Formal education is a significant issue for consideration by communities in the drive for the development of human and material resources. Education helps to realign the minds of the people to the pursuit of the common good for the benefit of the whole society. The quality level of education in a nation is often a determinant of the level of social and economic development of the people. However, as universally acknowledged as the role of education is, there are different perspectives through which societies view the purpose and significance of education. Notwithstanding these differences, a common fact is that education helps to perform the vital role of nurturing the citizens and preparing them for development as societies transform from the humble traditional ways of life to the modern-day, somewhat complicated settings. Formal education helps people to understand their responsibilities as citizens in the new global environment. Effective citizenship necessitates that each person acquires the knowledge, the ability to make sound value judgments, and the critical reasoning skills that will enable him or her to isolate issues and make the intelligent, informed decisions. In the interest of both the individual and the society, functional education helps the citizen to separate matters that can advance the course of human freedom and well-being from those that are capable of endangering the promotion of these virtues.
Education is, however, not an isolated activity. Its relevance is in its role as a social enterprise strategically connected with the people. For education to serve its desired purpose, it must emphasize the ongoing development of curriculum that aligns with the historical experience and aspirations of the people. It is this realization that makes history and civics such essential elements in both curriculum development and the entire educational process. Education based on a curriculum with historical and cultural features would particularly help young people to appreciate stories about the past and the heroes who made today’s world possible. Such exposure would become part of the process of challenging youth to take responsibility for the future. Education in this regard helps tremendously to complement the socialization process and the drive to enhance the spirit of nationalism among citizens. Assigning such roles to education tends to prepare citizens to respond appropriately in times of national challenges and calamities. Education as a torchbearer for civic enlightenment helps the society to create and groom patriots.
Education is also considered the route by which people can become more valuable to the society by acquiring the skills needed in the economy. The better educated an individual is, the more likely that the person would qualify for challenging and rewarding employment. Education has become the platform for global economic competition. There have been arguments that the loss of manufacturing ground by the United States to China and India in the last two decades came partially from the citizens of these emerging economies becoming relatively better educated, with their young people excelling remarkably in mathematics, science, and general literacy. The added economic advantage for these countries has also been that the supply of the increasingly better-educated workforce to the productive sector comes at much cheaper wage rate in comparison to what obtains in the United States and other western nations.
Education provides the platform from which one can access the available environmental opportunities and be able to observe the relative performance of one nation against others. Improved awareness in this regard could create a compelling need for citizens in serious-minded countries to pursue continuous improvement through education. Indeed, the nature of emerging global competitiveness requires that the education system of a nation seeking to bridge the development gap can interface with the society to produce the right people needed to drive the economy.
Taking China as an example, it embarked on a massive program to build up the skills of its people from the rudimentary technological stage to a highly sophisticated level. Education helped China to take advantage of access to both American and Japanese technologies, using adaptation as part of the process to build and polish Chinese technological skills and output to a very impressive standard over time. The strides of the Chinese in skill building through the window offered by education have made the outsourcing of the production units of many global corporations to the Chinese a viable direction to go. The Chinese are not resting on their laurels, though. To deepen the achievement of China as a global economic leader, one of the targets of the education system in China is to ensure that Chinese become, ultimately the number-one English-speaking nation in the world.
Education opens a new vista of opportunities even beyond employment. With education, the individual becomes literate, has broader perspectives on life, and becomes able to sense entrepreneurial opportunities faster. Education enhances creativity and the ability to discern the phenomenal changes in the technological realm. Educated people are also able to connect better with the aspirations of the society and the government on policy issues. The position is that an essential route for economic development and productive engagement of the people is through entrepreneurship. Small- and medium-sized enterprises are known to provide more employment opportunities in an economy than all the large corporations combined. Education serves as the facilitator of the right environment by working on the minds of the people. It builds their self-confidence and enables them to become more appreciative of supply-demand gaps and to seize available opportunities creatively.
Another important perspective of education is that it provides a continual learning experience for everyone. Education helps individuals to become more open-minded and teaches them to search methodically to understand the world better. Education is mainly instrumental in preparing young people to become more productively engaged in their society. Education gives them tools that help them to appreciate their environment, to learn why things are the way they are, and to develop plans for how they could be improved. Education opportunities are historically a way by which one can increase one’s social standing.
The level of sustainable development a society could achieve depends on the manner in which the young people are nurtured and socialized to become good citizens. Parents play an essential role in the socialization process by exposing their children as early as possible to appropriate formal and informal education process. Education is an opportunity for parents to take decisive actions today that can help create a better future for their children. With early childhood education, children have exposure during their most impressionable years to a positive environment of learning and social interaction, which sets the tone of the child’s interaction with the society.
The purpose of education is to foster both learning and character development in young people. A school environment is supposed to complement the home in the moral upbringing of children. It is generally known that when children stay within the school system they are better adjusted than those who drop out. This fact makes it important to continually and tirelessly encourage disadvantaged children and those prone to social delinquency, including involvement with drugs and gangs, to stay within the school system.
Although we have examined different perspectives on the purpose of education, the reality is that all these perspectives have to be seen as complementary efforts if education is to be meaningful to both the individual and the larger society. The desirable individual from the societal perspective has to be a good and productive citizen possessing moral uprightness and the ability to interpret the environment for the common good. Education is indeed about developing well-rounded human beings.