What is Education? A Definition & Discussion

What is education?

When some talk about education it is often confused with schooling. Majority of the people think about schools, colleges and universities when they hear about education. It is correct that educational institutions are meant of imparting education but the way some educational institution operate is not necessarily something we called a proper education. They are just supposed for schooling willingly or unwillingly – trying to drill learning into people according to some plan often drawn up by others. If a learner is treated like an object, the learner will not get proper education.
If education is defined then we can say that Education is a process which facilitates learning and acquire knowledge, beliefs and values. According to John Dewey (1916), it is a social process – “a process of living and not a preparation for future living”. The method of acquisition of education includes teaching, training, research and discussions.

Etymology of “Education”

The word “Education” is derived from latin word ēducātiō (“A breeding, a bringing up, a rearing”) from ēducō (“I educate, I train”) which is related to the homonym ēdūcō (“I lead forth, I take out; I raise up, I erect”) from ē- (“from, out of”) and dūcō (“I lead, I conduct”) — Source: wikipedia

Proper Education

A proper education is acquisition of knowledge which make a person able to listen to others, makes good attitude, makes wise and intellectual. A Proper Education also changes habits, behavior and life style of a person. But at present, while acquiring education, many people focus on just material accumulations which only promotes materialistic living standards.

Definition of Education

The greatest minds of the world has defined education in different ways, some definitions are presented below:-

  • Intelligence plus character – that is goal of true character (Martin Luther King Jr.)
  • Education is movement from darkness to light (Allan Bloom, Philosopher)
  • Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.  (Nelson Mandela)
  • The object of education is to teach us to love beauty. — Plato, 424 – 348 BC, philosopher mathematician.
  • What sculpture is to a block of marble, education is to the soul. (Joseph Addison)
  • When educating the minds of our youth, we must not forget to educate their hearts. (Dalai Lama)
It is said that we are learning all the time but we may not be conscious of it happening. Learning is both a process and an outcome. As a process it is part of living in the world, part of the way our bodies work. As an outcome it is a new understanding or appreciation of something.
Education is deliberate. Education can cause to develop understanding and judgement, and enable action. We may do this for ourselves, for example, learning what different road signs mean so that we can get a license to drive; or watching wildlife programs on television because we are interested in animal behavior. This process is sometimes called self-education or teaching yourself.

Formal Education

Formal education occurs in a structured environment only meant for teaching students formally. This type of education takes place in schools, colleges and universities where a formal environment is provided like class rooms, labs etc. A teacher specially trained in that particular subject teaches multiple students in his area of specialization. In formal type, many schools develop curriculum, model, learning environment and space for physical learning like classroom.

Informal Education

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Informal education takes place in a variety of places, such as at home, work, and through daily interactions and observations. For many learners, it includes language acquisition, cultural norms, and manners. Informal learning is an ongoing process that also occurs in different places and throughout the life period. Information Education is usually occurs outside the schools and colleges. It does not has any specific curriculum to follow. It does not depend upon a single situation, surrounding or time period.

Learning activity works largely through conversation – and conversation takes unpredictable turns.
In both forms educators are to create environments and relationships where learners can explore their ideas and feelings. This exploration lies, as John Dewey argued, at the heart of the ‘business of education’. Educators set out to emancipate and enlarge experience (1933: 340). How closely the subject matter is defined in advance and by whom differs from situation to situation. John Ellis (1990) has developed a useful continuum – arguing that most education involves a mix of the informal and formal, of conversation and curriculum (i.e. between points X and Y).
The informal-formal education continuum - John Ellis
Those that describe themselves as informal educators, social pedagogues or as animators of community learning and development tend to work towards the X; those working as subject teachers or lecturers tend to the Y. Educators when facilitating tutor groups might, overall, work somewhere in the middle.

