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In the Quest for the Purpose of Education

The education bug started growing in me since I was a seventh-grade student. During my middle school days, I used to teach some of my fellow classmates, and later to the junior classes with some honorarium (fancy word for lunch money).

Education Post07 September 2020 09:38

In the Quest for the Purpose of Education



ello, my name is Ryan, Ryan Baidya.  That is my popular name derived from my official name Narayan Baidya.  I am a naturalized citizen of the United States of America.  It gives me immense pride to call myself a Bharatiya (Indian) by birth and philosophy; and a citizen of a free world where merit and justice prevail in most parts and eventually.

I arrived in the U.S. in September 1987 with 24 years of grinding educational training, worth of hard work and a drive to learn and contribute to the betterment of humanity.  I was not trained to go after money; in fact, the opposite was true. I was trained to dislike it. However, I was trained to worship education, knowledge and wisdom.

I spent 10 years in the nation’s thriving institutions working with scientists, many of whom were later recognized by the National Academy of Science and the Nobel Foundation.  Some of my close peers went on to become Professors, entrepreneurs and some of them may even be in-line for Nobel Prizes (CRISPER, I predict).  At first, I wanted to be in education, but not the education that I am a product of.  Since that was not possible, I went on to become an entrepreneur.

I am however, an educator.  The education bug started growing in me since I was a seventh-grade student.  During my middle school days, I used to teach some of my fellow classmates, and later to the junior classes with some honorarium (fancy word for lunch money).

During my doctoral time, I taught students from diverse academic, cultural and economic backgrounds.  Most of us think that an educator teaches, and that is to some extent true.  However, in reality, students teach many-fold more to the educators.  An educator gets to learn from 20-30 students per class, while students get to learn from only one teacher per class.  There is a very favorable ROI (return-on-Investment).  Unfortunately, the contemporary system does not allow room for such learning philosophy.

I love to teach.  I want to teach those who genuinely want to learn with an open mind.  Those who want to challenge, question and progress uninhibitedly.  I believe freedom of a human soul is not only by abolishing monarchism, autocracy, dictatorship, pseudo-democracy, asymmetric financial policies, religious boundaries, and blindness but also through “holistic education of souls” taught by a free mind uninhibited by ignorance, bias, fear, greed, and lust.

I believe education should be a separate state of affairs that is free from all of the above issues and completely independent of anyone’s influence.  Education should flow forward as “Time” does.  Rivers used to flow on their own.  We managed to interrupt them and change their directional flow.  Winds used to blow on their own and we learned to manipulate them.  However, time remains free of any interruption.  Education should and must be of the same category as time.  The human race will perish if we do not honor Education’s right to be free and absolutely free.


Could this be possible?

An answer to this question is both, Yes and No, depending upon how one approaches addressing the question.  If one is truly seeking an answer, one will find the means and goals to make things work.  If one starts with a negative answer, they will have nothing to worry about and his/her quest would be short and simple – over.

In the U.S., we have many institutions of higher learning who have achieved significant freedom, but not all.  And, that “not all” is hindering our progress as a human race.  The outcomes breed multiple episodes of failure of democracy, financial inequality, and a lack of understanding of skin pigmentation, confusion in understanding the differences and similarities in race, culture, ethnicity, skin-tone, mother tongue, and physical appearance.   Thus, the result is myopic Tribalism.  “Tribalism” entails focusing on accumulation of food, wealth, and power – that create economic and social inequality, disenfranchisement and oppression.

In India, we have semi-autonomous educational systems for the masses with composite of philosophy – leftover British model, the American educational aspiration and intrinsic traditional guru-siksha.  Meaning, teachings imparted by a guru, or a master.

During the British occupation British introduced its model of education to create subjects to serve their administration and economic interest of Britain.   It was a boiler plate system of soul-less education process.  What survived from that 200 years’ process is the essence of guru-siksha model, and we are the beneficiary of that model.

