Prof. Uditha Liyanage addresses graduands on being educated

Thursday, 25 July 2013 00:39 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

Following is the address titled ‘On being educated’ delivered by Prof. Uditha Liyanage, Director, Postgraduate Institute of Management, University of Sri Jayewardenepura, at the university’s convocation recently Venerable Chancellor, Vice Chancellor, Deans of Faculties, members of the academic staff, ladies and gentlemen, and dear graduands. This graduation is yours! Today, you graduate from this hallowed university. As you celebrate this moment, you may sense an ending, a logical conclusion of an educational process that started in primary school, then secondary school, and thereafter, the university, and now, the culmination of your undergraduate studies. I suggest that there is another way of celebrating this moment, today. This graduation marks the end of a beginning of an educational and learning process that ought to make you whole, and well. It is this process that I will attempt to lay bare in this address, today. 1. Introduction The etymological Latin root of the word, education is “to lead or draw forth”. Indeed, the process of education must draw forth the mind’s innate potential for understanding. The urge to learn, to know and to comprehend that which is in, and around us, is a basic human trait that is intrinsic to our minds as hunger and thirst are to our bodies. In an operational sense, education is a process through which a society passes on knowledge, skills and values from one generation to another. Learning can be described as the acquisition of new knowledge, skills and values. Education is what one gets from external sources, while learning is what one does within oneself to know and respond. Education is the process of imparting knowledge, skills and values. Learning is the process of adopting them. Turning to eastern wisdom, the word, Sikkha in the Buddhist literature has the twin meanings of “learning” and of “discipline”. The very act of learning makes one disciplined in one’s thoughts and actions. The learner who pays total and uninterrupted attention to that which is learnt will be disciplined. The disciple who learns thus is disciplined! The process of learning and one’s exposure to education must be continuous. There is so much more to be known, and that which you know may no longer be valid. This is why you need to treat this graduation as the end of a beginning, rather than as an end in itself. May I wholeheartedly congratulate you, ladies and gentlemen as you continue your journey of learning, of being educated – a journey whose process is more important than its outcome. H. G. Wells famously said that civilisation is a journey between education and catastrophe. This hallowed institute recognised the centrality of education long before the western world recognised the emergence of the “knowledge society” and placed knowledge at the epicentre of value creation in our organisations, wherever they are. Vijja Uppattang Settha is the motto, the guiding principle of this institute. Among all that arises, knowledge is the greatest. Indeed, what makes knowledge great? Is knowledge about knowing facts? Does is entail the development of skills and the living of values? Importantly, what is education for? 2. Changing context The provision of education and the process of learning are necessarily underpinned by a variety of contextual factors. The economic and social fabric of society, the complexity of interactions among societal actors, and the changing goals and frontiers of education are some of them. Conceptual Age: We have moved along, from an agricultural, to industrial, and then to the informational or knowledge era. It has been said that the so-called, Knowledge Age that has come upon us, characterises the way in which we live and work today. We must become knowledge workers and create value by utilising the information and knowledge we have so diligently and painstakingly acquired through formal education and our life experiences. In his book, ‘A Whole New Mind,’ Daniel Pink (2006) argues that, as a society, we have transcended the Knowledge Age, and are now in a Conceptual Age where our problems no longer have a single verifiable answer. He argues that success in the Industrial and Knowledge Age was mainly determined by a “SAT-ocracy”; a series of tests throughout the education system that required logic and analysis to isolate a single correct answer to a complex problem. I am certain, you too were subject to such tests of competence. Pink states that this does not meet the needs of the Conceptual Age which has transcended the Knowledge and Information Age. Today, the Conceptual Age requires creativity, innovation and design skills more than any other. Pink asserts, as many others have, that our education system and processes are still firmly geared towards the needs of the Industrial and the Information Age, a fast disappearing era. It is as if our students are moving along an assembly line, where we diligently instil mathematics, reading and science skills and then test them to see how much they have retained, making sure they meet all the “standards of production”. Pink argues that, today, a successful member of society must bring something more and different to the table. Individuals are valued for their unique contributions and their ability to think creatively, take initiative and incorporate a global perspective into their decisions (Pink, 2006). Dear Graduands, that is the challenge before you, a challenge, I am afraid you were not prepared