Reimagining Utilitarian Model of Education

Should the entire curriculum be made hostage to occupational prospects existing in the current job market?


“It is better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a pig satisfied; better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied. And if the fool, or the pig, are of a different opinion, it is because they only know their own side of the question. The other party to the comparisons knows both sides.” John Stuart Mill

Well, the pig or the fool might be happy because they are satisfied, but in their satisfaction, they don’t have any choice or knowledge of all the possibilities that lie beyond their current state. And unfortunately, our current state of education seems driven by the interest of both the pig and the fool.

There is a common tendency among intelligentsia to advocate a utilitarian model of education. For them, the sole function of education is to impart vocational skills for the accumulation of wealth to satisfy pigs and fools.

Any other educational roles become subservient to this primary function. This intelligentsia takes a lot of pride in flogging the outdated model of education that according to them seems hell-bent on presenting every student with the identical bouquet of ice cream flavors (subjects) in the name of education.

There is often an allegation that Liberal Education does not teach us how to advance our manufactures or improve our lands, or to better our economy. What’s the use of having a liberal education if it does not make someone a lawyer, an engineer, or a surgeon? Or if it does not lead to discoveries in chemistry, astrophysics, geology, and science of any kind?

The commonly accepted policy framework for every tertiary educational institution reads something like this. “They are business enterprises responding to the vocational and consumption aspirations of paying students in a competitive market environment.”

That’s the very reason, advocates of Utilitarian education model believes in equating education to job training.

And if getting a job is the only purpose, then essential language skills and mathematical skills are more or less sufficient to make everyone job-worthy. According to advocates of Utilitarian education, effectively, educational institutions are nothing but a credentialing machine.

The educational institutes usually serve the purpose of signaling certain qualities like intelligence, diligence, compliance, and conformity to potential employers. As a result, there is a widespread clamor among students to get themselves validated through a higher degree; as it presumably increases the probability of landing a well-paying job.

The undercurrent of this line of thought usually gets a strong expression when students are told to work their ass off to score exceptionally well on the standardized test. It makes them eligible to pursue further studies in the prestigious STEM field. More often than not, every other stream is at the mercy of the STEM field to attract the rest of the talented lot.

As long as we don’t find any fault in subscribing to a free market doctrine — only skills and experiences that are directly convertible to income are considered useful. As a result, the need for the education system to make itself sufficiently market aligned remains the top priority, where it keeps thriving by serving as a certification agency.

As a result, we often stumble upon people who don’t shy away from making a sarcastic argument. They ask if subjects like trigonometry, history, geography, French is taught in schools; how much of it is retained by students and how much of it is used at work.

Prima facie the argument seems strong enough to hold its ground, but this narrow construction of educational objective often forgets that there is more to life than work.

And are we convinced beyond doubt that the job market should dictate the curriculum of our education system?

Because historically, Vocational training institutes have been doing the same; fulfilling the industry-specific demand for a particular set of skills — exemplifying the utilitarian model of education.

Should the entire curriculum be made hostage to occupational prospects existing in the current job market?

Let’s say there is a growth in demand for sectors like internet pornography or fake news for social media platforms. Does that mean that education institutes should train work-force for those fields?

The premise that acquisition of knowledge only helps someone to grab a high-paying job is very limited in its scope.

Gaining knowledge through education is as much about knowing the functional world as it is about knowing yourself. So-called non-utility subjects like literature, history, and philosophy play a critical role in shaping a well-rounded personality with diverse & mature perspectives.

This is possible only if these subjects are taught with some fun & flair. Instead, what we witness in schools is a mad race of students to perform exceptionally well in all the subjects, including these non-utility ones.

The entire focus is on higher grades — parents have a desire for it, students have aspirations for it, teachers have expectations for it. All three stakeholders are on the same page as far as acquisition of grade is concerned. Hence, the primary objective of knowledge gain through education is often relegated to the back burner.

Expecting a student to perform exceptionally well in all the subjects is nothing but madness. What we are doing is snatching an opportunity from students to appreciate those facets of subjects which helps them in having fun while trying to solve the zig-saw puzzle of life.

A doctor who is not exposed to the concept of empathy might succeed in becoming a good doctor. However, he will fail to become an exceptional healer having widespread respect among his patients.

An architect who is yet to inculcate a habit of appreciating the history of beautiful artistic expression through monuments might become a professional architect. However, he will fail to become an exceptionally creative designer capable of making someone stop and appreciate the original beauty.

Therefore, what we need is not the overhauling of the educational vehicle so that it ends up becoming a formula one race car. Instead what we require is taking some steam off the pedal so that the vehicle could run on cruise mode. Once students, along with parents and teachers, are made to understand the futility of unnecessary racing, the aspirations of the pig and the fool to excel in every subject would give way to the joyful experience of lifelong stress-free learning.

Published Author Who Loves to Play at the Intersection of Cognitive Psychology, Neuroscience, & Philosophy — Sharing the Slice of Wisdom Not on Paper but Screen

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