Purist view of education is of ones mind

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The purist view of education is the education of one's mind that is; what is an educated man? Through the rigorous training of one's mind, this is achieved. However, man cannot be divorced from the society that he lives in, in fact, education is important towards citizenship. Here I will discuss the social and economic needs of the society being the purpose of education, and how preparing for the future is the mission of education.

In this essay I will discuss two aspects of the purpose of education, to meet the needs of society both social and economic for the future.

Meeting the needs of society

Economic growth

Education is a means to educate the future generation to promote economic growth in societies.

In a recent international conference, Singapore's minster mentor mentioned "Education is the most vital investment that societies can make for their future… … it is crucial for developing economies if they are to go beyond being developing economies and reach developed status one day." [1] Education plays a role in the development of a country. The aim of education is to raise the status of the country through economic developments.

We see this happening through the many changes in Singapore's educational system, from fuelling a survival orientated society, to efficiency driven education, to driving sustainable development, and now, educating for the future.

At the start of Singapore's independence, "it was crucial for the Government to enforce the use of a main language of instruction (in this case, the English language) throughout the education system and structure."[2] Bilingualism was introduced into Singapore in its early stages to provide a means of common instruction to the different races in Singapore, English being the medium. This provided a common ground where students from different races and languages could communicate with each other, and also resulted in greater efficiency, where everyone could communicate with each other through a common medium. 'Hong Kong was returning to sovereignty of the PRC in 1997, some argued that students should spend more time learning about China and studying Putonghua'. (Morris 1995)[2] showing that indeed, having a common language through bilingualism is pertinent towards having an efficient economic system in the society.

Globally, Singapore reaps the benefits of its bilingual policy. "bilingual policy has also enabled us to plug into the rest of the world."[3] While some may view it as a political move by the Singapore government, the result is a more efficient society, and has been able to capitalise the huge emerging China markets because of the advantages of the Chinese language, "the economic resurgence of China is also used … … to persuade more Singapore students to learn Mandrin"[2] Besides China, Singapore also has access to trade with India and many other countries. All these would not have been carried out so smoothly unless there was a common language to bridge the two countries together.

Being a multi-racial society, learning of the other languages has also put it in good stead when Singapore spreads it regional and global economic wings. With the advent of globalisation, Singapore has been able to communicate with foreign countries and gain not just trade of goods, but also trades in knowledge. Our Institutes of Higher Learning have been able to form linkages with ease, not only with other institutions in English speaking countries"[3]

The vision of the policy makers also add on to the view of the purpose of education being for the economic wellbeing of the society. "We aim to create a robust tertiary sector with various models that are sustainable and characterised by high-quality graduates valued for their specific contributions." Dr Ng Eng Hen [4]

Moral values

Another aspect of the purpose of education in society is to retain cultural and moral values. A society is only as good as her people are

Another benefit of the bilingual policy has been the retention of the cultural values of the society.

Meeting society's needs for economic growth of the nation plays a huge role in the purpose of education, to enable the society to grow and to flourish as an economy. However, if education was just merely for economic benefits and growth, the society would just be a financial institution, not a whole society.

21 July 1964: Rioting broke out on the eve of the planned massive celebrations for Prophet Muhammad's birthday when a protest demonstration by Malays escalated from a verbal war of taunts and insults with Chinese bystanders.[5]

From the incident mentioned, it's important that education also has the purpose of bringing up a gracious and understanding society. Through the Bilingual policy, education in Singapore plays a role in the preservation of traditional moral values. Ancient philosophers such as Socrates and Confucius have both advocated that " a well-educated person or gentleman was known as kaloskagathos, literally the noble and good person, the Chinese counterpart was jun zi, or son of the prince or gentleman." [6] this is definitely attained through intergeneration exchanges.

Bilingualism in Singapore would be the need for educators of the various mother tongues to teach the younger generation the language. However, in many schools, with all subjects with the exception of mother tongue taught in English, the mother tongue is perceived as less important than English per se.

In Singapore, bilingualism is a way whereby the younger generation can still communicate with the older generation who were educated in their mother tongue; it also links the students back to the traditional values through textbooks and cultural activities held in schools. With knowledge of the values of our own race, is not enough. We also need to learn about and understand the values and cultures of the other races in Singapore to prevent conflicts.

This problem has been addressed through Civics and moral education where respect and harmony are one of the key topics taught. Civics and moral education teaches the students to act for the moral good of the society. Enforcing each races' cultural values at a primary level where the subject is taught in the students' mother tongue, and bringing the different cultural values together to foster understanding from Secondary schools onwards through the integration of the classes, with English being the medium, students of different races are no longer separated, and now they learn from each other.

