues which create synergy of purpose among all members leading to the sustenance of the community. Virtues which place on leadership a demand to deny self when necessary, for the purpose of serving the common good. At this juncture I would like say a good leader looks at the common good, not the “me good”, knowing very well this will imminently produce the “me good”; at which point, no reasonable person will have any reason to murmur. Instructively, both forms of education, the formal and the informal, establish the importance of considering ‘the other’.
I’m not sure if people generally recognize it as such but religion is in fact a major form of education because like most transcendental religions believe, you can only attain the ultimate prize of making it to heaven if you learn the ways of God and obey Him. This is in itself a continuous learning process where you continue to err, but hopefully with less regularity, until you eventually find yourself six foot under. An end none of us can avoid. To this end, the holy books are in fact manuals for correct living.
Contrary to the lie our political elders have self-servingly sold us over the years, King David, tells us in Psalms 119:100 how he discovered he could actually gain greater understanding and wisdom than the elders, simply by obeying the word of God. Fascinating. “And what are these commands?” You may ask, as there are so many. Jesus summed them all up into just two. He said in Matthew 22:37 “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it; Love your neighbour as yourself. All the law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
In no way would I wish to diminish the value of experience gained over the years but if we are to look at the state of our nation, putting all sentiments aside, would you conclude the elders, with all their supposed wisdom have served us well? According to the word of God, a man who neither fears God nor loves his neighbour is not wise. No matter his age. End of story.
Kindly forgive me for often reaching out to pull a word from my religion to validate my points because I know many of my readers profess other faiths. I just believe one’s faith, no matter which it is, should transcend every area of one’s life. Nothing and no act should be set aside from your professed belief no matter how ‘beneficial’ it may appear to be. Your faith should be the harbour from which you set sail and to which you always return as your anchor is permanently set there. So just as we have educated illiterates; those who went to school but refuse to allow education to influence their world view or their reasoning; so do we have what I call Christian Atheists. Those who profess Christianity but whose unrepentant behaviour makes it obvious to all they don’t really believe God exists. Or how else can we explain it?
To digress a little while still harping on the same point, I want to ask this question; how many of us know what the national policy on education is here in Nigeria? The policy actually outlines five national objectives which also double as the philosophy of Nigerian education. These objectives summarize the worldview which the national educational policy is meant to project:
- A free and democratic society
2. A just and egalitarian society
3. A united, strong and self-reliant nation
4. A great and dynamic economy
5. A land of bright and full opportunities for all citizens.
So if you ask me, “what is the starting point of education?”. Without any hesitation, I will reply, “love thy neighbour as thyself”, as non of the above can be achieved without that. For to serve the interest of others ultimately results in you serving yours too. What can be smarter than that?
Permit me to further buttress this point by making reference to an African tradition many of us could be familiar with. Your mother gives you, the children, a big piece of meat to share. Oddly, she gives it not to the eldest but the youngest to share. Remarkably, he painstakingly breaks it into equal pieces. Why? Because he knows as the youngest, he will pick the last piece and the best way to serve his interest is not to be blinded by greed but to serve the interest of others too. After all, the admonition was not to love others only, just as it wasn’t for you to love yourself only. It was to love others as yourself. Some may argue his apparent fairness actually had him in focus all the time but I believe, over time, this practice is bound to leave its mark on him anyway.
The principle behind this is not too different to John Rawls’ idealistic “veil of ignorance” theory which suggests placing a veil over those asked to make laws and policies on behalf of the society. For as long as they remain covered by this imaginary veil, they would be ignorant of their position in life; their status, their financial standing, their job or the industry they operate in and so on, in order to ensure they always take the best decisions for society. This means each policy maker would not know if he’s a Public Official or a plumber, a banker or a teacher, a business man or a teacher. If this was to happen I can assure you that at least 99% of the members who occupy the National Assembly would vehemently resist the humongous monthly remuneration they enjoy if they didn’t know they would be beneficiaries of it. I don’t believe the resource control issue would throw up much opposition either, as those “veiled” from recognizing self-interest would be spurred only by a desire to do what’s fair to all; to ensure they don’t end up getting the short end of the stick. Neither would our per capita of GDP expenditure on education be so abysmally low at just 9% where the UN recommendation is 26%, if the decision makers were ignorant of whether they were amongst the small percentile who could afford to send their children to decent private schools or not. To put this into better perspective, Senegal and Ethiopia spend 20% and 25% respectively on education and this brings us back to the current argument about which is more critical, infrastructural development or human capital development. That’s an argument for another day.
Education, whether formal or informal ought to dictate fairness. Loving thy neighbour as thyself is a measure of character. And character has been defined as knowing what is right, desiring it always and pursuing it, whether in public or in private. For now, enough said.