What is your education worth?

Maria Isabel Garcia
Education is about diving into the ocean of facts, ideas, and projects that span time and space, and coming out with your own story to live by and to live out

With the opening of classes, we now again see the sea of students trouping to places that will get them under the spell of a formal learning mode. Or at least that is what we all hope would happen. But beyond the mad rush to buy school supplies and reconciling family schedules to accommodate school times and tutorials, what is education worth?

Some would probably start counting the tuition they paid in pesos, dollars, euros. We could also count it in the sheets of paper we grazed with our lazy or feverish inked sweeps, in frantic keyboard clicks, in books we shunned or devoured, in grams of ink, in the reprimands that stung, in the praises that nicely clung, or in the A to F codes with which mentors priced school work. Sometimes, I measure it by how different my biases are from my own parents’ – something that would not have happened had I just been “schooled” by my parents through and through. But what is it really that makes education worth all that time, all that money, all that jazz?

The most obvious but the most short-sighted answer is that education prepares you to have a job later on. This is something that parents, including the ones in my own family, readily say. It is understandable why parents would send their kids to schools because they think that the education their kids will receive in those institutions will equip them with the skills to be “gainfully employed.” It is not rare for education to be called an investment.

We have seen this all too well in our educational policies. When there were global demands for nurses, we all encouraged our kids to be nurses, regardless of what they wanted to study or become. At some point, it was Information Technology, and every kid was encouraged to take that up. But when the demand for these jobs shrunk, some kids felt lost; they (and their parents) ended up feeling that they have lost their investment of time and resources.

Considering education as an investment means that if so much was sacrificed or spent for one’s education, then the jobs one should have later on should therefore be more than a recovery of that investment. One of my nephews whose abiding passion is to write stories was convinced by his parents to take up a “useful” medical course so that he would not presumably be a “struggling writer.” He was good at it but not happy about it. When I tried to commiserate with him, he said, “It’s ok Tita, I know so much about bacteria now that I have included all kinds of bacteria in the novel I am writing.” I do not know if his parents would consider that “compromise” as a recovery of their “investment,” but I deeply admire the maturity of my nephew for having negotiated with his own self.

Education is not about predicting what job will make you hungry, and avoiding it. It is about learning what is possible, joyful, and meaningful for you as a human being, and running away with it upwards, downwards, diagonally, sideways, cross-through, or through whatever other imaginative ways to fill your life. That means preparing you for a job – whether getting into an existing one, or designing your own – but it is not just about jobs.

Education is about diving into the ocean of facts, ideas, and projects that span time and space, and coming out with your own story to live by and to live out. That is not just a job but purpose. Purpose is what education should pry out of each and every learner, regardless of age. And purpose, well, it’s complicated.

Human purpose is this tender enigma that each of us – regardless of who we are – are drawn to seek and figure out in our own lives. It is not a single target that we can cover at any one time, because it morphs, depending on our own experiences. To complicate things further, purpose, by nature, breeds other related purposes. So if purpose is what life is really about, shouldn’t our education be as expansive and inter-related so that we get to cover the “territory” that our humanness came with?

I am a science writer, and most people assume that I prefer kids to choose STEM (Science, Tech, Engineering and Math) courses over others. But what I have fallen in love with has always been learning. I love science, but I also love the humanities, the arts, and the trades. I do not rank these rivers of thought depending on where I have the most competence in. If I did that, it would shrivel up learning in the impoverished funnel of my personal limitations. I do not love politics or accounting, but I find the former amusing and the latter useful for many of my life’s purposes.

Learning has a very good chance of happening in school, but it is not really assured. So aside from the immeasurable relief I feel, it excites me that humans across disciplines of learning make sure to get together at some point in every generation to come up with a very thoughtful reminder of the history of learning and why we really do it. These are from people who come from all traditions of learning passed down through generations. What is the purpose of education?

The US National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine has just released a book that gives evidence that integrating education across disciplines of the sciences and the arts genuinely equip learners with the skills needed to thrive and flourish in the 21st century. The book is called The Integration of the Humanities and Arts with Sciences, Engineering and Medicine in Higher Education: Branches from the Same Tree and the book can be downloaded as a PDF(To be concluded) – Rappler.com