Acting in hope

Underpinning intention is an attitude or virtue – hopefulness. As educators ‘we believe that learning is possible, that nothing can keep an open mind from seeking after knowledge and finding a way to know’ (hooks 2003: xiv). In other words, we invite people to learn and act in the belief that change for the good is possible. This openness to possibility isn’t blind or over-optimistic. It looks to evidence and experience, and is born of an appreciation of the world’s limitations (Halpin 2003: 19-20).
We can quickly see how such hope is both a part of the fabric of education – and, for many, an aim of education. Mary Warnock (1986:182) puts it this way:
I think that of all the attributes that I would like to see in my children or in my pupils, the attribute of hope would come high, even top, of the list. To lose hope is to lose the capacity to want or desire anything; to lose, in fact, the wish to live. Hope is akin to energy, to curi­osity, to the belief that things are worth doing. An education which leaves a child without hope is an education that has failed.
But hope is not easy to define or describe. It is:
  • an emotion,
  • a choice or intention, and
  • an intellectual activity.
As an emotion ‘hope consists in an outgoing and trusting mood toward the environment’ (Macquarrie 1978: 11). As a choice or intention it is one of the great theological virtues – standing alongside faith and love. It ‘promotes affirmative courses of action’ (op. cit.).
Expectation makes life good, for in expectation man can accept his whole present and find joy not only in its joy but also in its sorrow, happiness not only in its happiness but also in its pain… That is why it can be said that living without hope is like no longer living. Hell is hopelessness, and it is not for nothing that at the entrance to Dante’s hell there stand the words: ‘Abandon hope, all ye who enter here.’ (Moltmann 1967, Introduction)
Yet hope is not just feeling or striving, according to Macquarrie (1978:11) it has a cognitive or intellectual aspect. ‘[I]t carries in itself a definite way of understanding both ourselves and the environing processes within which human life has its setting’  This provides us with a language to help make sense of things and to imagine change for the better – a ‘vocabulary of hope’. It helps us to critique the world as it is and our part in it, and not to just imagine change but also to plan it (Moltman 1967, 1971). It also allows us, and others, to ask questions of our hopes, to request evidence for our claims.

Education – being respectful, informed and wise

Education is wrapped up with who we are as learners and facilitators of learning – and how we are experienced by learners. In order to think about this it is helpful to look back at a basic distinction made by Erich Fromm (1979), amongst others, between having and being. Fromm approaches these as fundamental modes of existence. He saw them as two different ways of understanding ourselves and the world in which we live.
Having is concerned with owning, possessing and controlling. In it we want to ‘make everybody and everything’, including ourselves, our property (Fromm 1979: 33). It looks to objects and material possessions.
Being is rooted in love according to Fromm. It is concerned with shared experience and productive activity. Rather than seeking to possess and control, in this mode we engage with the world. We do not impose ourselves on others nor ‘interfere’ in their lives (see Smith and Smith 2008: 16-17).
These different orientations involve contrasting approaches to learning.
Students in the having mode must have but one aim; to hold onto what they have ‘learned’, either by entrusting it firmly to their memories or by carefully guarding their notes. They do not have to produce or create something new…. The process of learning has an entirely different quality for students in the being mode… Instead of being passive receptacles of words and ideas, they listen, they hear, and most important, they receive and they respond in an active, productive way. (Fromm 1979: 37-38)
In many ways this difference mirrors that between education and schooling. Schooling entails transmitting knowledge in manageable lumps so it can be stored and then used so that students can pass tests and have qualifications. Education involves engaging with others and the world. It entails being with others in a particular way. Here I want to explore three aspects – being respectful, informed and wise.

