The Reification of Education
Education is playing a fundamental role in structuring individuals and society at large. It is a mechanism that decides and shapes our learning journey through the educational norms and values it advocates. Such norms and values include: exams and testing, transmitting knowledge, high-achievement, etc. But one has to be critical or even suspicious towards those educational conventions which educational systems around the world have established. Are they fair? Do they fulfil particular needs? If yes, whose needs come first? Are these norms and values effective variables to achieve the ‘right’ education? This article will attempt to de-construct the concept of ‘education’ and will highlight different lenses that would bring a fresh understanding of its policy, structure and implementation in the 21st century.
In reifying education, we enter a perverse relationship. In the sense that we perceive the structure of the system of education as an unchangeable necessary object, to which we adapt and whose arbitrary hoops we must jump through. In many educational systems around the world, the dominant teaching and learning culture is based on teachers assuming that they hold ‘the truth’ or ‘the knowledge’ and show students the ‘right way’ to fulfil a particular task by dominating the classroom with a narrow view of doing. Consequently, classrooms and societies are dominated by a single logic that restrains people to embrace multiple educational realities such as creativity, the acquisition of life skills such as interpersonal and intrapersonal skills, etc. Then, this mono-logicality as educationalists named it, is tested to check whether it is stored in students’ minds through stressful examinations. The first key word that we might catch from the previous passage is “test”. Standardised tests have always been the norms and a tick box to fulfil the administrative side of education. Let’s take the example of learning languages. We have all learnt a foreign language (French, German, Spanish, etc) in schools and we might have been good at it. However, as soon as we pass the test/exam and move to the next level, we remember half or even less of what we have learnt at schools. This is to show first that education and standardised tests work hand in hand to cater for the needs of each other than of individuals. Secondly, education deceives us in a sense that we thought that we would use this language beyond class hours, but in fact low chances that this might have happened.
In many educational systems around the world, the dominant teaching and learning culture is based on teachers assuming that they hold ‘the truth’ or ‘the knowledge’…
Consequently, we find ourselves victims and marginalised, in a way that we mould to fit the system instead of the other way around; the system fits us and meets our needs, expectations and aspirations.
This takes us to another level of rethinking education. Since educational systems have a limited ‘reality’ of what’s going on in classrooms, it means other realities are not yet discovered. We can think of learners with undiscovered talents and abilities. Unfortunately, many of these learners leave schools without an idea of their abilities. Some might have been good in dance, public speaking, music, drawing, and other variety of skills. This is because education has always valued STEM subjects which include mathematics and science, and students have to score well in those subjects to move to the next level, be called smart people or pass an examination successfully. We wonder now whether education will ever try and explore these facets of creativity and intellectual imagination which individuals may possible possess instead of glorifying STEM subjects which we are not against. But they should hold as an important position as arts. This leads us to conclude that education, in many parts of the world, ‘oppress’ people. It does not allow them to fully discover their own identities. Instead, it educates them in a way that norms and values should be accepted without questioning why, what, how and for what purpose is education after all.
In understanding the reification of education, this led us to question the meaning and the purpose of education, and at the same time teaching and learning which are embedded in the concept. These three concepts might seem unclear although we often debate them as we are doing in this article. Among many definitions which people attribute, education means the acquisition of different savoirs (savoir, savoir-faire, and savoir-être). Teachers, whose mission is to facilitate learning and make it happen, share and communicate those savoirs with learners. On the other hand learning is a process towards becoming good and global citizens through the acquisition of the three savoirs instead of being good workers at the end of their learning journey that only serve needs of a particular sector.
Throughout this article, we become aware that education has value since it is the bridge that connects individuals to the real world. However, is it that we value education in itself or for the three savoirs it gives us? In looking at education as an end in itself, we can say it creates value simply by existing. For instance, the process of learning holds value in the same way one’s partner is valuable in themselves and not as a result of the dinner they cook. However if ones significant other were to also be a good cook, they would arguably become more valuable. Similarly, good education is preferable to bad education. However, even a bad education by far holds value compared to the absence of one. Hence, avoiding further semantics, we can see that education is simultaneously valuable in itself and for the savoirs we gain from it. To shape this value given to education, we as individuals, and probably future educationalists who might relate to this article, have to rethink the mission of education, teaching and learning in the 21st century. This article does not provide accurate answers but it helps to interrupt our thinking for a while and re-consider our taken-for-granted knowledge and assumptions regarding this concept. Education goes beyond standardised tests, shared norms or ‘factory model schools’ with rows of desks, uniforms and bells, whose sole purpose lies in the cookie cutter production of students with straight As. It is indeed a journey towards discovering one’s potential in the right conditions to bloom without feeling ‘alien’, conditioned or oppressed.
This article was co-authored by Omer Selcuk and Riadh Ghm