July 10, 2020

The education challenge


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By Oliver Mills

Oliver Mills

Education is transformation. It is creative and innovative thinking which provides new perspectives, and different angles to issues or positions being contemplated. Education is also about being moral, fair and just in our dealings with others. It is an incremental unravelling of what is, to achieve what it could be.

We tend to use the concept education in a very narrow sense, by seeing it as schooling, acquiring qualifications, or providing specific skills to function in the practical areas. These are aspects of education, since education deals with integration and wholeness. And this is one of the main challenges education faces: integration versus fragmentation.

Some educators confuse aspects with comprehensive knowledge. For example, an individual might read for a general degree. But what really is involved here, are a number of different subject areas with no specialisation. Each subject making up the degree is different. When this individual wants to pursue further studies, he or she might be told that there is no specialty area, normally consisting of four subjects concentrated in the area the individual wants to pursue further.

This person might have to do additional, “make up” courses to meet the requirements. This means spending extra time and resources. Sometimes the individual might be required to do a “full degree over,” since many institutions have different requirements.

What education is, and its challenges then come to the forefront. It means institutions as providers of education must be aware of the policies of other providers, so as not to cause problems later on for their clients.

Normally, many persons do not see education as a tool of transformation, making things different and better. But this is really its nature. Through innovative thinking, greater improvements result, making life more convenient and richer. The new developments in technology testify to this.

Improvement to better health care, and what we eat, giving us a longer life, are also the result of the impact of education in a wider, practical sense. Educational research makes goods and services available which could not be contemplated without it.

Here education has a practical, transformative function, which goes beyond mere schooling. Its challenge is to create awareness of this goal. Attending an institution for the purpose of acquiring an education is one thing. Using education to institute changes is realising its purpose. The challenge of education then is to make this purpose clear to its clients, and to create the relevant programmes to reflect this. Education therefore involves both learning and doing, as well as imparting skills and knowledge to enable individuals to transfer these to practical situations, and to make transitions from one function to the other.

When education provides different angles to what is being discussed, it means it is not a stagnant enterprise. It poses new questions, provides new and different answers, and this enables persons to use their creativity and problem solving skills to draw conclusions from the different positions, and choose the most appropriate and reasonable solution to the issues being discussed.

The education challenge is therefore to make its practice relevant, even in contradictory situations.

Being moral, fair and just is a fundamental challenge education faces. This is because the onus is not only on education, but also its subscribers. Many of the latter tend to see education as being for the elite few, and not the preserve of the many.

Education then becomes a tool to facilitate the dominance of the few over the many by denying opportunities through the use of various strategies. Even education itself in the strict sense, through its requirements tends to, not in a deliberate way, place barriers to some sectors of society seeking to benefit from it. But this is because the elites control it, and decide who gains entry.

We then find, that the moral, just and fair basis on which education stands, are undermined, not by education itself, but by the gatekeepers of society.

The challenge of education then, is to democratise the mind-sets of the gatekeepers, show how everyone benefits from being exposed to it, and demonstrate its contribution to the social, political, economic, technological and cultural areas of life.


Oliver Mills is a former lecturer in education at the University of the West Indies Mona Campus. He holds an M.Ed degree from Dalhousie University in Canada, an MA from the University of London and a post-graduate diploma in HRM and Training, University of Leicester. He is a past Permanent Secretary in Education with the government of the Turks and Caicos Islands

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