Being respectful

The process of education flows from a basic orientation of respect – respect for truth, others and themselves, and the world. It is an attitude or feeling which is carried through into concrete action, into the way we treat people, for example. Respect, as R. S. Dillon (2014) has reminded us, is derived from the Latin respicere, meaning ‘to look back at’ or ‘to look again’ at something. In other words, when we respect something we value it enough to make it our focus and to try to see it for what it is, rather than what we might want it to be. It is so important that it calls for our recognition and our regard – and we choose to respond.
We can see this at work in our everyday relationships. When we think highly of someone we may well talk about respecting them – and listen carefully to what they say or value the example they give. Here, though, we are also concerned with a more abstract idea – that of moral worth or value. Rather than looking at why we respect this person or that, the interest is in why we should respect people in general (or truth, or creation, or ourselves).
First, we expect educators to hold truth dearly. We expect that they will look beneath the surface, try to challenge misrepresentation and lies, and be open to alternatives. They should display the ‘two basic virtues of truth’: sincerity and accuracy (Williams 2002: 11). There are strong religious reasons for this. Bearing false witness, within Christian traditions, can be seen as challenging the foundations of God’s covenant. There are also strongly practical reasons for truthfulness. Without it, the development of knowledge would not be possible – we could not evaluate one claim against another. Nor could we conduct much of life. For example, as Paul Seabright (2010) has argued, truthfulness allows us to trust strangers. In the process we can build complex societies, trade and cooperate.
Educators, as with other respecters of truth , should do their best to acquire ‘true beliefs’ and to ensure what they say actually reveals what they believe (Williams 2002: 11). Their authority, ‘must be rooted in their truthfulness in both these respects: they take care, and they do not lie’ op. cit.).
Second, educators should display a fundamental respect for others (and themselves). There is a straightforward theological argument for this. There is also a fundamental philosophical argument for ‘respect for persons’. Irrespective of what they have done, the people they are or their social position, it is argued, people are deserving of some essential level of regard. The philosopher most closely associated with this idea is Immanuel Kant – and his thinking has become a central pillar of humanism. Kant’s position was that people were deserving of respect because they are people – free, rational beings. They are ends in themselves with an absolute dignity
Alongside respect for others comes respect for self. Without it, it is difficult to see how we can flourish – and whether we can be educators. Self-respect is not to be confused with qualities like self-esteem or self-confidence; rather it is to do with our intrinsic worth as a person and a sense of ourselves as mattering. It involves a ‘secure conviction that [our] conception of the good, [our] plan of life, is worth carrying out’ (Rawls 1972: 440). For some, respect for ourselves is simply the other side of the coin from respect for others. It flows from respect for persons. For others, like John Rawls, it is is vital for happiness and must be supported as a matter of justice.
Third, educators should respect the Earth. This is sometimes talked about as respect for nature, or respect for all things or care for creation. Again there is strong theological argument here – in much religious thinking humans are understood as stewards of the earth. Our task is to cultivate and care for it (see, for example, Genesis 2:15). However, there is also a strong case grounded in human experience. For example Miller (2000) argues that ‘each person finds identity, meaning, and purpose in life through connections to the community, to the natural world, and to spiritual values such as compassion and peace’. Respect for the world is central to the thinking of those arguing for a more holistic vision of education and to the thinking of educationalists such as Montessori. Her vision of ‘cosmic education’ puts appreciating the wholeness of life at the core.
Since it has been seen to be necessary to give so much to the child, let us give him a vision of the whole universe. The universe is an imposing reality, and an answer to all questions. We shall walk together on this path of life, for all things are part of the universe, and are connected with each other to form one whole unity. This idea helps the mind of the child to become fixed, to stop wandering in an aimless quest for knowledge. He is satisfied, having found the universal centre of himself with all things’. (Montessori 2000)
Last, and certainly not least, there is basic practical concern. We face an environmental crisis of catastrophic proportions. As Emmett (among many others) has pointed out, it is likely that we are looking at a global average rise of over four degrees Centigrade. This ‘will lead to runaway climate change, capable of tipping the planet into an entirely different state, rapidly. Earth would become a hell hole’ (2013: 143).

Being informed

To facilitate learning we must have some understanding of the subject matter being explored, and the impact study could have on those involved. In other words, facilitation is intelligent.
We expect, quite reasonably, that when people describe themselves as teachers or educators, they know something about the subjects they are talking about. In this respect, our ‘subject area’ as educators is wide. It can involve particular aspects of knowledge and activity such as those associated with maths or history. However, it is also concerned with happiness and relationships, the issues and problems of everyday life in communities, and questions around how people are best to live their lives. In some respects, it is wisdom that is required – not so much in the sense that we know a lot or are learned – but rather we are able to help people make good judgments about problems and situations.
We also assume that teachers and educators know how to help people learn. The forms of education we are exploring here are sophisticated. They can embrace the techniques of classroom management and of teaching to a curriculum that have been the mainstay of schooling. However, they move well beyond this into experiential learning, working with groups, and forms of working with individuals that draw upon insights from counseling and therapy.
In short, we look to teachers and educators as experts, We expect them to apply their expertise to help people learn. However, things don’t stop there. Many look for something more – wisdom.

Being wise

Wisdom is not something that we can generally claim for ourselves – but a quality recognized by others. Sometimes when people are described as wise what is meant is that they are scholarly or learned. More often, I suspect, when others are described as ‘being wise’ it that people have experienced their questions or judgement helpful and sound when exploring a problem or difficult situation (see Smith and Smith 2008: 57-69). This entails:
  • appreciating what can make people flourish
  • being open to truth in its various guises and allowing subjects to speak to us
  • developing the capacity to reflect
  • being knowledgeable, especially about ourselves, around ‘what makes people tick’ and the systems of which we are a part
  • being discerning – able to evaluate and judge situations. (op. cit.: 68)
This combination of qualities, when put alongside being respectful and informed, comes close to what Martin Buber talked about as the ‘real teacher’. The real teacher, he believed:
… teaches most successfully when he is not consciously trying to teach at all, but when he acts spontaneously out of his own life. Then he can gain the pupil’s confidence; he can convince the adolescent that there is human truth, that existence has a meaning. And when the pupil’s confidence has been won, ‘his resistance against being educated gives way to a singular happening: he accepts the educator as a person. He feels he may trust this man, that this man is taking part in his life, accepting him before desiring to influence him. And so he learns to ask…. (Hodes 1972: 136)

