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What are the purposes of education in society? In the past, according to Encyclopedia Britannica of 1952, "purpose of education is to raise up children to follow in their parents traditions with good success. Parents in all societies want their children to have the same values as themselves (Rice, 1999)." In the twenty-first century, education has become a complex fundamental in one's life. According to functional theory, "a society, in order to survive, must train its members to be productive and to carry out require roles (Ballantine, 1989)." Functionalist sees education as one of the main cores for the continuity of society. However, due to varying conditions in societies, directions and purposes of education are steered towards distinct objectives determined "naturally" by the central bureaucracy. Criticism arose at this point as many argued, should the central government be the only moderator for education? How about the teachers and students who are the core influencers and influenced, do they have the right to determine the purpose of education in their societies? This assignment aims to look at the purpose of education in society today, the macro government control and the lack of micro view, and to discuss some of the consequences that are faced by students and teachers in Singapore.
Purpose of education
Education brings a person, a society and the world through levels and stages of growth. Dr A.R. Bernard once explained, "Every stage of a life takes a person to a new level of knowledge, authority and responsibility. Each level requires a deepening of one's character (Dr A.R. Bernard: A Godly Character For Leadership, 2009)." Through stages and levels, one grows and learns, society develops and world evolves and changes. Civilizations go through natural advancement; however education serves as value-added purpose of growth on various grounds. Not all growth is positive growth therefore education brings it to a more effective and productive platform through enhancement. In this fast-paced era whereby societies are more concerned with the results rather than the process, will the purpose of education be eroded and become short-lived growth? Media in society has created deceptive dreams to form. Material gains and fame have become objectives of this wrong perception. Education should instead bring renewal from within, longevity in growth and learning. It should kick start that curiosity which fuels learning that will last a lifetime. John Dewey, an educational reformist, agrees that education plays a crucial role in the survival of societies. His beliefs in experiential growth whereby "learners need to constantly and consistently reconstruct their experiences to make sense of future events," are still applicable to the dynamic society today (Tan C. , 2008). Society needs critical thinkers rather than results achievers. Sustainability is one of the key determinants of education fulfilling its purpose. There is no one system that fits all due to the complexity of different societies. In addition, I have failed to include the main authority shaping the society: the central government. In order to achieve its objectives, has the central government erode the founding purposes of education? Let us explore in depth and discuss the implications.
Political dimension in Education Purposes
Education has indeed become major pillars of many countries, thus resulting in large amount of central government intervention in determining its direction and purposes. Education in society today serves many purposes in terms of a macro and micro view. Looking at the big picture, education policies have become government's pragmatic strategies to keep countries in track with the globalised world. Each government has its very own unique way of implementing their education policies. The differences in the driving purpose of education of each society are mainly due to globalization which further widened the gap between rich and the poor in the world. In developing countries such as Indonesia, education provides the best and fastest path out of destitute (Sertori, 2010). However, in developed countries such as Singapore, according to former Minister for Education Teo Chee Hean (1998), the purpose of education in this season can be denoted as means to remain competitive and to differentiate ourselves from others in the global market (Tan & Ng, 2008). In a nutshell, education pulls the poor to good and pushes the good to great. Even though education may be carried out with regards to contrasting objectives, education policies are still used for several common purposes. Distinct reforms are used to tackle economy issues. It also enhances the quality of life by increasing the literacy rate and decreases the widening gap between rich and poor (Ginsburg & Lindsay, 1995). In order to analysis the impact of these purposes on the students and teachers in the society, I have used Singapore as a case study of references.
Globalization and its effects
Education has evolved into a critical tool to drive economic growth. This is especially true for Singapore who has no primary resources except of its population. Globalization has increased the interconnectedness of countries which some termed it as a "borderless" or "shrinking" world. Thus, competitiveness of global market has increased tremendously. In order to compete with the rest of the world, especially economic giants such as China, Singapore's core initiative is to enhance skills through education. According to former Minister of State (Education And Manpower), Dr Ng Eng Hen's speech at the 16th ASEAN Labour Ministers' Meeting, "In a knowledge-driven economy, we recognize that the development of a globally competitive workforce is the key to sustain economic growth (Ministry of Manpower, 2002)." In order to possess that comparative advantage, the government has invested heavily on education since our independence in 1965. After the 1997 financial crisis which hit Singapore hard, governments came out with the strategy of "Thinking Schools, Learning Nation"(TSLN), an ability-driven education which encourages creative thinking skills, lifelong learning passion with creativity and innovation. New equipments had been added to schools while with the "Teach Less, Learn more" (TLLM) slogan, academic curriculum were reduced. To a certain extent, students are classified into different specialized groups which are deemed beneficial to the nation by the government at different levels of education. The only determinant of these classifications is results. It just feels that education simply puts people into their "rightful" places in the society and for those who don't fit in; they become failures of the society. To put it bluntly, students are treated as commodities and contribute to the "desired outcome" for economy instead of education.