Our current education systems are forced to fail to clear the cloud that our leadership has put in the beautiful mind of our children 24/7.  We have mistaken that education only happens inside the school’s wall.  In fact, education is a 24/7 affair.  Our children – as well as we, the adults – learn every day and every moment from all the information that we absorb from all the means that we encounter.  The higher the value source, the greater the impact is on our children’s mind and their education.

Economic Investment in Education

Every country in the world is in a failed State of Education.  In the economic sense, education is a collective investment that ensures all aspect of our lives – the state’s safety, security, peace and happiness, economic prosperity and growth, and global tranquility and harmony.  Yet, every country in the world dedicates a small fraction (average around 5%) of their Gross Domestic Product (GDP) to education.  Moreover, some countries; such as, India, Brazil, Indonesia and the USA, have larger percentage of young students that naturally requires much larger percentage of the GDP for Education.  And, when a country is aspiring to achieve higher growth in order to alleviate its population out of poverty, the country needs to allocate over 25% of its GDP for at least seven consecutive years.  A spectacular outcome will very likely be visible within the first three years.

Now the question is why wouldn’t these nations spend a large chuck, say 25-30%, of their budget in building nations’ future?   Today’s students are the nations’ foundation of tomorrow.  We do not build a skyscraper with a weak foundation. A nation is bigger than a skyscraper.   Could this be because education sets a human soul completely free?  Free souls are good for the universal progress of peace and prosperity.  However, free souls may not necessarily follow the minor tribal activities. Free souls always rise above the tribalism and serve the humanity for greater good.

Understanding the Purpose of Education

In truly understanding of my affinity towards education I grappled with the question “what is the purpose of education”.  Many scholars and educators have had to struggle with this same question before my time.  And, I believe, long after today many will ask the same eternal question.  Why?  You may wonder!  The “Purpose of Education” is simply not a static issue, it is a dynamic goal which is and should be changing with the progress of humanity and technological developments.  In fact, philosophers and educators have put forward their views and perspective on the purpose of education since the beginning of time.

Philosophers and educators as diverse as Vyasa, Chanakya, Adi Shankara, Aristotle, Plato, Rousseau, Mozi, and Confucius gave their theses on the purpose of education in their respective time and societies. They shared many common characteristics and principles about what it is that education’s role should be in human development.  Each of them also had their own unique views on the role of education within a given time and society.

In ancient India, education was a holistic learning process.  Meaning, the goal of obtaining an education was to develop a fully-functional and adept human being.  The guru-shishya or teacher-student parampara or tradition outlines immersion learning.  Students in ancient India used to live in an ashram or a dedicated place for growth and development of the self.  Trust in the guru was an important aspect in learning and teaching.   Students would not only learn skills but also important life lessons via experiential methods.  Examples of this are seen in the stories of the Ramayana and the Mahabharata.

Sri Krishna, in his dialogue with warrior Arjuna states that one should employ yoga in one’s life and one of the yogas he discusses is Karma yoga.  The gist of Karma yoga is to perform action without expecting any fruits in return.  Therefore, students should study for the sake of studying and not with the aim of getting a good grade.  The grade will happen as a byproduct, not as a primary goal or desire. A student’s dharma – translated as duty or internal moral compass – is to be the best student s/he can be.  For example, the dharma of a teacher is to impart the best education possible; not discriminate or favor students’ and be a guiding light which removes any form of darkness and doubts during the student’s academic career.

Maharishi Patanjali codified the Yoga-Sutras based on many ancient texts and one of the subcomponents of disciplines he lists is self-study, or swadhyaya.  Introspection and getting to know one’s self plays a significant role not just in yoga but in most of the Indian thought and philosophy.  This philosophy of learning later was spread all over Asia and beyond.

Simplistically, the purpose of education according to ancient seers and gurus is to develop good citizens who are trained to exercise their dharma in society, whichever functions they might end up performing.  Development of a holistic, well-versed and skillful student begins with the right type of teachers and environment.

For Today’s World

Educational systems are a function of time.  The contemporary times cannot be directly compared to ancient India.  Immersion learning and living with a guru is not a possibility in today’s world.  However, it is possible to modify the environment to where the students and teachers are in a near-ideal space so that teaching and learning become smooth and organic in nature.