The future society

With the advancement of technology, globalization and the progress into the learning economy; the purpose of education has shifted to imparting the necessary skills to face challenges in the future rather than just hard facts. We have to adapt our education to match the needs for the future. If the only constant is change, we are moving towards the "'learning economy' where the success of individuals, firms, regions and countries will reflect, more than anything else their ability to learn." [7]

In 1965, Singapore had to separate from Malaysia. It was a developing country with little natural resources, and hence the aim of education at that point was to generate a workforce required for survival. The overriding priority of the Singapore government in 1965 was to find the quickest and most effective way to develop an industrialized economy [8]. The curriculum of education at that time was for survival, where Singapore experienced an upgrading and review of its technical and vocational education. This was to generate a workforce to develop an industrialized economy. However, such a curricular would not meet the needs of Singapore in this age. Instead of hitting the problem with a hammer, we now form a case study for the issue, and call it Problem-based learning.

In problem based learning, the students are given case studies where they possess prior knowledge, assumptions and experiences and these are critical in helping students make sense of any new information.[9] this educates the students in critical skills of application, after equipping them with the necessary knowledge to ensure that they are able to carry out the project. PBL builds up the students' ability to apply knowledge to the given cases and generate solutions. Through the format that it is carried out in, the students also gain the necessary skills of communication, leadership and group work. All these being important skills for the 'learning economy'.

As Singapore becomes a more developed society, and wanting to attract foreign talents, which are highly mobile and of diverse background, we need to appreciate the importance of National Education as Singapore opens herself to a host of external influences.

"National integration through a national education system was seen as the key condition for economic survival. To attain these national objectives, the Government rightly recognized the necessity to provide every child with at least 6 years of education from the age of six - without discrimination of race, language, sex, wealth or status."[8] Despite the bilingual policy mentioned earlier, where by cohesion is brought about by a common language, and Singaporeans being able to communicate with foreigners for exchange of ideas and trade, we still retain a sense of national integration.

Implications on schools teachers and students

The main purpose of education, is to prepare for the future society's economic growth while retaining society's moral and cultural values.

Education needs to have a balance between these two needs of the fututre society. In general, societies have to make money, to improve the material lives of its people, at the same time, its social wellbeing is also important.

Academically, Schools, would have to be able to move towards skill based orientation, the assessment criteria for schools would turn to more holistic means for assessment, to work together to improve on the education of the students. Schools have to rise above educating exam takers, to educating critically thinking students, important skills for economic survival both for the individuals and society. Besides meeting the economic aims, schools need to place emphasis on the moral values, preventing cultural erosion through westernisation. Bringing up morally good students is as important as their students getting good grades.

The problem that we face now is that lesser emphasis is being placed on moral development of the students. Schools are assessed by society by the results of the major examinations at the end of each major section, the GCE 'O' and 'A' levels. Schools have to work on showing the public how morals and cultures of a society is just as important as economic growth, by moving out of the largely examination assessed system.

More often than not, teachers use civics and moral education classes to teach their respective subjects. It is very important that such lessons are carried out despite the heavy emphasis on the academic results. Teachers have to recognize the importance of moral values in the society, and the importance of bilingualism in a westernised society. The development of educators is crucial if the educators are to be able to teach today's curriculum. "teachers have to strive to equip themselves with the necessary competencies to guide and facilitate students' learning." [10] they have to be equipped with 21st century skills to educated the coming generation. Skills such as communication, presentation, leadership all have to be tools which educators have at their fingertips, and ready to impart to students. Of course, this would result in teachers having a more draining job, having to standardize grading rubrics, and still having to educate the students on the basic fundamental knowledge. Educators play a crucial role in educating students to be able to bring the society towards economic growth in a safe and cultured society rooted on harmony and cultural values.

Students, would have wider studies, more project based work, and at the same time have to attend civics and moral lessons, hence a heavier workload. This is where the students have to apply themselves better, and be stretched. They have to gain crucial learning and adapting skills for the uncertain future ahead of them, and retain the cultures and morals of the past. Students too have to work together with the teachers. Recognizing that CME despite being an ungraded subject, that it is also an important part of their education. They also need to have an active family background where they can engage and discuss their moral and cultural values at home.

These three parties that make up the schooling experience need to work hand in hand to ensure Singapore's survival as a society, prospering both economically, and culturally, as we move on into the uncertain future.

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