Martin Luther King once said, “Intelligence plus character: that is the goal of true education.” But true education has been left far behind in the world of today. Indeed, literacy has prospered and grown very fast, but there has been no corresponding movement in education.
To understand the difference between the two, we must first understand what they are. To sum it up, literacy teaches us how to read and write. Education gives us those tools and also advises us what to read and write.
Of course, the morals this teaches us goes against the famous proverb that says, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.” But there is a major difference. This proverb relates to teaching someone a valuable skill versus handing the person something on a silver platter.
The matter at hand refers to literacy and education, that is to say, the art of listening for a moment and the art of understanding for a lifetime.
Education versus Literacy
As I mentioned before, literacy teaches us how to read and write whereas education gives us the tools as well as tells us what to read and write. Because of this, literacy is more fact-based and quantitative in nature, while education is value-oriented and qualitative in nature.
For example, a literate man will talk about demographics and stats, but a well-educated man will also take into consideration the characteristics of the population in the correct proportions before discussing demographics.
Literacy is mainly confined to formal schooling. But education goes beyond that. It includes not only the formal schooling, but also informal. That consists of behavioural aspects, home learning, family aspects, respect for parents, and attitude for society alike.
Literacy refers only to the fine tuning of skills, which is of course helpful and beneficial. It focuses on maintaining the status quo. Education, however, goes much beyond that.
It refers to the over-all development of man. In addition to skills, it includes values, morals and virtues, amongst many other things. It brings the all-round development of the human personality. It helps us grow physically, cognitively, spiritually and socially.
It is basically as simple as this. Literacy will give you valuable information. Education will give you invaluable knowledge. The difference between information and knowledge is that the former is very theoretical in nature. The latter teaches you how to use that information for the betterment of humankind and the world in general.
For example, a man with a degree in Chemistry knows how to build an atom bomb and harness tonnes of nuclear power. But the man with true knowledge will use that information to build nuclear power reactors that will provide electricity to thousands for a constructive use instead of a destructive one.
Education is equivalent to knowledge and worldly awareness. The highest education is that which does not merely give us information, but which keeps our life in harmony with all existence.
Rabindranath Tagore, composer of our national anthem, and one of the most noted thinkers in the Indian sub-continent as well as in the world, has also dwelt upon the concept of education. In his opinion, the aim of education is creative self-expression through physical, mental, aesthetic and moral development. He often expressed that the regular type of school was manufactory in nature and was a mere method of discipline specially designed for grinding out uniform results.
The reason why university education is so backwards is because while everything else in the world has developed, and we ourselves as humans have evolved, the contents of our portion and syllabus remains the same as it was twenty years ago, albeit a few minor changes.
If the technology, modes of transportation, nutrition and food, architecture, etc. has advanced so much, why is only education and society left behind? When you think of it practically, the only reason society is advancing at snail pace is because education has not changed, and the mindset of the generations has closed down.
A habit often practised in most graduate colleges is that if any point of debate comes up, which is not backed up by famous research papers, the point is not addressed. But that does not seem to me to be true education. After all, for a research paper to have been written, the thought must have come across somebody’s mind.
That somebody would have to act upon that thought and only then would we know if the point is a fact or not. If students are not allowed that thought at all in the years of their schooling, how will they ever learn to keep an open mind?
The aim of university education should be to turn out true servants of the people who will live and die for the betterment of the world at large. It should create a fire in us to work for the good of the lesser privileged, to aid the diseased and handicapped, to combat war and advocate world peace. It should coordinate and be brought in line with the goals of true education.
Literacy Winning the Race
On an average, most of the population knows three or four languages. We hone our language skills, and practice every other possible accomplishment. In fact, the standards of being termed “accomplished” have risen very high.
Despite this, the world doesn’t seem much educated at large. Science has proved that the world might be ending, due to the increase in pollution and global warming, but this doesn’t seem to be affecting anyone. Yet in the year 2000, when the Aryan superstition claimed that the world would end, everyone was in a panic. So now, when we can actually make a difference, why don’t we attempt it?
In the meantime, the finances are being spent on making statues and reconstructing monuments of historical importance, while people are dying daily due to lack of drinkable water in Flint, Michigan. In Ohio, a new ban on abortion has rid women of their own rights over their bodies.
These are all examples of how literacy has grown very fast, but there has been no corresponding growth in education. In fact, it is very likely that it has grown backwards.
Advantages of Education
The primitive maxim that stated, “Education is that which liberates,” still stands true to this very day. It does not refer merely to spiritual knowledge, just as liberation does not refer to the spiritual liberation after death. This knowledge refers to all possible learning and training required for the service of mankind.
Liberation here refers to the freedom of all manner: freedom of thought and speech, freedom of servitude, freedom of one’s own body, etc. The servitude is of two kinds. It could either be dominance of others over us or the power that materialistic things hold over us. The knowledge acquired in the pursuit of this ideal constitutes only of true devoted study.
Real education brings a revolution in thinking. It inspires one to think in maybe an unconventional, but definitely a creative and innovative way. It liberates person from mental slavery of superstitions, bias, disbelief’s and outdated rigid social and religious customs.
It goes beyond just rationalism, it also brings in curiosity. There is a famous saying that goes, “Curiosity killed the cat.” However, most people don’t know that it continues as, “Curiosity killed the cat, but satisfaction brought it back.” And that is exactly what will happen once we feel curious and act upon it!
To quote Nelson Mandela, “Education is the most powerful weapon that can be used to change the world.” And indeed, it must be used! But who is going to change the focus of schooling from simply literacy to true education?
We must lay aside all other businesses, just cast them out. We must prevent ourselves from commenting on other people, completely shut down on gossiping, and then proceed to begin working on ourselves. As Mahatma Gandhi had said, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”
As individuals, it is necessary to educate ourselves with the right goals in mind. We have already been taught how to read and write, and so the essential tools have been given. We must cultivate our own learning and teach ourselves not just the basic subjects of geography and languages but also educate ourselves with the true philosophies of life.
In the end, it is not literacy or learning that makes a man, but true education and knowledge for real life.