Thursday, 16 April 2015


“I have never let my schooling interfere with my education.” - Mark Twain

educate |ˈejəˌkāt| verb [ trans. ] (often be educated)
Give intellectual, moral, and social instruction to (someone, esp. a child), typically at a school or university: She was educated at a boarding school.
• Provide or pay for instruction for (one's child), esp. at a school.
• Give (someone) training in or information on a particular field: [ trans. ] The need to educate people to conserve water | A plan to educate the young on the dangers of drug-taking.

educability |ˌejəkəˈbilitē| noun
educable |-kəbəl| adjective
educative |-ˌkātiv| adjective
educator |-ˌkātər| noun

ORIGIN late Middle English: from Latin educat- ‘led out,’ from the verb educare, related to educere ‘lead out’

Education is universally regarded as something that all people should have, something all should experience and derive benefit from. While hardly none would disagree with this, the model that is used to educate people at various levels of schooling gives rise to great debate. Different models of education, widely varying in their approach coexist side by side and are more or less effective. Public and privately funded educational systems have their supporters and opponents, and each has its merits and pitfalls.

Preschool and primary school education is regarded as the foundation-building stage, in which basic skills in literacy and numeracy are acquired. The child at this level develops not only the intellectual skills needed to deal with the influx of new fundamental information, but also the motor skills required in the process of writing legibly, social skills that underpin a harmonious co-existence with other people and the beginnings of higher mentative processes, such as those that are needed for ethical/moral discrimination, artistic and musical appreciation, etc.

Secondary schooling allows for the development of a broad acquisition of knowledge in the humanities and sciences. Language and art, history and literature, physical and biological sciences are introduced at suitable levels throughout the school career and training in independent critical thinking processes begins, with logical and analytical skills being honed, especially so in the later years of this educative process. The character development that was begun in primary school is fine-tuned here. Secondary students have to deal with a large variety of issues, including the obvious biological one of puberty that will impinge on their learning.

Tertiary level education involves the student in a journey of self-discovery where thoughts and mentative processes can be examined in detail, where information is not only passively acquired, but where it is analysed, critically evaluated and reprocessed. The world versus the self are contrasted and the student will need to deal with the conflicts that arise therefrom. The tertiary study experience should act as the springboard for original thinking and problem-solving in unfamiliar situations, and should result in creative intellectual activity, and in organised and logical thought.

Having worked as an academic at a University for many years has given me an immense sense of responsibility towards my students, my colleagues and the community. I try to uphold a certain standard of educational experience in a system that has come under a great deal of pressure and stress in the last few years. We have survived various forms of reorganisation, rationalisation and changes of management. We have redesigned the curricula, updated programs and courses, and have had to cope with several changes in the way the students are selected for admission. To be an academic in such an environment is extremely labour-intensive and often frustrating, but at the same time it is infinitely rewarding. One certainly does not persist in being an academic for the pay involved!

One of my concerns in recent years is the declining academic standard of the average university student. The question arises of why this should be so, even if one is aware of the increasing pressures of government, society and family to push more secondary students into the tertiary sector, rather than directly into the workforce. I suspect that the basic problem arises in secondary and primary school level. There are students in secondary schools that have basic literacy and numeracy skill deficiencies. The wife of one of my colleagues teaches in a secondary school (admittedly, it is in a lower socioeconomic class suburb), but she maintains that even children born here, from families of native speakers of English, have immense trouble with basic reading and writing. She complains that when these children come to high school from primary school, some of them can barely read and write.

We live in a society that is increasingly reliant on technology. A society that will depend more and more on an educated population in order to cope with the information revolution that has changed our lives dramatically in the last couple of decades. We require specialised, analytical, quick-thinking, problem-solving educated people in our society and yet we find that we have rather poor raw material in our universities to work with. How can such a problem be resolved?

What is to blame for this deterioration in educational standards that seems to be occurring worldwide? What do you think?

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