to meet, but one you must meet. Age of Complexity: The emergence of the Conceptual Age, also called the Age of Imagination, reframes the educational and learning processes you must be engaged with in your quest for “continuous awakening,” the continuous development of yourselves, after all is said and done at this graduation. You must learn to recognise the increasing complexity that surrounds you. Complexity that is compounded by globalisation and information technology. You must realise that your notions of simple, stable societal systems lack currency and validity. You must learn how to learn and operate in this Age of Complexity. Indeed, in the Age of Complexity, ambiguity reigns. The skill to move from point A to point B is vastly different to the skill required to discern point A and point B, in the first place. This calls for extra-ordinary thinking skills, not just doing skills, such as conceptual and creative skills. Influenced by Newtonian Physics and Cartesian Philosophy, the predominant metaphor in use today in organisations, including educational institutes, is that of the machine, (Liyanage, 2010). If an organisation is a machine, then we just need to identify and specify the parts accurately. Understanding the machine, and its workings are about knowing the parts and how they work separately and together. If the machine becomes dysfunctional, then the challenge is to isolate the part(s) which is dysfunctional and correct it, so that the whole machine, once again begins to tick normally. Fritjof Capra (1983) argues that the machine metaphor has shaped our thinking about life and work for too long. It has made us believe that the machine’s behaviour is, by and large, predictable, and the accuracy with which one is able to predict its future behaviour is largely dependent on the amount of accurate information at hand. Indeed, our educational systems and learning processes have for long been modelled in this mechanistic fashion. Inevitably, the products of such a system and process will think and act in the self-same mechanistic fashion. The need of this day and in the Conceptual Age is to be holistic and dynamic, not mechanistic and linear, in our thinking and in our actions. Are you ready for such thought and action? We live in an age where predictability of things to come is becoming increasingly difficult. To respond meaningfully in a complex system you must sharpen your ability to adapt, to think on your feet, to deconstruct and to discern the inter-locking variables and factors that constitute problem-situations we confront. Rigidity must give way to flexibility. Dogmatism must be supplanted by objective and open discourse. The quest for finality must be replaced by tentative postures that do not cripple action. So, the Conceptual Age calls for creativity, innovation, and initiative. The accompanying Age of Complexity demands flexibility, adaptiveness, and responsiveness. Dear graduands, are you ready to face this brave new world of life and work? 3. Changing modes   The changing context of education and learning demands changing modes of action and response. David Orr (2004) states that historically, Francis Bacon’s proposed union of knowledge and power foreshadows the contemporary alliance between government, business and knowledge that has wrought so much mischief. He says that Galileo’s separation of the intellect foreshadows the dominance of the analytical mind over that part given to creativity, humour and wholeness. And in Descartes’ epistemology, one finds the roots of the radical separation of self and object. Orr claims that these three, together laid the foundations of modern education that have become dysfunctional and irrelevant. The changing mode and response to the changing landscape are characterised inter alia by the following shifts in emphasis. From left-brain oriented logical, analytical thinking to right-brain oriented, creative, and patterned non-verbal thinking; from IQ (intelligence as we knew it) to EQ and now SQ (emotional and spiritual intelligences); from individual excellence to team collaboration; from managing the status quo to challenging the status quo; from knowledge and skills to values and well-being. Howard Gardner (2008) in his book, ‘Five Minds for the Future,’ outlines the specific cognitive abilities that will be sought and valued in the Age of the Conceptual and the Complex. The five minds you need to possess and sharpen in this forward journey you commence today as worthy Graduates of this worthy institute. The five minds are: the Disciplinary Mind that masters a major school of thought such as science, mathematics, or management. The Synthesising Mind that integrates ideas from different disciplines or spheres through a process of conceptualisation. The Creating Mind that has the capacity to uncover and clarify new problems, questions and phenomena. The Respectful Mind that is aware of and has an appreciation for differences among human beings and the human condition. The Ethical Mind that is engaged in the fulfilment of one’s responsibilities as a worker and as a citizen. 