Why do we invest in Education?

Globally, education represents a significant investment — not only in terms of the direct (whether public by taxes or private by fees) and indirect (lodging, transport, uniforms, stationery, etc) expenses, but also in terms of opportunity costs (e.g. delaying the start of income-generating activities) and unintended consequences (physical and mental trauma due to punishments, exam pressure, bullying/ragging, etc.)

What is the outcome for which we, collectively as societies and individually as students/parents, are investing so much?

When we were schooling (in the 80ies and early 90ies) we were told “හොඳට ඉගෙනගෙන හොඳ රස්සාවක් කරන්න” (study well and get a good job) which is probably consistent with the expansion of formal employment being a driving force behind mass schooling. And of course this is important — it’s hard to justify individual investment in education (with ambitions ranging from completing school to a degree to postgraduate qualifications) unless it secures a better income in return, and as tax-payers it’s easier to justify further investment in education if it results in a greater boost to the economy (both value created by work as well as taxes paid on income) — so it’s natural that politicians will prioritize this aspect in their manifestos (e.g. see page 20–21 of the Election Manifesto of H.E. Gotabaya Rajapakse)

But, is that the only reason for education?

We believe not, and here are some definitions that inspired us:

Jomtien Declaration at the World Conference on Education for All:

  1. Every person — child, youth and adult — shall be able to benefit from educational opportunities designed to meet their basic learning needs. These needs comprise both essential learning tools (such as literacy, oral expression, numeracy, and problem solving) and the basic learning content (such as knowledge, skills, values, and attitudes) required by human beings to be able to survive, to develop their full capacities, to live and work in dignity, to participate fully in development, to improve the quality of their lives, to make informed decisions, and to continue learning. The scope of basic learning needs and how they should be met varies with individual countries and cultures, and inevitably, changes with the passage of time.
  2. The satisfaction of these needs empowers individuals in any society and confers upon them a responsibility to respect and build upon their collective cultural, linguistic and spiritual heritage, to promote the education of others, to further the cause of social justice, to achieve environmental protection, to be tolerant towards social, political and religious systems which differ from their own, ensuring that commonly accepted humanistic values and human rights are upheld, and to work for international peace and solidarity in an interdependent world.
  3. Another and no less fundamental aim of educational development is the transmission and enrichment of common cultural and moral values. It is in these values that the individual and society find their identity and worth.
  4. Basic education is more than an end in itself. It is the foundation for lifelong learning and human development on which countries may build, systematically, further levels and types of education and training.

National Education Commission, from Proposals for a National Policy on General Education in Sri Lanka 2016:

“General Education should prepare children for a satisfying life in which they live and work together productively with fellow adults, equipped with the knowledge and other competences that would enable them to contribute to the wellbeing of their family, the community in which they live, and the nation as a whole.”

(Edited for brevity; it’s a laudable ambition but will require some serious re-engineering of our educational institutions and practices to achieve it 🤫)

Education Reimagined:

“To enable all children to fulfill their full potential as empowered individuals, constructive members of their communities, productive participants in the economy, and engaged citizens of the US and the world.”

(Feel free to replace US with your own country)

Alliance for Self-Directed Education:

“Education is the sum of everything a person learns that enables that person to live a satisfying and meaningful life.”

Mission statement of Schools 4.0 Lanka

Our mission is to foster “Learning communities for whole-person education towards a more compassionate world”, because

  1. We believe that, as individuals and societies, we invest in education to create a more compassionate world a world that is more peaceful, sustainable, inclusive and equitable. To be explicit, education must not only enable the direct beneficiaries (the “recipients”) to have a better quality of life for themselves, it must enable everyone (even those who received less of it, or even did not receive it at all) to have a better quality of life. Essentially, we believe that the more education you receive, the more response-ability you have towards creating a better future for everyone.
  2. This necessarily requires whole-person education. Conventional formal education is highly biased towards education to prepare people for paid work (as employees or as entrepreneurs), and this is the dominant theme in conversations on education reform (e.g. “the need for employable graduates”, “mis-match between the output of education and labour market needs”, etc.). At present, it’s inconceivable to imagine our society without paid-work, but it is not even all of the work (if we define it as “utilizing our capabilities in the service of others”) that we do — and often the unpaid work we do (like parents looking after their children, or helping a friend, or volunteering in our community, or being active citizens, or championing a cause we are passionate about) can be more fulfilling than the paid work. And there’s much to life that we wouldn’t even label as work — experiencing the beauty of the natural world, or a work of art, fills us with awe. We express ourselves aesthetically. We engage in worship, individually or in communion — and lack of religion isn’t a barrier to this.
    If education is to help us live meaningful lives, it must enable us to experience meaningfulness in all aspects of our lives.
  3. We believe this education can be most effective and efficient when it is pursued by learning communities — an application of the wisdom of traditonal practices to the opportunities and constraints of modern society. Unlike conventional schools, were Education is done by adults (givers) to children (receivers), a learning community is education by a community for the community — a collaborative, self-driven learning journey.
    Note that when we say community, the most important members are the children, because the school is established for the purpose of serving their needs, but the parents/caregivers and Stewards are also valued members. The participation of every child and every adult is a gift that contributes to the learning of every member of the community.

Regardless of whether you are a learner, parent, educator, tax-payer or citizen; how would you define the purpose of education?

Learning communities for whole-person education towards a more compassionate world