One of the proverbs among the Ibibio-speaking people of Nigeria as translated is, “An older person is older in wisdom.” This has become an axiom particularly when wisdom and knowledge are regarded as synonymous and learning through experience could lead to wisdom and wisdom arises from accumulated experience.
However, this axiom used over the ages has been interrogated by among other things, formal education and very importantly, technology. This writer pressed the power button of a laptop he had used a few hours before and to his consternation if not confusion, the blue light came on but the screen remained black. He called a young man less than half his age to complain. He was told to remove the battery, connect the laptop to a power source and switch on again. It worked! When the battery was reinserted, it still worked. So, in a particular circumstance, is chronological age an index of wisdom, where wisdom is here defined as ‘good sense’ which is reflected in the ability to solve a problem? An earlier call to a technician could say nothing beyond “bring the laptop to the office” which is located one hour away. This was indeed an outcome of education which is the mother of ‘accumulated experience.’ What then, is education and what is its essence?
Before attempting to take a position on the concept of education, it is wise to ask the question: who is an educated person? This question is as old as formal education generally traceable to Greece of antiquity. Socrates, regarded as the father of philosophy, speaking through his student Plato, saw an educated person from three perspectives: self-knowledge, moral soundness, and skill in thinking.
Self-knowledge was probably drawn from the Delphic Oracle which Apostle Paul also quoted as “Man know thyself.” One does not need to attend a school to know him/herself. An individual who knows when s/he is ill and that the service of medical personnel could make him or her well (and therefore ‘happy,’ a critical concept in early philosophy) is indeed educated.
Moral soundness is very important given that individuals function as individuals and as members of groups. A moral person is an asset to a community as well as self. If education enhances moral uprightness then education becomes an asset that is worthy of being developed as a group activity.
There is no gainsaying that education is about the development of thinking skills. As a matter of fact, an engagement that has to do with learning which does not generate thinking skills should not qualify as education; probably learning by way of indoctrination is better used in this context, where indoctrination discourages independent thinking or reflection. Any person who is able to allow his/her imagination to expand would likely be in a position to creatively handle situations which is the basis of optimal maintenance and growth in social systems.
Above three issues are desirable qualities expected of an educated person and R. S. Peters, an outstanding British philosopher of education noted accordingly in his 1970 paper on who is an educated man that education is “a family of processes whose principle of unity is the development of desirable qualities in someone.”
To really understand the concept of education, one path is to distinguish it with training and indoctrination. Although both education and training involve teaching (where someone who has the requisite knowledge imparts it to someone who does not but is committed to or desirous of acquiring such knowledge), training is usually used more in the context of skills which refers to ability to do a particular thing such as carpentry or cooking or drawing and so on. Acquisition of skill may or may not involve independent thought by the trainee. It may involve independent thought because the trainee or learner may make input to improve what h/she is learning. And this is the where there a major parting point between training and indoctrination.
Indoctrination involves teaching, but in this case, not skills but something that has to do with the mind: ideology, doctrine, belief so as to influence behaviour in a way that independent thought is discouraged. The learner, also calls him/her the victim, is not even permitted to consider other opinions.
Education thus stands out: there is teaching; there is the development of skill, and the learner has the will and wherewithal to express independent thought while also accommodating third party opinion. This is why schools are different from out-of-school workshops or studios as well as some religious establishments that are meant to get people who make themselves available or are compelled to make themselves available for learning sessions: schools develop the capacity for skills as well as reasoning.
Based on the above, education can be seen as a process of expanding the capacities of a learner. The principal capacity is the intellect for intellection which means thinking and reasoning basically encompasses all other capacities. There is thinking in the application of skill, for instance, how does a dressmaker come up with an outfit that does not only fit the proposed user but also meets his/her taste. Reasoning implies independent thought and acceptance of opinions that may even be diametrically opposite.
Educated people are well attuned to problem-solving. The first paragraph of this post narrated an experience relating to computers that required troubleshooting. Troubleshooting is part of computer training but at a higher level involving engineers rather than technicians. Being able to correctly determine a problem generally involves iteration and in-depth reasoning which only an educated person is equipped to handle.
The world needs more educated people, less trained people, and indeed no indoctrinated person. This is, therefore, a salute to, and advocacy for education in its quintessence in all societies.