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Education for knowledge or for work!

Jun 18,2022 - Last updated at Jun 18,2022

This is, undeniably, an old matter and much has been said about it for centuries in the context of many societies the world over, including ours.

Recently, however, it has come to the forefront in our society again.

Do we educate for knowledge or for work?

For more than two decades, in particular, many in our society, when they speak about both school and higher education, have been stressing education for employment.

They do so because education for work is directly related to the vital relationship between education and economic development and the pressing need for individuals to find work upon graduation.

In fact, stressing the employment dimension of schooling is not only a very important and a very realistic premise, but an urgent one indeed, since education that does not qualify individuals to compete successfully in the workplace is either unrealistic or irrelevant, as individuals do need to make a living after all.

As a result of such emphasis on education and employment, some have started to ask the other classical question: “What about education for knowledge?”

This is also an important question, for much of the philosophy of education in our part of the world has for decades been prioritising education for knowledge.

Learners, the argument goes, need both horizontal and vertical knowledge in all disciplines so as to widen their horizons and enable themselves and humanity to progress.

Many in my generation still distinctly remember the famous line of poetry, one which we knew by heart and recited frequently, which states: Knowledge builds homes; and ignorance destroys.

It is this same premise that the philosophy of education in our society has been based on since its commencement.

This indeed is a crucial matter which no one can bypass.

So: is education for knowledge or is it for employment?

We must point out here that most of those who raise this question are proponents of either the former or the latter position.

Those advocating the former position, i.e. that of knowledge, are the majority in our educational institutions and a minority outside them; and vice versa, of course.

The conclusion one draws is that education for employment is a pressing societal need, considering unemployment and poverty figures, rather than a demand by our educational institutions themselves which have been perceived for years to live in an “ivory tower,” as we often say.

We do have then a difference of opinion on this matter; and this is both natural and healthy.

Such a difference, however, can be resolved with dialogue and open exchange of opinion.

On this very basis, one wishes to assert that there should be no contradiction or opposition necessarily between the two positions, since good education can, and should, cater to the needs of learners in respect of both knowledge and work, if we construct our educational programmes and their learning outcomes carefully.

Our academic programmes, in fact, need to be built on three pillars, not one or two: The knowledge, skills, and affective components.  All of these three dimensions are both directly and strongly connected to knowledge, work, and individual and societal growth.

Education then is for knowledge, for work, and for the prosperity of individuals and society.

And this is what the University of Jordan’s retreat, held in Aqaba several days ago and attended by all key members of its governing councils, emphasised. In it, the recommendation taken was to review all of the university’s academic programmes so as to achieve the three aforementioned pillars together.

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