A popular Tibetan Proverb goes… ‘A child without education is like a bird without wings’. Many people view this as cliché, but we all know how true this is. Perhaps, the question that begs answers is: “Can it really be possible for us to fly”? This question was posed many years ago by Daedalus in the Ancient Athens mythology. While the attempt to fly resulted in tragedy, it brought us close to understanding how education empowers humanity to push beyond the comfort zones, to use resources at their disposal with the sole objective of liberating themselves from prison and set their minds free from ignorance. In framing my thoughts, I take the position that the role of education is to broaden our minds and provide learners with platforms for self-expression, for acquiring and consuming information, for solving problems, and ultimately for transforming the world by gaining a broader perspective of the world.
Growing up as a young and ambitious child, my teachers always reminded me of the need to pay attention to my education. “Education is the only determinant of your success and the hope of having a bright future”, they said. It was about concentrating in class, selecting the right subject combinations, studying hard to pass examinations, and choosing the right university and career. All these, I was told, was necessary to ensure that I got the right job, worked in the right organization, and accumulated enough wealth to lead a better life. Education was important in preparing me for the future work life. In fact, people perceived education as a formality and employers only focused on the specifics of the subjects one pursued and the grades scored in these subjects. Evidence of good grades, equated to presumed competence and a guarantee for attaining and retaining a job position within the working life.
I was lucky that my parents were ‘informed’, held a different perspective about the role, and real value of education in a person’s life. My father, having been raised in a family where access to education was a challenge and having struggled through school, understood the importance of acquiring practical and expert knowledge relevant to addressing different aspects of life, other than simply getting a job. My parents championed for provision of education that ensured our holistic development.
All my primary and high school life, I put in extra effort to get the right grades. However, in my final year in high school, I would experience stressful moments whenever examinations were near. In fact, at some time, I became sick when I had not prepared enough for the exams. I needed to score high grades that would enable me to pursue medicine in college. I remember my father speaking to me one evening and explaining a basic truth that I still appreciate today, “the purpose of education is to broaden one’s mind, to question information and ideas, and to grow both mentally and intellectually”, he explained.
At the time, I did not appreciate the wisdom in his words. Well, I did not get the ‘right’ grades and I never got into medical school. This was a disappointment, but my parents were not bothered. They knew better. Well, I did not make it to the ‘right’ college either. I ended up in business school, pursuing sales and marketing. I had never considered this field before. Recently, I was accepted into a Master of Science program in monitoring and evaluation, another field that I never considered pursuing while I was growing up. My father was thrilled. He sat me down and engaged me in a lengthy conversation. He said to me, “Son, the value of education is not in passing exams or getting the right jobs. These are illusions. They are the superficial benefits. The real value of education lies in its potential to broaden your mind”. This did not come as a surprise, given that he had always encouraged me to read broadly and widely. In fact, his words reminded me of the nuggets of wisdom that my professor of philosophy shared during my years in college, “Just like travel, education should take your minds to places that you have never been before”-he said.
I am glad that when I was growing up, I read as many storybooks as I could. I did not read just to pass exams but rather for pleasure, enjoyment and entertainment. I read history, geography, fiction, academic and non-fiction. I did all this because I enjoyed reading, getting lost into books and finding new information. I had not come across the abundant research that proves the connection between reading and broadening one’s mind, which I have acquainted myself with now that my daily job entails enhancing access to books and programming for children.
Over time, I appreciate the significance of acquiring knowledge that transcends the need to pass exams. Today, I read virtually anything that I lay my hands on, and encourage the children I work with to read as much as possible for knowledge. A broad knowledge equips one with the relevant skills essential for living, including decision-making, critical thinking, problem solving, imagination, curiosity and creativity. All these skills are important in molding one into a responsible person able to find solutions to the day-to-day problems and challenges that life presents.
I am a firm believer in the value of lifelong learning. I believe that education is not only non-exhaustive but also an opportunity for a person to keep acquiring knowledge; to keep growing and expanding their mental and intellectual space. I always advice the people I work with to broaden their horizon and mindset as much as possible. This is only possible by reading widely and interacting with a wide range of resources. It means going beyond the subjects that one is interested in. It means using both the online and offline tools to read more. It means reading blogs, books, articles, magazines and newspapers, not only for news, but also for knowledge. It means reading about engineering or farming or archeology or thermodynamics or mathematics, or aeronautics or drilling or thermal energy or geology, when you clearly have nothing to do with the subjects. That is what constitutes reading for knowledge and broadening one’s mind.
One of my famous quotes is Joseph Addison’s “Reading is to the mind, what exercise is to the body”. No one can challenge the basic truth in this statement. More importantly, reading widely equips us with knowledge that exercises our minds to challenge predominant narratives and stereotypes. When we seek and acquire greater knowledge, we achieve transformation in our mindsets. A transformed mindset is critical in overcoming pre-existing misconceptions about life. Education sets us above par, enables us to consume knowledge critically. When we assume a critical approach, we always ask the ‘why?’, ‘why not’ and ‘what if’ questions, which enables us to challenge the basic or common ‘truth’, expands our understanding and positions us as scientists, able to create and co-create new knowledge. Most importantly, we need to evaluate the value of education to the extent to which it transforms our lives and builds our capacity to make informed choices, live responsibly and lead more fulfilling lives.
The bottom-line is that perceiving education is only important for passing exams and preparing for work life is a myopic view that should be discouraged. When we focus on educating our children to get the ‘right’ grades, college, and job, then we are setting them for failure from the onset. We are raising a generation that cannot think. We need to prepare our children for the future by investing in an education that focuses on broadening their minds. Children should be encouraged to ask many questions from their peers, family, and teachers. Children should be encouraged to consume and generate knowledge through focusing and reinforcing their information seeking habits. This is only possible by nurturing a generation of lifelong readers, thinkers and critical consumers of knowledge. In his words of wisdom, Sir Francis Bacon, an English philosopher, says, “read not to contradict and confute; nor to believe and take for granted; nor to find talk and discourse; but to weigh and consider”. Education ought to broaden our minds to weigh and consider everything we read, experience and encounter in life.