4. Value of education In this address, I dealt with the changing landscape of education and attendant changes in learning. I thereafter referred to the need to fashion new responses in the new, emerging landscape. The vexed question that I posed at the outset – what is education for? – is left to be answered at the end by design! Indeed, what is the central intent, the core purpose, of education? This question has been keenly addressed in the philosophy of education. The distinction between the intrinsic and instrumental value of education is at the heart of the debate on the value of education among policy makers, practitioners and philosophers of education. If one values education for its own sake, then one espouses the intrinsic value of education. On the other hand, if one treats education as a means to an end, then one focuses on the instrumental value of education. Noam Chomsky (2012) defines his view of education in an Enlightenment sense, in which the “highest goal in life is to inquire and create.” The purpose of education from this perspective is just to help people to learn on their own. It is you the learner who is going to achieve in the course of education, and it is really up to you to determine how you are going to master and use it. As an essential part of this kind of education is fostering the impulse to challenge authority, think critically, and create alternatives to well-worn models. This is the pedagogy of Chomsky. He defines the opposing concept of education as indoctrination under which he subsumes vocational study and training. In this model, “people have the idea that from childhood, young people have to be placed in a framework where they are going to follow orders and conform to a set pattern of actions.” For Chomsky, this model of education imposes a debt which traps students into a life of conformity. That is the exact opposite of the Enlightenment view that he advocates. The question is: Do you train for passing tests or do you train for creative inquiry? To put it bluntly and perhaps differently: Is education for life or for work? John Dewey (2006) believes that the education process has two sides – one psychological and the other sociological – and that neither can be subordinated to the other, nor neglected without inevitable negative consequences. Dewey believes that the psychological which has intrinsic value and the social which has instrumental value are organically related and that education cannot be regarded as a compromise between the two, or a superimposition of one upon the other. Dewey adds that education must begin with a psychological insight into the child’s capacities, interests, and habits. It must be controlled at every point by reference to these same considerations. These powers, interests and habits must be continually interpreted; we must know what they mean. They must be translated into terms of their social equivalents – into terms of what they are capable of in the way of social service. Hence, the intrinsic value of education to have a mind that is capable of inquiry and understanding should have its social implications. Indeed, such a mind has the capacity to create value for social entities. Treating the value of education purely in terms of social outputs that have utility and currency is as myopic as treating education purely as a self-serving psychological endeavour. 5. Conclusion Let me end this discourse on an eastern religio-philosophical note. I believe that doing so at the graduation of this institute steeped in the Buddhist philosophy and tradition is not out of place. The question is: What is knowledge about? For the eastern mystic and thinker, all things and events perceived by the senses are inter-related, connected, and are but different aspects or manifestations of the same ultimate reality. The dominant Cartesian, Western view, on the other hand, is to divide the perceived world into individual and separate things and to experience ourselves as isolated egos in this world. This view is seen as an illusion by the eastern mystic and thinker. It is the illusion which comes from our measuring and categorising mentality. It is called avidya or ignorance and is seen as a state of a disturbed mind which has to be overcome. “When the mind is disturbed, the multiplicity of things is produced, but when the mind is quieted, the multiplicity of things disappears.” (Capra, 1983) The fundamental point is that the mind on its own proliferates objects and their contexts and then attempts to understand and deal with them. The division of nature into distinct and separate objects is illusory. Such objects in fact have a fluid and ever-changing character. The eastern view is, therefore, intrinsically dynamic and contains time and change as essential features. The cosmos is seen as one inseparable reality for ever in motion, alive, organic, spiritual and material at the same time (Capra 1983). Seeing this reality of the world is the “ultimate knowledge” that will free us from the bondage of the ceaseless inquiry into things that do not really exist “out there” in isolation, but are mere inter-related constructs “in here” of an ever chattering mind. The still mind, therefore, is the mind that knows what remains to be known! Dear graduands, I wish you the very best in all your educational and learning endeavours. May your future learning make you whole and well! References:
  • Capra Fritjof (1983), The Turning Point, Harper Collins Publishers, London.
  • Chomsky Noam (2012), http.//
  • Dewey John (2006), “My Pedagogic Creed”, Critical Issues in Education Ed., Eugene F. Prorenzo Jr. Sage Publications, London.
  • Gardner Howard (2008), 5 Minds for the Future, Harvard Business Press, Boston, Massachusetts.
  • Liyanage Uditha (2010), “Strategy and Complexity”, Sri Lankan Journal of Management, Vol. 15, Postgraduate Institute of Management, Colombo.
  • Orr David (2004), Earth in Mind: On Education, Environment and Human Prospect, Island Press, U.S.A.
  • Pink Daniel (2006), A Whole New Mind: Why Right Brainers will Rule the Future, Riverhead Books, USA.