The Purpose of Education: Survive or Thrive?

Growing up in North America and in most westernized cultures, we have been indoctrinated with the concept, “In order to get a good job, you need a good education.” Indeed with the world shrinking, the global community is now latching on to this principle. Today we’re going to talk about the real purpose of education – YOUR purpose of education… is it to merely to survive or do you want to thrive?

There’s no question that in this age of information and communication, a minimum standard of education is an absolute requisite just to exist. Those of us who are able to read these words simply cannot imagine what it must be like to be illiterate and try to function in this world. Yet for many reasons, an unsettlingly large part of the world’s population remains uneducated. The primary purpose of education then would seem to help us get by.

Are We Serving This Purpose of Education?

Thankfully, many – if not most – nations around the world have laws that make education freely available to everyone. With three basic styles readily accessible – formal, non-formal and informal learning – there is a method of education to suit just about anyone. All that’s left to do is for an individual to decide his or her own purpose of education and what amount is necessary to survive and/or thrive.

Let’s take a brief look at the three systems of schooling and see how they are currently serving an individual’s purpose of education.

How The Formal System Serves The Purpose of Education

The formal system is perhaps the most familiar, not to mention the most accepted form of education among the industrialized nations. It’s the system responsible for ‘getting a good education in order to get a good job’ rationale. While there are no guarantees for anyone to live ‘happily ever after’, there’s no question that those who successfully survive formal education have a definite advantage in today’s world.

Survive is the key word here. For those with a purpose of education of getting a piece of paper, formal education can be a very long process… impossibly long! In my own experience, approximately 2,000 students enrolled at my college back in 1971. Four years later, only 40 of us graduated with a Bachelor Degree.

Today, I am moving away from the main discipline that decorates my diploma. At least I had 30+ years to apply and earn a living from what I learned. Not everyone is so lucky. Stories abound of over-qualified degree holders, flipping hamburgers and parking cars because there is no work for them in their field.

So does the formal system serve the purpose of education? If we’re talking basic survival, then it’s definitely ‘Yes’! Is it worth all the years of boring ‘mandatory’ courses to chase a degree that might not even be worth the paper it’s printed on? Talk about a leading question!:)

The Non-Formal System and the Purpose of Education

The non-formal system is similar to the formal in that both have a common goal of obtaining a piece of paper – either a diploma or certificate – that supposedly eases entry into the working world. The advantage of the non-formal system is that it offers individuals a little more flexibility in terms of location and scheduling.

Students may enroll in part-time or full-time courses taking place during the day or on evenings and weekends, giving the ability to work around current jobs and/or childcare and other responsibilities. Alternative distance learning and self-study programs are also available for those who require the utmost versatility.

As mentioned, stringent requirements of attendance, assignments, tests and a list of co-requisites still exist in order to pass each course. Individuals must carefully consider all factors to determine if this systems satisfies the purpose of education, and ultimately if it is worth it in the long run.

Informal System Is Best for the Purpose of Education

Yes, I’m biased and I know that many will disagree with me. That’s the whole point of initiating and stimulating this discussion!

I was trained in the formal system for 16 years and taught a formal system of education for over 30 years. That’s why I can say that the INFORMAL system is for me, by far, the best to suit most people’s purpose of education. The informal system is like a giant buffet. You get to choose the exact courses that will serve your immediate needs. You assimilate the material and apply it as you like.

Rinse.

Repeat.

There are no certificates or diplomas to chase. Nothing to prove to anyone other than the results you show from having studied something you are passionate about. No taking unnecessary courses that have absolutely no meaning or interest to you. (For example, as a music education major in college, I was required to take courses such as biology and political science. What a waste of my time, especially with the latter subject!)

Mind you, would I want to be operated on by a doctor who studied only informally? Of course NOT! The point of this article is to question the purpose of education – does it help us to survive and thrive in 2009 and beyond? Put another way, do we all need to strive to become doctors in order to survive and thrive?

For the vast majority of us, the answer is a resounding, “NO”! Yet, what is the advice the vast majority of us receive? “In order to get a good job…” with the implication that the only way to do this is through formal education.

Enough already.

In my music studio, I’ve had students who obtained their advanced performance ‘certificate’. Yet they can’t play a note for you today. I have other students who didn’t care about the paper chase. They just wanted to play for the love of it! And oh, how they can play!

Who would you pay to listen to… the ‘paper’ boy, or the musician?

I rest my case.

The bottom line is, you don’t need a formal or non-formal education to survive and thrive. For most of us, the informal smorgasbord will suit our purpose of education just nicely.

Now I might have just saved some of you thousands of dollars and years of your life if you thought the formal system was the only way to go. (you are very welcome!)

You just gotta Love That Feeling!