The Philosophy of Education

By Badar Mustafa

Man has been considered as a social animal from the beginning of human civilization. In order to groom this animal to be able to live in the society, education has been considered in the same way as much essential as the dire need of a peaceful society.

The word education takes our mind towards the formal schooling system which is the prevalent source of formal education system. Although if we look back into the history from Greeks till Middle Ages or the Muslim period, we would realize that individual mentoring has a major part in the education systems of that times.

Hence either through mentoring or through school system, new generations are enlightened as well as equipped with the most recent necessary knowledge and information. Before we proceed to the discussion of some important philosophies of education, we should first discuss an important question which can naturally arise here.

Why a philosophy is needed to design an education system? The answer to this question is very simple that philosophy is meant to find answers to questions. It gives you an insight and guidance towards the main goals and objectives. The main root cause upon which a society should lay down the foundation of the building of education includes each and every essential unit of education from curriculum to teaching methods. It is actually this hidden philosophy which has enabled civilizations to work for a common cause as one nation.

There are many important factors which shape the philosophy of education. The most important factor behind any philosophy of education is the ideology of that nation which is following that philosophy. Such philosophies are also largely influenced by the cultural and religious values of the society. Moreover, there is also a part of demographics in this process. For example, if a nation is a neighbor of Byzantine Roman civilization, the philosophy of education there would be made keeping in front the challenges of dealing with the strong civilization of Romans.

The philosophy of Plato is considered as the most prominent philosophy or the only philosophy of education of the Classical ages (500-336 BC). Plato’s work gave rise to Idealism which believes in the duality of mind and body or the soul and the body. He believed that one should be educated in order to enlighten him with the reason or universal truth; and this pursuit of knowledge through teaching and mentoring was considered necessary because it was considered an important way to serve the society.

If we hand over this comparative study of philosophies of education to the students of philosophy and come directly to a simple conclusion that there has been a common goal or a hidden philosophy behind each and every system of education present in the past history till date. That goal is to provide competent and proficient individuals to the society.

The advancement of human civilization from time to time has contributed a lot in re-shaping of the prevalent philosophy of education in different stages of the human history. After Renaissance, the concept of spirituality or the duality of human has been dominated by humanism which was the result or the product of that era. I do not want to criticize the revolution of Renaissance. The main area of discussion is the obvious effect of removal of spirituality from the west on the philosophy of education of that time. Then, the objective of education would cover all the aspects of human beings except their spiritual aspect. This ultimately gave birth to such generations which had no or little interest in religion in the sense of practicing it.

Then, came the industrial revolution which increased the need of ‘competent and proficient individuals’ but in a new way. This revolution to a great extent shifted the control of shaping the philosophy of education from the hands of intellectuals to industrial giants, bureaucrats and in simple words to those divisions of society which possess financial powers.

The history of modern school education system is an evidence of this argument. Then education had become a tool to produce ‘skilled’ labors for the industrial sectors. And in order to equip these labors with certain skills, there was no more need of rational and critical thinking, but on the contrary these skills were only used to understand some specific industrial processes. In other words, the power of reason and logic of a common man got started to be limited to a particular extent.

But due to continuous technological advancements and different political revolutions, this hold of powerful giants of an industrial society has been weakened. Now there is no more need of a huge un-armed army of labors due to rapid advancements in the field of nanotechnology and robotics engineering. Instead of it, no nation these days prosper without a pool of intellectuals of many fields of natural and social sciences.

These demands from the rapid advancing world and different governing bureaucracies are compelling educationalists to review the curriculum being taught to new generations.

Alvin Toffler in his book, “Future Shock” quoted psychologist Herbert Gerjuoy as follows:

“The new education must teach the individual how to classify and reclassify information, how to evaluate its veracity, how to change categories when necessary, how to move from the concrete to the abstract and back, how to look at problems from a new direction — how to teach himself. Tomorrow’s illiterate will not be the man who can’t read; he will be the man who has not learned how to learn,”

The statement highlights the importance of learning through self-regulation. Here the main focus is on empowering students in their learning to an extent that they can learn by themselves.

Therefore, the philosophy of education is an important factor in determining the direction of the development of a society. It helps in reasonable and practical planning of the educational system. So, whether it is the matter of Pakistan or the global issue of meeting the challenges related to education, our intellectuals and think tanks should continue to work on these questions: Why we are educating our children? And what should we teach them?


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