The Real Essence of Education

"If education is always to be conceived along the same antiquated lines of a mere transmission of knowledge, there is little to be hoped from it in the bettering of man's future. For what is the use of transmitting knowledge if the individual's total development lags behind?" -Maria Montessori
Accounts of our very first day at school – we all have them. Most people, especially our parents, treasure this moment and they try to retell this over and over. The first-day experience varies from one person to another. My other siblings, according to our mom, did not want to be left behind at school. They shed buckets of tears just to convince our mom to stay until their class ends. For them, school was frightening because it was an unknown land, an unexplored environment, an unfamiliar world.

My first-day experience was rather unique in our family. I enjoy listening to my mom whenever she relates the story. I studied my nursery year when I was four at the same school as my siblings. Unlike them, I did not cry or beg my mom to stay instead I was so excited to attend my first class. I even asked my mom to leave already because she was taking time talking to our teacher. “Mama, mama, alis ka na. Umuwi ka na sa bahay,” (Mom, mom, please leave. Go home already.) these were my words to my mom who laughed together with my teacher. People who knew the story ask me why I was not scared to go to school at a very young age for such attitude was unusual. That time, I was actually scared but in a good way. What I felt was more of an excitement than fear. The school life is something that I only hear from my elder siblings and then there I was at the same path as them. I was so eager to learn what my elder siblings know, to answer the questions that my curiosity asks, to build friendship with the strangers at my class, and to experience a new world outside our house.

As I look back now, I realize how much had changed on my perspective of school life. I lost interest in studying. It is like I turned to a robot that goes to school everyday because I am a student and not because I really want to. I cannot help but wonder where is the little kid who wants her mom to leave her at school so that she can experience it independently. Studying had become a burden for me. This kind of attitude, I believe, is shared by many students in the world. I think this can be blamed on the type of educational method pursued or applied by the educational institutions. An ideal education, then, is something that would motivate individuals positively in such a way that they do not only study but they learn to appreciate the process of acquiring knowledge

First, in teaching individuals to love knowledge, the process of presenting information must be modified. Based on my experience at school, students are presented with enormous facts that are very difficult to process. Teachers just keep on giving information and telling details. This somehow encourages students to just passively accept whatever data from their teachers. It is like eating dinner wherein the food is served while the whole table is already set. A person does not need to do anything but to sit down and eat since everything was ready. It promotes laziness and idleness. Same is true for education, students do not develop when they are always spoon-fed and information is readily given to them.

I think, overwhelming students with a lot of questions regarding a topic would trigger their curiosity and amaze them with the brilliance of the intellectual aspect of the world. Questions are very essential for as what Socrates had said, it is through “accepting that you don’t know anything” that the search for knowledge begins. By presenting questions first instead of information, students will have the time to think about the problems given to them and try to answer them on their own. This will also motivate them to search for answers and not be dependent on what the teachers are discussing. In the end, the students will be able to gain not only knowledge but at the same time, they would learn to appreciate the art of inquiry. Moreover, teachers must aim to inculcate in the minds of their students a deep understanding of the lessons. Most of the time, the lessons are just memorized and studied by the students without them really understanding the concepts and its importance. In teaching any lesson, the students must have knowledge on the purpose, significance and relevance of the topic on their life. This would help increase their appreciation on what they are doing. The students do not like studying because they do not see the essence of what they are doing. The way a person sees thing can change if he knows that something can be valuable or useful to him. 

Second, teachers must endeavor to make learning fun. Loving education would not be difficult if individuals are enjoying what they are doing. Learning should be something that stimulates and motivate students to look forward attending their class. It should be something which would make them feel good about themselves.

I prefer lenient teachers over strict ones because I believe that it is better to be respected because people admire you rather than because they fear you. Terror teachers, for me, contribute negative emotions to students and more often than not do more harm than good. They make students be ashamed of themselves which lead them to lose confidence. A “positive” teaching would develop students more. For instance, if a students had accomplish something satisfactory then he must be praised and if he made a mistake, his error must be pointed out but he must be encouraged to improve next time.

Teaching must be about making individuals responsible and disciplined without pressuring them to stress themselves. A teacher’s approach to his students matters a lot and pretty much determines the attitude of students toward learning. A teacher can influence either an insecure student who feels like he must vanish on the Earth for he is stupid or a composed individual who knows he still has a lot to learn but he will be able to achieve his goals. It is then the job of the teachers to help students be self-actualizing individuals and make them want to improve themselves.

Individuals are at their best when they are appreciated that is why learning would be more effective when it is instilled in the minds of individuals that they can do a lot. We all want to feel that we matter, that we are significant. Teachers must not make their students feel useless. More often than not, individuals are blinded of the fact that grades do not define who we are. The education system has a way of making students feel that education is about grades and competition. Of course not! Education is not about these things because it is more than that. Competition must not be used as a way of motivating students. Although, competition is proven to be very effective in inspiring students to excel, it still does no good especially in the process of learning. Pursuing a goal must never be about competition because the essence of the goal is lost the moment that the purpose becomes misled. I really like the statement from the Indian movie, Three Idiots, where it expresses that a person must not run for success, all he needs is to be excellent in what he does that success will follow him. The same applies in our education, we must not exert effort in our studies just because we want to earn topnotch grades rather we must enjoy our studies and we might surprise ourselves that we are actually natural at being great at it. 

Third, the focus of education must not be entirely on teaching subjects but on teaching students how to love the subjects. Meaning, students must not be taught about math but on how to love math. At school, we are bombarded with a lot of concepts - Pythagorean theory in math, periodic table of elements in chemistry, law of acceleration in physics, subject-verb agreement in grammar, rational-choice theory in political science, etc. – that we do not actually learn anything. I bet that no one actually remembers his elementary lessons. This is because the method of studying things is inappropriate. Information can be easily forgotten especially if it was memorized however the love for knowledge is eternal. One might forget what he learned but if he has the love for inquiry then it would be easy for him to learn again. Educational institutions and educators must try to impart lessons to students that are greater in value than those learned in the four corners of the classroom. Oscar Wilde has the same thing in mind when he said that “education is an admirable thing, but it is well to remember from time to time that nothing that is worth knowing can be taught.” Indeed, real knowledge is not from the lessons at school but outside of it. What we learn at school just points us toward the right way. Mathematical formula and scientific concepts are important but the virtue is still more essential. For instance, the virtue of love for knowledge can never be lost once it is developed in an individual but the facts in math can easily be forgotten. Most importantly, a good teacher is an awakener. A teacher who opens the minds of the students to the realities of life and the world and guide them on how to respond to these realities, had done his job well. 

The attitude of students who go to school without any understanding of what they are doing is detrimental to education. Thus, changing this kind of attitude by encouraging the love for acquiring knowledge must be the goal that educators and educational institutions pursue. There is a big difference between studying for the sake of doing it and studying for the love of it. Education would become meaningful if students learn to value it in such a way that they no longer treat it as a burden but as a way of improving themselves and in the long run of making their country better than they found it. A shift in the approach to teaching must be done for as what Maria Montessori had pointed out, “if education is always to be conceived along the same antiquated lines of a mere transmission of knowledge, there is little to be hoped from it in the bettering of man's future. For what is the use of transmitting knowledge if the individual's total development lags behind?”

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