An etymological perspective would be helpful in appraising the basic essence of education and will provide the necessary cornerstone on which one can construct a tenable case for what its role should be. The Latin derivative from which we get the English word education denotes the act of bringing up, breeding or rearing. This exists in varying formats from a formulised, national school curriculum to parenting and varying forms of education can harmoniously exist (although this may not be the case). Education takes place over a period of time until the one being reared has reached a stage of what is deemed adequate growth and viability. To relate this to academic studies, in the United Kingdom, for example, a person is legally required to be in full time education from the age of 5 to 16, that is, a decade of ‘bringing up’. This is not an arbitrary act but bears an intrinsic sense of purpose and intentionality. Due to the abstract nature of education its purpose is not as clearly defined as say the purpose of a door to the point where it easily transcends multiple contexts while strongly maintaining certain rigid similitude in form. Education is inherently malleable. This malleability makes education subject primarily to two main factors: contextual components and individual idiosyncrasies. Bearing these two factors in mind I will discuss the role of education over the course of a person’s life at three stages, namely: pre-teenage, teenage and post-teenage.
At the pre-teen stage, education has a somewhat paradoxical role. While the young mind is not to be underestimated, the reality of an adolescent’s lack of life experience means a plethora of things that may be common knowledge to most adults are novel to a child. Education needs to engage the individual at this stage by placing emphasis on basic practical skills that are contextual pertinent. In most contemporary societies the most emphasis is placed on the acquiring of basic numeracy and literary skills as well as the indispensable inclusion of health and safety. This needless to say equates to broadening the mind; that is, informing the young mind by making it privy to information and skills not previously known. One can call this the establishing of ‘common sense’.
The paradox is that while education at this stage actively seeks to broaden the mind by introducing it to new skills it also should actively seek to bring the mind into conformity. Whether moralistic, historical, scientific or another category every person or entity that can be regarded as an educator will, or at least definitely should, quite frankly be dogmatic with certain truths and principles. With that being said, that is not advocacy of mindless indoctrination that may stem from culture, tradition, patriotism or pseudo-intellectual claims. Rather, assertions that can maintain their validity while bearing the weight of rigorous scrutiny are free to be propagated. This active attempt to bring an individual into conformity does not work contrary to the broadening of an individual’s mind; rather, tenable parameters are conducive to intellectual growth as it provides a mechanism through which information can be assessed expediently.
As a student transitions into being a teenager there is a departure from the basic to the more complex as there is an increase in expectations of the individual in tandem with increased capability and responsibility. Whereas there may have been no ostensible emphasis on employment previously this becomes a much more highlighted reality with growing independence. With growing independence is the need to be conscious of how one will provide sustenance in the future by themselves; the primary means of doing this is by having a job that can finance livelihood. It will be up to the individual to make this choice based on ability, interest and salary (whether these factors are considered as having equal or varying importance). If we look at the example of the UK again, it is at this stage that a student starts their GCSEs and is given unprecedented autonomy by being able to select in part what they study. This move from pure standardisation to more specialisation reflects a shift where fundamental generic knowledge is still being acquired but emphasis is also placed on a student honing in on what they are good at and/or interested in. This shift is befitting if one is being prepared for employment as in the best case scenario one would seek to find work in something that maximises their potential when considering interests and capabilities. Nonetheless, this coincides with a broadening of the mind also. Now it must be mentioned that by this stage, particularly with children with special educational needs, the prospect of working could be ruled out significantly or completely. In such cases, if the role of education was merely to prepare one for employment then it would be completely void. Thankfully, this is not the case as education is multi-faceted and so can engage the mind of a student in this scenario by placing emphasis more on functional, day-to-day skills.
At the post-teen stage one generally is not legally required to be in formal education and so any further study in a formalised sense is highly specialised and is by virtue of an individual’s exercise of their choice. Therefore, at this stage the role of education is highly subjective as it is contingent on the individual. For the most part, it would be safe to assume that someone is in higher education in order to benefit their employability prospects in the future. Some jobs require a degree to be held by an employee whereas some jobs do not have this same requirement but look favourably upon it. So at this stage it is a tenable position to hold that the main emphasis of education is to prepare a student for employment. With that being said, it is also possible to be in education for reasons relating to personal development without their being any focus on future employment. This may not be as common but is worth mentioning as it is important not to invalidate the role of education at this stage in broadening to mind without employment being in the picture.
In conclusion, following the trajectory of education it is clear that its role is to broaden the mind as well as prepare one for employment. To talk about these two facets as if they are mutually exclusive is a false dichotomy. Contextual considerations and individual idiosyncrasies may well tip the balance so that there is emphasis on one facet more than the other but both are inextricably linked and indispensable from one another. An education that can strike the balance well between these two facets is an education to be applauded.