Globalization does not wait for those who are unable to catch up with its pace. This has implications on community and social cohesion. Teachers play a sufficient role in leading their students to recognize the social and emotional competencies such as being aware of the plight of the less-privileged and make responsible decisions that take into consideration the community at large. A worrying discovery is the globalised world becoming increasingly disharmonious with increases in violence and bullying, which has negative impact on student's achievement (Laura C. Engel, 2009 ).
Are students given the chance to choose what kind of education they want? Are teachers given the space to teach in a holistic manner? One of the ability-driven strategies was to give students more choice in their education on "type of school, programme and subjects to take (Tan & Ng, 2008)." Independent and specialized schools are set up to offer more choices. Contrary to the freedom, there are still standardizations ruled out by the government. Bilingual policy, citizenship education and national examinations such as Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) are still compulsory. A controlled distinction and diversification meant little changes can be done to the system. Students are still "forced" to study core-curriculum that has never changed much or diversify at all. There is also an overemphasis on subjects like Mathematics and Sciences since they are of a more specialized subject that is perceived to be economically-beneficial by the government (Bob, 2009). Thus, it is not surprising to see curriculum subjects that are fueling the private tuition industry are mainly mathematics and sciences. Humanities are considered as "electives" which are optional and unimportant. Even though policies such as bilingualism has indeed given individual a comparative advantage over others, the concept of "marketing" our people as "commodities" seems too bizarre. We are just like wagyu cattle that are "value-added" for the sake of economic purposes, to become high quality kobe beef or rather high-skilled workforce in our case. Another key reform that was passed down was the introduction of flexibility in teaching and less control on schools. However, the School Excellence Model (SEM) was introduced in 2000 to rank qualities of schools through a "broader notion of success" (Tan & Ng, 2008). What is the point of giving freedom which needs to be regulated by a set of determinants? Teachers are not able to spend more time on non-curriculum activities since there are still major exams to be taken at each level and pressures from the principal to keep school within the "quality control". Having said all these, even though there is an effort of decentralizing the control from the government, there are still large holdbacks which can in fact cause a backlash on our education and economy.
Ability-driven education promotes meritocracy, which is one of the central political concept in Singapore. Meritocracy recognized every child's capabilities and strengths, and states that achievement is based on "one's talents and hard work" (Tan & Ng, 2008). Result is the key instrument to determine the most qualified students. Through this concept, elitism became a controversial issue. Even schools are ranked accordingly, though in the government's term, "holistically", results of students in the school still stand a high percentile in determining the ranking. This has caused the marketisation of schools. The competition between schools has been aggravated ever since. Instead of competing over rankings which may cause schools to hide education strategies from one other, shouldn't they work together to promote education in the interest of students? Since schools have different standards, elites will tend to segregate at the top schools which most of the times mean those independent or autonomous schools since they have an edge over the rest of the public schools. Just like schools, students do not start on equal grounds too due to different family backgrounds which may give them an upper hand as compared to the majority. Due to the result-orientated nature, teachers will have no choice but to concentrate on teaching academic subjects still instead of teaching through a holistic approach. This will in turn contradict the idea of TSLN, which promotes critical thinking and innovation.
The Government has set education policies in which they deemed suitable for the nation. Education has indeed possessed many roles in the perspective of different realms, the nation, the schools, the teachers and the students. The degree of success in these realms is subjective. For the case of Singapore, due to its natural factors, the government needs a tight control over the education in order to have a full control of the economy. We cannot dismiss the progress Singapore had made throughout the years through the hard works of the government through its emphasis on education policies. However, in doing so, the government has eroded some of the purposes of education in society. Result is one of the indicators of understanding but must not be over-used. Students should have their say in their education and be brought up such that there is longevity in learning. Teachers are main influencers of education. Their pedagogies will determine the outlook of their students. By striking a balance in critical thinking and academic learning, teachers should develop their very own teaching style. Schools and teachers "have to rethink the purpose and value of the school experience (Tan C. , 2008)." There is no one perfect solution with regards to achieving the purposes of education in a society. Governments must balance the nation objectives with the people's interest at heart.