Today, the purpose of education is geared towards learning specific skills, finding employment and making money. There is nothing wrong with wanting to be self-sufficient and fulfill one’s karma as a provider.   However, the education system today contains gaps which must be addressed; the system does not create a full-fledged human being.  The educators themselves are not equipped to train holistic students and the environment also is not feasible to allow either – the guru-teacher to adequately train the shishya-student.

Some examples of views on the purpose of education from contemporary philosophers and thinkers are listed below:

According to John Dewey, “Individual Psychology and Education,” The Philosopher, 12, 1934,

“The purpose of education has always been to everyone, in essence, the same—to give the young the things they need in order to develop in an orderly, sequential way into members of society. This was the purpose of the education given to a little aboriginal in the Australian bush before the coming of the white man. It was the purpose of the education of youth in the golden age of Athens. It is the purpose of education today, whether this education goes on in a one-room school in the mountains of Tennessee or in the most advanced, progressive school in a radical community. But to develop into a member of society in the Australian bush had nothing in common with developing into a member of society in ancient Greece, and still less with what is needed today. Any education is, in its forms and methods, an outgrowth of the needs of the society in which it exists.”

Views of Martin Luther King Jr., speech at Morehouse College, 1948,

“The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. But education which stops with efficiency may prove the greatest menace to society. The most dangerous criminal may be the man gifted with reason but no morals. … We must remember that intelligence is not enough.  Intelligence plus character—that is the goal of true education.”

An opinion of Arthur W. Foshay, “The Curriculum Matrix: Transcendence and Mathematics,” Journal of Curriculum and Supervision, 1991,

“The one continuing purpose of education, since ancient times, has been to bring people to as full a realization as possible of what it is to be a human being. Other statements of educational purpose have also been widely accepted: to develop the intellect, to serve social needs, to contribute to the economy, to create an effective workforce, to prepare students for a job or career, to promote a particular social or political system. These purposes offered are undesirably limited in scope, and in some instances, they conflict with the broad purpose I have indicated; they imply a distorted human existence. The broader humanistic purpose includes all of them, and goes beyond them, for it seeks to encompass all the dimensions of human experience.”

Philosopher and educator Mortimore Adler (1982) advocated that the purpose of education has three major components:

Individual growth or self-improvement

Trade/occupational preparation

Development of societal membership

Professor David Tyack (1988), an educator and historian, viewed the purpose of education as being related to the social and economic needs.

More recently, sociologists D. F. Labaree, K. B. deMarrais, and M. D. LeCompte (1995) collective views can be summarized into four major purposes of education:

Academic purposes such as the development of mathematical and reading skills;

Economic purposes such as trade/job preparation; and

Political purposes such as the integration of immigrants;

Collective purposes such as the development of societal and ethical responsibility.

More Recently…

Dr. Philip J. Guo, Professor of Cognitive Science, University of California, San Diego (2010) stated,

“the main purpose of education is to strengthen your mind so that you can more easily learn to deal with specific challenges you will face throughout your life. Even though you will forget most of what you learned in school, the intense effort you spend struggling with difficult academic material tones your mind, just like how physical conditioning tones your body (even though it serves almost no practical purpose).”

Kwame Anthony Appiah wrote,

“College is about building your soul as much as your skills.  Students want to test out their ideas and ideals in the campus community.  College, in this view, is where you hone the tools for foundational American Project, the pursuit of happiness” (The New York Times Magazine, Sept 8, 2015).

These contemporary thinkers, philosophers and educators are unanimous with the views of our early sages and gurus that the development of souls of the students are as important if not more as building skills of any particular trades.

… And, in the politics

What is the purpose of education? The question came to life in early 2015 in politics within the U.S. political climate when Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker tried to modify the century-old mission of the University of Wisconsin system by replacing the words in the state code which mandate the university to “search for truth” and “improve the human condition” with “meet the state’s workforce needs” (Strauss, 2015). Governor Walker backed off when the issue sparked intense criticism from academics and others.  This issue remains an unresolved topic of national debate even today.  This type of tinkering with the purpose of education has been a regular phenomenon globally since the world’s nations are experimenting with restrictive and tribal political ideologies.

