Towards a New Paradigm in Education: Role of the World University Consortium

2. Motives for Education
Obviously our conception of education varies with the purpose for which it is intended. That purpose has changed radically since the time when only a handful of clerics and aristocrats enjoyed the luxury of more than a rudimentary education. After the Reformation, Protestant religious leaders in Europe recognized, as their Hindu and Jewish predecessors had many centuries earlier, that education is a powerful instrument for acquisition and dissemination of religious teachings. Therefore, many protestant nations spurred the spread of primary education to impart reading and writing skills to every member of the community and encouraged the development of universities to train members of the clergy. The rise of commerce in Europe stimulated the spread of numeracy for accounting and literacy for entering into commercial contracts. The growth of scientific knowledge during and following the Enlightenment fostered development of new scientific disciplines. The explosive growth of technology during the Industrial Revolution gave rise to applied technical education in agriculture and various fields of engineering as well as technical training to impart voca­tional skills. The development of modern corporations and sophisticated markets drove the need for those with specialized knowledge in business and finance as well as for many more people with a broad general education needed to fill positions in government and business administration. Rising levels of prosperity stimulated demand for an ever expanding range of professional services. The increasing formalization and technological sophistication of modern economies have further increased the demand for educated and trained personnel, effectively converting the college degree from a symbol of social status into a passport for employment and higher income.

All these motives continue to drive the spread of education today. But beyond the obvious utility which higher education serves, it also serves two more fundamental purposes. First, the political, economic and social success of modern society depends to a very large extent on the education of its citizenry. The type, level and quality of education have become impor­tant determinants of the quality of the citizenry and its capacity to function in increasingly democratic social environments, where external authority and pressure for social conformity are replaced by greater freedom for individual freedom, choice and initiative. Second, the capacity for individual achievement, welfare and well-being in modern society depends to a very great extent on education as well. The type, level and quality of education have also become important determinants of individual accomplishment – of the capacity to compete and cooperate with others economically, adapt to technological advances, and adjust mentally and socially to the challenges and opportunities of rapid social change.

3. First Principles
Education is ubiquitous in modern society – at home, in schools, in the workplace and in the media. It is one of the highest priorities and most prevalent activities of individuals, families, organizations and countries. Yet the essential nature of education, its rightful role in human life, the process by which it occurs, the most appropriate goals, methods, content, duration and applications are far from self-evident. Like the artists’ conception of beauty, it is easier to recognize than define or explain. Like the proverbial six blind men who touched different parts of the same elephant and described very different discoveries, we each tend to see a part of what education is rather than the potential of the whole of what it can and should become. Therefore, it may be appropriate to start with the most fundamental of all questions on the subject: What is Education? What is its purpose? Who is to be educated? What is its process? These questions readily evoke a wide range of valid answers, appropriate to different applications and contexts.

At the most fundamental level, we may say that education is the process by which society consciously passes on the accumulated knowledge and wisdom of the past to future gener­ations in a concentrated and abridged form, so that the youth of today can start off at the furthest point that earlier generations have attained, rather than having to rediscover the same knowledge over and over again in each generation. In this sense, education is the social institution that most clearly distinguishes human societies from those of other species, whose acquisition of knowledge is confined to the experience of a single lifetime or passed on subconsciously through heredity rather than consciously through an ever increasing breadth and depth of organized knowledge.

The life of society evolves by increasing consciousness of the challenges and opportunities presented by individual and collective life and increasing organization of its activities to effectively channel its energies and capacities to meet those challenges and opportunities. Education fosters the awakening of consciousness in the individual and the internal organization of each individual’s personality as capacity for accomplishment. Society provides the external organization needed to catalyze the spread of that awakening until it saturates the whole society and to organize all its activities to support higher accomplishment by the collective. The individual and the collective are two poles, two inseparable, mutually interacting and interdependent components of the process of social development. Education is a principal means for the integration of individual capacity with social needs and opportunities.

This definition describes the social role of education, but not the process of education itself. All too commonly we confine our conception of education to that which takes place within the walls of university classrooms and results in the awarding of a certificate of achievement. But education is not an activity confined to the classroom and the textbook. Nor does it depend on whether knowledge is delivered by a live lecturer, obtained from a textbook, acquired from an on-line course or newspaper or life experience. In its widest sense, all life is a field for education and every human activity provides opportunities to learn. The essence of education is the capacity to learn and the fundamental process of education is the process by which human beings acquire knowledge.

