In the last part of this series of articles on education and well-being, we discussed the qualities needed to lead a flourishing life and the importance of self-knowledge. Apart from self-knowledge, understanding our social and natural worlds is a part of our education too.
In our education system, we conventionally divide areas of knowledge into discipline-sized blocks – history, geography, mathematics, sciences and many more. The internal organisation of each subject block is left to its experts. Each of these blocks is further divided into sub-blocks. For example, elementary mathematics is divided into arithmetic, algebra, and geometry, and these have further sub-classifications.
According to American educator John White, teaching students the history of Britain from 1066 to 1500 is still a ubiquitous module for the first year of elementary school. An alternative way of organising and teaching knowledge is needed, and it begins with general aims. For example, ‘sense of perspective’ – is a quality that should be acquired by children for leading a flourishing life. The reason why children find it hard to acquire this quality is pressure on them from peer groups and media to have certain desires like alcohol, fatty foods, sex, and fashion goods. Children need to understand these pressures and the agenda behind them through education.
Among general aims, knowledge and understanding come into the picture. Awareness of health-related basic needs depend on knowledge about our anatomy. To cultivate better relationships, education should be able to give insights for learners into how people think and feel. Learners need some understanding of the world of employment, including its career options, as a part of a wider array of possible worthwhile activities.
Young people need an understanding of the society in which they live. This includes not only the world of work and the economy but also welfare services, political arrangements, and differences in lifestyle and opportunities based on class, region, religion, and ethnic background. Some of these requirements take us into familiar school subjects like history and geography as well as science subjects and mathematics.
There is no end to the knowledge that is beneficial for children which could be acquired from schools.
Subject content of the curriculum needs to be determined with the overall aims in mind, according to John White, the author of Exploring Well-being in School. For 12-year-old children who study history, knowing about changes in transport infrastructure through the last century, immigrant communities, or the position of women in society will be more beneficial than studying the entire history of Britain from 1066 to 1500.
There is no end to the knowledge that is beneficial for children which could be acquired from schools. Much of their school life will be dedicated to the acquisition of knowledge, but this must be subordinate to the general aims of well-being in education. All this speaks for radical changes in education. School subjects are not ends in themselves; they are the vehicle to attain further goals. The role of the state is to provide an overall picture of what education should be about. How overall aims are realised should be left to the teachers.
The state should determine the larger aims and schools as a means of realising them.
The political sphere comes into play in indicating what education should be for. This is a political issue because it is closely connected with the kind of society we wish to bring about or maintain. All citizens have equal say on this matter.
The state should determine the larger aims and schools as a means of realising them. The guiding principle for the commissions that work on educational policies should be that which is appropriate for a liberal-democratic society. The well-being of citizens is of prime importance in this. And thus, over time, a new set of values would replace the old ones.
Now put on your thinking hats and think about the following questions for a couple of minutes.
Can you think of the importance of having an understanding of society to lead a flourishing life?
Can you think of why political spheres are important in designing a curriculum that gives importance to the total well-being of children?
Write down your thoughts and discuss them with your students, ch ildren, and your colleagues. Listen to their views and compare them with your own. As you listen to others, note how similar or different your views are to others’.
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