Moving Forward Together

Poet, singer, painter, educationist and Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore once wrote:

Jaretumi niche phalo se tomarebandhibe je niche,

poschaterekhechojare se tomareposchatetaniche.’

Literally, this means:  “Those whom you put down will tie you down; those whom you leave behind will pull you back.”  In other words, who we put down will hinder our societal progress; and those we leave behind will pull the whole nation back.  Every soul needs a mission for its existence.  And, a holistic educational system with true purpose of education can only build a soul with a mission.  Without a mission the soul falls behind.  Work ethics are the mission for entrepreneurs.  Climbing mountains, finding new lands, oceans and stars are the missions for the explorers.  Inventing the existence of new processes in sciences, and materials to defeat the attacking pathogens are the missions for scientists.  And so on.

Those souls that could not set missions are those who need assistance in finding their missions.  If a society fails to provide them assistance, opportunists will exploit them and harm the society.  These opportunists come in different shapes, forms and sizes with different colors and aromas.  They come as educators, preachers, religious guides, politicians, and business persons.

These groups of opportunists turn those souls without mission into terrorists of all grades, into corrupt business persons, into fanatical political leaders, into out-of-order bearers of laws-and-order, into flawed law-makers, into justices who hold themselves as being above the law, and even to many – to far too many who become corrupt rulers of nations.

Why might Souls fail to find a Mission?

Like a plant, every soul comes from a seed.  Like a germinated plant seedling, the soul needs simple, clean and a nurturing environment.  Every soul receives its nourishment for the body and mind through food, shelter and education.  Education means a learning process that goes on for an unending 24-7 nonstop duration.  Learning happens even in sleep.  Learning takes place actively and passively.

It is the lack of positive passive learning that harms a soul and deprives the soul from realizing its mission.  It is observed that the places where passive learning is recognized, respected and protected, souls are flourishing; and happiness is of higher order of magnitude.  Social and political discourses are harmonious and directed to greater goods.  Whereas, in places where no respect for positive passive learning exists, what thrive are: corrupt leaders, dishonest politicians, immoral business people, and injustice.  Unfortunately these personages are far too prevalent.

Nation’s purpose of education should be to give sincere attention to the realization of mission of one’s soul.   Educational institutions should also provide an environment where students either find their life’s mission or strengthen their own-defined mission.  We believe an educational institution acts as a catalyst in this process.  The school refines the good which the student finds.

The students should have the opportunity to acquire not only the subject knowledge to economically sustain their livelihood, but also take part in building an equitable and sustainable peaceful society.  They should be able to avoid emotionally expensive and professionally disastrous circumstances with relative ease if they are given the correct tools and wisdom to take over the steering wheel of their life-journey.  The content of the subject knowledge acts as the bearer of the educator’s life-lessons and wisdom, which in turn is the essence of the knowledge that students receive.

An educational system should invoke and awaken the seeker in every soul.  Educational process helps students formulate their lives’ cardinal rules which will guide them for years to come to be bonafide citizens of this world.  Unfortunately we have experienced that many individuals even with the highest accolades fail to perform as authentic citizens of our highly delicate societal framework.  These individuals without the preparation to be a part of this society are prone to bring chaos and instability to society.  Sometimes they even harm our global system to an extent which takes decades to repair.



Artworks:  Jangarh Art (Nankusia Bai Shyam), Aizen S. Baidya, and Auroville Art

Urmila Yadav, A comparative study of ancient and present education system, 

Education, Sustainability and Society (ESS) 1(1) (2018) 01-03

Public spending on education:


Government expenditure on education, total (% of GDP):


Martin Luther King Jr., speech at Morehouse College, 1948

Dewey, J. (1934). Individual psychology and education.

The New York Times Magazine, Sept 8, 2015

Strauss, Valerie.  The Washington Post, February 12, 2015


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