We often do things in life without thinking about why we do them. Going to school has become a part of life in many societies. When children reach a certain age, they are sent to school.
In India, most of us may be able to give an answer to the why question. But our answers might often revolve around how one needs the education to get a good job. But is that all there is to education? The question remains. Why do we go to school? And yet, the question assumes greater significance in today’s times as we are all unable to go to school due to the global pandemic and stay at home orders. With a lot of learning going online, it is vital to revisit these fundamental questions.
As I’ve been exploring this question, here is an idea I came across. Dr. Eleanore Hargreaves, Professor at the University of London say there are three purposes that people put forward to why they learn. The first is what many of us are very familiar with – digesting information. The second would be learning skills, learning to do something. And the third purpose could be to be social, flourishing people.1
The idea of humans flourishing being connected with the idea of education is a very helpful concept. It helps us see that education is not an end in itself. It is a means that leads to the greater good of the community. I believe education ought to teach a person to be in meaningful and mutually beneficial relationships with at least three components: with self, with others, and with the natural world around us.
To engage in meaningful relationships with these elements, we need to understand them. And so we engage in acquiring information to fill the gaps in knowledge we have about them. We learn about our bodies, about the social institutions of family, religion, and state within which we operate, and we learn about the world around us. We learn Economics to understand and navigate social transactions. We learn languages to understand both our thoughts and that of others. And so, education becomes about these relationships: self, others, and the natural world around us.
The content of our learning, the approach, the tools used, and the evaluation and assessment employed would all be significantly affected by how we think of the purpose of education. What should be the environment where learning can take place effectively? Can all learning happen online?
Understanding that education involves engaging in a meaningful relationship with others would dispel the notion that all learning can happen virtually. Understanding that education also involves engaging in meaningful relationships with the natural world would show us that learning won’t be complete if a student sits within a building and with a book at all times.
Having clarity on why we learn would help us to think better about how to do it. And so I ask again: Why do we go to school?