Education – acting so that all may share in life

Thus far in answering the question ‘what is education?’we have seen how it can be thought of as the wise, hopeful and respectful cultivation of learning. Here we will explore the claim that education should be undertaken in the belief that all should have the chance to share in life. This commitment to the good of all and of each individual is central to the vision of education explored here, but it could be argued that it is possible to be involved in education without this. We could take out concern for others. We could just focus on process – the wise, hopeful and respectful cultivation of learning – and not state to whom this applies and the direction it takes.

Looking beyond process

First we need to answer the question ‘if we act wisely, hopefully and respectfully as educators do we need to have a further purpose?’ Our guide here will again be John Dewey. He approached the question a century ago by arguing that ‘the object and reward of learning is continued capacity for growth’ (Dewey 1916: 100). Education, for him, entailed the continuous ‘reconstruction or reorganization of experience which adds to the meaning of experience, and which increases ability to direct the course of subsequent experience. (Dewey 1916: 76). His next step was to consider the social relationships in which this can take place and the degree of control that learners and educators have over the process. Just as Freire (1972) argued later, relationships for learning need to be mutual, and individual and social change possible.
In our search for aims in education, we are not concerned… with finding an end outside of the educative process to which education is subordinate. Our whole conception forbids. We are rather concerned with the contrast which exists when aims belong within the process in which they operate and when they are set up from without. And the latter state of affairs must obtain when social relationships are not equitably balanced. For in that case, some portions of the whole social group will find their aims determined by an external dictation; their aims will not arise from the free growth of their own experience, and their nominal aims will be means to more ulterior ends of others rather than truly their own. (Dewey 1916: 100-101)
In other words where there are equitable relationships, control over the learning process, and the possibilities of fundamental change we needn’t look beyond the process. However, we have to work for much of the time in situations and societies where this level of democracy and social justice does not exist. Hence the need to make clear a wider purpose. Dewey (1916: 7) argued, thus, that our ‘chief business’ as educators is to enable people ‘to share in a common life’. I want to widen this and to argue that all should have a chance to share in life.

