Philosophy of Education Essay

Philosophy can be defined in many ways. Some definitions are as simple as “defining the meaning of words” to “reflective thinking on the world around us”.  Philosophy of Education tries to contemplate this unique human endeavor called education.

Unlike rest of living beings human beings are distinctly different. Human beings are more organized, have sense of ethics, have culture, sense of justice, have economy and ability to communicate. Hence a human offspring when born, simple does not posses any of the skills and substantial knowledge that it must have in order to feel accepted among rest of the community. The skills like reading and writing, arithmetic etc. do not come naturally to human off-springs. It must be given to less knowledgeable by someone who already knows it. This concept of transfer of knowledge from someone who knows it to someone who doesn’t know is called education. Besides knowledge skill also forms part of education. But it is up to the individual to sharpen his skill by constant practice.

The obvious consequence of education is that, the knowledge and skills that an individual obtains are largely determined by the education system he goes through. Hence the benefits that he will get by acquiring it also depends of the education system. Which means education system becomes a social-sorter and has an enormous impact on economic fate of an individual.

Once attained some basic education the individual can define his own goals of life and can further equip himself with education that will help him in attaining his own goals.

This shows that education is so important. Over years several philosophers have thought on this subject and have tried to express their views on education, knowledge, truth etc.

When contemplating on education there is rich set of topics that philosophers have tried to contemplate upon. Education and it’s effect of class structure of society, the difference between education, training, indoctrination, education for individual aspirations or aspiration of citizenry, educations and rights of students, children, parents and teachers, free or paid education, should we have same education for all or can we have different education with different aim for different class, gender , region etc. In Indian context the contemporary issues are reservation in education , state sponsored education or private education, medium of instruction etc.

Among all philosophers one man who stands tall is Plato. It is often remarked that Western Philosophy is nothing but footnotes to Plato’s The Republic. When it comes to thoughts relating to education and knowledge Plato simply beats the time. Even today philosopher most often tow the same line as Plato.

Knowledge , Truth and Light

A few centuries ago, before the industrial revolution education basically meant religious education. Most of the times it was based on Dogmas or in case of India, mostly on direct experience through a Guru.

But invariably, the reason civilizations felt education was desirable was because , they related it to the main objective of human life, to be “good”, attain “higher truth” or “the truth”. Tamaso Ma Jyotirgamaya, from darkness to light etc.

Education is believed to make human life better. It is not only through economic status of individual but through social, moral and spiritual status. While human beings have a limited life span groups, communities and societies continue to live. Education remains a critical factor in determining progress of a society over a period of time.

Education and Economy

But mere presence of education is not enough. As mentioned above it acts as a social-sorter and quality matters. The societies which managed to build excellent education system became stronger and richer while those ignored education perished.

It is worth nothing that India with its oldest education system was a rich nation until British arrived destroyed the beautiful tree (term coined by Gandhiji to describe indian education system). Argentina and United states were rival at the beginning of 18th century, United States Invested in education and today it is still the strongest economy. China’s growth should also be correlated to it’s pursuit of improving it’s education system.


But then it means that human beings are basically not good, they live in darkness or in “Avidya” (ignorance).  Plato’s parable of cave very aptly describes the state of human society. The prisoners in Cave mistake shadows for reality. One prisoner among them manages to make himself free and escape the cave to see the world outside. But when he returns to free rest of his fellow prisoners they don’t understand him.

The apparently simple allegory, describes several problems. The truth as we perceive it , is not the real truth? Is it the responsibility of the person who has seen the truth to come back to rest of the ignorant crowd and explain the reality? And how the ignorant crowd will accept the wise ones words ? Does it imply that direct experience is essential in truely liberating our self?

Plato’s ideas about education are described in The Republic. He argues that the abilities of human beings do no depend on genes and person from any class can exhibit talents more appropriate for other classes. Hence he argues that the State must separate children from parents and segregate them based  on the kind of talents they show.

Plato’s education system considers women and men equal. Everyone gets military training for two years and education can continue till the age of 50. Given that the life expectancy during Plato’s time, this is significant.

Plato describes knowledge as the truth. He also describes that knowing truth is like going higher up, in his allegory of cave the free prisoner had to climb steps in order to reach light. A ray of light illuminates the world outside and the freed prisoner is able to see the rest of world. In Indian context too, light is synonymous with knowledge and truth. The illuminator Sun is often considered as the symbol of knowledge.


John Locke, when he was in exile in Europe, wrote letters to his relatives who had questioned him about how their child, heir should be educated. The Kid apparently had learning difficulties. Locke’s letters were later published and became one of the most important work of philosophy of education.

Locke argued that a child’s mind is like a blank tablet which needs to be furnished with time. He suggested that learning must be made fun. The child must form several simple ideas in his mind and more complex knowledge is essentially combination of these simple abstract ideas.

He saw repetition as an important tool to internalize good habits and argued that parents of teachers must help children to carefully nurture their natural habits before they are exposed to academic education.

Maria Montessori

A french doctor who devised a method to teach children below the age of 7. Based on her observation she concluded that “Education is not an activity that is to be imposed on the individual but it is a spontaneous activity carried out by the individual himself. A teacher is not supposed to teach to the individual but provide a series of motives to learn, an environment where a student can learn and present an obtrusive distractions.”

Her method was very successful and she received a lot of acclaim for her work. But the critics of her method argued that while her method was very successful for cultivating basic skills, when it comes to subjects such as mathematics and greek which disciplines our mind, it is not helpful.

Influences and way forward

The modern times have seen education getting influenced by modern thoughts such as Marxism, pragmatism, feminism etc. etc. political thought continues to be the driving force as most of the education system in world is driven by state.

The world is undergoing rapid changes with time. These rapid changes along with the importance that we are attributing to information has changed people’s perspective towards tradition concept of education. The amount of knowledge and skill required is so substantial that human beings can’t memorize all of it. With different technologies, memorizing is becoming less and less important while creativity and imagination is gaining more and more importance.

On the other hand, the divide among The “haves” and “Have not” is increasing. While the importance of education remains beyond any doubts, a large population around the world is uneducated, illiterate or the quality of education that they have received remains abysmally poor. India itself is home to worlds largest illiterate population.

Education poor and women has received high attention from international communities. Many argue that State must make basic education free and compulsory to its population. On other hand there is discussion whether the poor should be subjected some different sort of education system rather than the one we followed in previous century.

Philosophers continue to ponder over these questions. As education becomes more and more important certainly there will be more and more interesting thoughts coming forward, and without any doubts these thoughts will determine how the future of the world is shaped. du

5 thoughts on “Philosophy of Education Essay

  1. Good one. Recently read Alan Greenspan’s autobiography. He has devoted a chapter on improving the education system in the US. Especially Elementary education in science and mathematics.

    Thanks for writing, keep writing.

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