4. Dimensions of Higher Education
As there are many purposes and social applications for education, so too education can take place at multiple levels that are not directly dependent on the number of years spent in formal learning. There was a time when the basic skills for reading and writing were considered clear evidence of education, or even of genius. One principal aim of education is to develop a wide range of skills – physical skills for reading, writing and mentation; social skills for instruction, communication, relationship, teamwork and leadership; and psychological skills for understanding, judging and managing oneself, other people and social situations.

The capacity to recall a wide range of memorized facts or to recite long passages from literature was a prominent attribute of the educated in previous centuries when both learning and scholarship were largely associated with the capacity for memorization. Memorization still remains a major component of education at all levels. The exponential growth of information combined with the exponential expansion of capacities for storage and retrieval have progressively shifted the emphasis from the capacity to memorize to the capacity to understand what one can recite. Understanding is a higher order faculty than memorization. It arises by coordinating two or more facts and relating them to one another as thought. At a more abstract level, the coordination and relating of two or more thoughts give rise to ideas that are several steps removed from observable fact. Most education today stops with analysis and evaluation of facts and ideas at the level of understanding. The development of other mental faculties such as observation, discrimination, comparison, and judgment is given less emphasis.

Beyond these, education can serve a still more profound purpose. It is the principal means for fostering the development of three characteristics that are essential for the future development of both society and its members – independent thinking, creativity and individuality. Although we may flatter ourselves that we are thinking all the time, most of what we are doing is observing and coordinating facts or ideas and organizing them within the perceptive mass of previously accepted understanding. Real thinking is far more rare and rarefied. It arises from a fresh perception and inquiry into the validity of facts, concepts and perspectives that form part of humanity’s commonly accepted body of knowledge. True rationality only commences when we are able to set aside the prevailing beliefs and accepted wisdom, be it scientific or religious, to see and think freshly from first principles and new perspectives, as Einstein did in challenging the reality of absolute space and time and Darwin did with respect to biological evolution. The capacity to question originally is a far more powerful form of mentation than to recite or understand with facility, a more difficult faculty to acquire but one that can still be prepared and consciously fostered through education.

The grades of purely mental education from memorization to understanding to independent thinking can be extended to include other capacities which are normally attributed only to genius, but which also can be actively fostered through education. The inordinate preoccupation of modern education with specialization, classification and analysis neglects development of higher mental capacities essential for effectively addressing the challenges and opportunities confronting individuals and societies today, including the capacity to view things as aspects of a greater totality, to perceive the complexities of interrelatedness, to synthesize and reconcile apparent contradictions and to integrate disparate aspects of reality within a greater whole.1

The conscious development of individuality and creativity is also largely neglected by current educational systems. In practice we tend to regard education in a manner similar to mass production of goods, as a process of gathering together raw materials (people and knowledge), applying energy (physical and mental effort) and fabricating finished products (knowledgeable people). We tend to measure the efficiency and effectiveness of this process in terms of the quantity and quality of information transmitted from instructors to students, rather than in terms of enhancement in the capacity of students to learn. For most people education is synonymous with a degree, irrespective of what has been learned. But the acquisition of a degree may be a poor measure of the true quantum and quality of knowledge acquired. A truer measure of education is the awakening of the student’s capacity to actively seek and acquire knowledge on one’s own, to question and think independently, creatively and even originally.

The transmission of values has always been one of the central aims of education. Values relate to all levels and aspects of life – physical, social, mental, psychological, ethical and spiritual. They represent the quintessence of cultural knowledge for survival, accomplishment and harmonious living, which society has acquired over centuries. Family life, religious training, formal education, work and life experience all present opportunities for the transmission and acquisition of values. The advent of modern secular, scientific education has increasingly restricted the conscious transmission of values to mental, organizational and work values, leaving the transmission of core human values to informal social learning. The effort to be purely objective has stripped education of its most valuable essence.

Education legitimately encompasses this full range of objectives – training of physical, social and psychological skills; absorption of factual information; understanding of subject-related knowledge; development of higher mental faculties for thinking and creativity; and acquisition of values for social accomplishment and personal fulfillment. Beyond them all lies the more fundamental objective of awakening and fostering the latent capacity of each person to fully develop his or her own unique individuality.

1 Ivo Šlaus and Garry Jacobs, “Recognizing Unrecognized Genius”, Cadmus 1, no.5 (2012): 1-5.

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