Having the chance to share in life

We will explore, briefly, three overlapping approaches to making the case – via religious belief, human rights and scientific exploration.
Religious belief. Historically it has been a religious rationale that has underpinned much thinking about this about this question. If we were to look at Catholic social teaching, for example, we find that at its heart lays a concern for human dignity. This starts from the position that, ‘human beings, created in the image and likeness of God (Genesis 1:26-27), have by their very existence an inherent value, worth, and distinction’ (Groody 2007). Each life is considered sacred and cannot be ignored or excluded. As we saw earlier, Kant argued something similar with regard to ‘respect for persons’. All are worthy of respect and the chance to flourish.
To human dignity a concern for solidarity is often added (especially within contemporary Catholic social teaching). Solidarity:
… is not a feeling of vague compassion or shallow distress at the misfortunes of so many people, both near and far. On the contrary, it is a firm and persevering determination to commit oneself to the common good; that is to say, to the good of all and of each individual, because we are all really responsible for all. On Social Concern (Sollicitudo rei Socialis. . . ), #38
Another element, fundamental to the formation of the groups, networks and associations necessary for the ‘common life’ that Dewey describes, is subsidiarity. This principle, which first found its institutional voice in a papal encyclical in 1881, holds that human affairs are best handled at the ‘lowest’ possible level, closest to those affected (Kaylor 2015). It is a principle that can both strengthen civil society and the possibility of more mutual relationships for learning.
Together, these can provide a powerful and inclusive rationale for looking beyond particular individuals or groups when thinking about educational activity.
Human rights. Beside religious arguments lie others that are born of agreed principle or norm rather than faith. Perhaps the best known of these relate to what have become known as human rights. The first article of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights puts it this way:
All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.
Article 26 further states:
(1) Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory. Technical and professional education shall be made generally available and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit.
(2) Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms….
These fundamental and inalienable rights are the entitlement of all human beings regardless of their nation, location, language, religion, ethnic origin or any other status (Article 2).
Scientific exploration. Lastly, I want to look at the results of scientific investigation into our nature as humans. More specifically we need to reflect on what it means when humans are described as social animals.
As we have already seen there is a significant amount of research showing just how dependent we are in everyday life on having trusting relationships in a society. Without them even the most basic exchanges cannot take place. We also know that in those societies where there is stronger concern for others and relatively narrow gaps between rich and poor people are generally happier (see, for example, Halpern 2010). On the basis of this material we could make a case for educators to look to the needs and experiences of all. Political, social and economic institutions depend on mass participation or at least benign consent – and the detail of this has to be learnt. However, with our growing appreciation of how our brains work and with the development of, for example, social cognitive neuroscience, we have a have a different avenue for exploration. We look to the needs and experience of others because we are hard-wired to do so. As Matthew D. Lieberman (2013) has put it:
Our basic urges include the need to belong, right along with the need for food and water. Our pain and pleasure systems do not merely respond to sensory inputs that can produce physical harm and reward. They are also exquisitely tuned to the sweet and bitter tastes delivered from the social world—a world of connection and threat to connection. (Lieberman 2013: 299)
Our survival as a species is dependent upon on looking to the needs and experiences of others. We dependent upon:
 Connecting: We have ‘evolved the capacity to feel social pains and pleasures, forever linking our well-being to our social connectedness. Infants embody this deep need to stay connected, but it is present through our entire lives’ (op. cit.: 10)
Mind reading: Primates have developed an unparalleled ability to understand the actions and thoughts of those around them, enhancing their ability to stay connected and interact strategically… This capacity allows humans to create groups that can implement nearly any idea and to anticipate the needs and wants of those around us, keeping our groups moving smoothly (op. cit.: 10)
Harmonizing: Although the self may appear to be a mechanism for distinguishing us from others and perhaps accentuating our selfishness, the self actually operates as a powerful force for social cohesiveness. Whereas connection is about our desire to be social, harmonizing refers to the neural adaptations that allow group beliefs and values to influence our own. (op. cit.: 11)
One of the key issues around these processes is the extent to which they can act to become exclusionary i.e. people can become closely attached to one particular group, community or nation and begin to treat others as somehow lesser or alien. In so doing relationships that are necessary to our survival – and that of the planet – become compromised. We need to develop relationships that are both bonding and bridging (see social capital) – and this involves being and interacting with others who may not share our interests and concerns.

Acting

Education is more than fostering understanding and an appreciation of emotions and feelings. It is also concerned with change – ‘with how people can act with understanding and sensitivity to improve their lives and those of others’ (Smith and Smith 2008: 104). As Karl Marx (1977: 157-8) famously put it ‘all social life is practical…. philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways; ‘the point is to change it’. Developing an understanding of an experience or a situation is one thing, working out what is good and wanting to do something about it is quite another. ‘For appropriate action to occur there needs to be commitment’ (Smith and Smith 2008: 105).
This combination of reflection; looking to what might be good and making it our own; and seeking to change ourselves and the world we live in is what Freire (1973) talked about as praxis. It involves us, as educators, working with people to create and sustain environments and relationships where it is possible to:
  • Go back to experiences. Learning doesn’t take place in a vacuum. We have to look to the past as well as the present and the future. It is necessary to put things in their place by returning to, or recalling, events and happenings that seem relevant.
  • Attend and connect to feelings. Our ability to think and act is wrapped up with our feelings. Appreciating what might be going on for us (and for others) at a particular moment; thinking about the ways our emotions may be affecting things; and being open to what our instincts or intuitions are telling us are important elements of such reflection. (See Boud et. al. 1985).
  • Develop understandings. Alongside attending to feelings and experiences, we need to examine the theories and understandings we are using. We also need to build new interpretations where needed. We should be looking to integrating new knowledge into our conceptual framework.
  • Commit. Education is something ‘higher’ according to John Henry Newman. It is concerned not just with what we know and can do, but also with who we are, what we value, and our capacity to live life as well as we can . We need space to engage with these questions and help to appreciate the things we value. As we learn to frame our beliefs we can better appreciate how they breathe life into our relationships and encounters, become our own, and move us to act.
  • Act. Education is forward-looking and hopeful. It looks to change for the better. In the end our efforts at facilitating learning have to be judged by the extent to which they further the capacity to flourish and to share in life. For this reason we need also to attend to the concrete, the actual steps that can be taken to improve things.
As such education is a deeply practical activity – something that we can do for ourselves (what we could call self-education), and with others.