High level journey to Okapa’s back page
Bougainville’s freedom depends on killing corruption

Education's good, but it has to be right

Phil Fitzpatrick at mic
Phil Fitzpatrick - "Universities have slowly evolved into commercial enterprises. Their function now is money-making"


TUMBY BAY - The re-entry of Captain Bougainville (Leonard Fong Roka) on the scene and his report of what he is doing and why is a lot more significant that one might realise.

He and his family seem to be tackling one of the greatest banes of today, greed and the mindless pursuit of money, with education. 

One of the advantages of a good education is that it develops the capacity to think. Or at least that used to be the case.

Once upon a time a primary aim of education was to produce a well-rounded human being. This was referred to as a ‘liberal’ education.

A liberal education aimed to empower students and prepare them to deal with complexity, diversity, and change by providing a broad knowledge of the wider world, including science, culture, and society.

This aspect of education was designed to sit alongside and complement whatever in-depth study or specific area of interest a student was also pursuing.

While the in-depth study was meant to lead to a profession the liberal aspect was designed to place the practice of that profession in an appropriate context.

A good example was the way doctors were once trained. By a combination of their medical training and their exposure to a liberal education graduates tended to approach the practice of their profession with the care of their patients as a primary goal.

This sort of training produced the old style general practitioner who lived in a community, made house calls and had the needs of his or her patients firmly in mind.

You don’t see many doctors like that anymore. Nowadays you tend to find them in flash clinics in the cities and suburbs. Folk out in the rural areas now miss out on medical care because few doctors want to work there.

Nowadays the motives of people studying medicine have changed. While they may entertain a desire to help people they also have a desire to make money.

This change in attitude has a lot to do with the way they have been educated.

Once upon a time many people went to university without a profession in mind. Their primary motive was simply to educate themselves.

Very few people do that anymore. The primary reason for going to a university or another kind of tertiary institution is to gain qualifications that will set people up to make money or gain power in some way.

As a result the universities have slowly evolved into commercial enterprises. Their function now is to sell money-making degrees and qualifications.

There has been a sharp decline in the study of humanities and so-called ‘stem’ subjects: science, technology, engineering and mathematics, are all the go.

Governments the world over constantly lionise stem subjects and direct vast amounts of funding towards them. The study of these subjects are seen as direct contributors to the aim of producing economic growth.

With this change in emphasis even some of the humanities are trying to get on board. A classic example is occurring in the field to literature for example.

One of the fastest growing subjects in the literature field is creative writing.

Creative writing doesn’t teach an appreciation of literature. What it purports to do is teach people how to write books that will sell. It could be called the Harry Potter school of literature.

The old style of liberal education inadvertently tended to teach people that there was more to life than just the mindless pursuit of money.

Sure, go out there and pursue a career but at the same time be mindful of the finer things of life. Become a civilised human being not a financial despot.

Well-rounded human beings who care for each other and their community are now becoming rare. Anyone who doesn’t regard their fellow human beings as opportunities to make a buck are today labelled as eccentrics.

This mercenary approach to life is what has accelerated many of our problems today, especially with regard to the environment and the health of the planet.

Dig it up and sell it and bugger the consequences is the mantra of the 21st century.

Perhaps it’s time to reconsider what education is all about.

Before it’s too late.


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Francis Nii

Coincidentally we were discussing the quality of education in PNG and someone in the group pointed out that in Japan education begins with manners and moral and ethical principles as the foundation and that's why there are few white collar thieves in Japan. And there is little corruption there.

Maybe we can try that in PNG before we go into '1 plus 1' and 'boy and girl'.

Kenny Pawa Ambaisi

Christian academia is mushrooming too. Hope we do things right according to what God has designed for us to align to and live.

Bernard Corden

Isn't divorce and real estate underpinned by the same ideology?

Philip Fitzpatrick

I'm not quite sure how you expected to find enlightenment and make a sharp turn in your life by reading Ayn Rand, Bernard, but I can unequivocally tell you that Jeffrey Archer won't do it either. Have you tried 'Jitterbug Perfume' by Tom Robbins?

Talking about Ayn Rand and her rational selfishness and rugged individualism reminded me of a capitalist tactic of encouraging the breakdown of extended families so that more goods can be sold. This might be of interest to Papua New Guineans who still largely live in extended families.

The theory goes that if you can break up an extended family into, say, six separate nuclear families you can then sell them six washing machines as opposed to the just one that an extended family would use.

That you create isolated and powerless little families is of no consequence however. You have sold six washing machines and that's all that counts.

Chris Overland

Bernard Corden is quite right. Education is now just another commodity, a question of inputs and outputs.

This has occurred because neo-liberal capitalist philosophy is a construct whereby everything must have its price.

Value, on the other hand, is much harder to define.

As Phil says, the idea that a person should acquire a liberal education of no particular vocational orientation because such an experience is good in itself, has lost currency.

The former Soviet Union developed a similar line of thinking, as it strove to become a technological, scientific and economic superpower.

To do this, and in accordance with Marxist Leninist thinking, it created a huge class of technocrats whose knowledge and skills enabled it to become the facsimile of a genuine super power, much as China has done.

The liberal arts were thought to be essentially worthless in a society where economics trumped (an appropriate pun) all other considerations.

The result was that the Soviet Union, despite its formidable achievements, was intellectually, morally and spiritually impoverished to such a degree that it eventually withered and died, with a whimper, not a bang.

Basically, Marxist Leninism was ultimately revealed to be philosophically bankrupt: it offered nothing beyond materialism. Individual liberty, including the right to study something "useless" like art or history or literature, was necessarily subordinated to the needs of the economy and thus the state.

In the neo-capitalist world, everything must be subordinated to the needs of the economy as well. Citizens are now thought of mainly as consumers, mere economic units, just tiny cogs in a vast economic machine.

The illusion of liberty is maintained but the reality is different. Even the things that entertain us like sport, music, movies and theatre are now essentially just money making enterprises, largely stripped of any underlying meaning or significance.

Increasingly, it is vast international corporations which control what now passes as "the arts", remorselessly squeezing out or suborning any artist who isn't bankable in some way.

The parallels between neo-liberal capitalism and Marxist Leninism are quite striking if you bother to think about how they each actually work.

There is a lesson there for us all if only we will see it.

Bernard Corden

The late CP Snow raised this issue via his controversial 'Two Cultures Rede' lecture back in the 1950s, recently rekindled by Baroness Onora O'Neill.

The positivism, structuralism and scientism of STEM [science, technology, engineering, mathematics] approaches generates materialism, which values objects over people.

Just count the number of zombies glued to mobile phones in suburban shopping malls and then ring any mobile number and it will invariably divert to a message bank.

It has destroyed personal communication and generated an exponential increase in inertia.

Decision making is not like approaching an and/or gate in an event tree logic diagram, it is predominantly arational and an enigmatic process involving one brain and three minds although scientists and engineers relentlessly attempt to square the circle and turn our 3.14159 subjective recurring minds into one objective brain.

Otiose attempts at measuring noble ethereal traits such as love, compassion and trust merely devalues the attribute. Indeed what gets measured does not get managed it usually gets manipulated and the inherently subjective nature of risk is disregarded, which erodes common law rights.

Despite recent advances in neuroscience it would take an extremely brave scientist or engineer to publicly renounce and dismiss the works and influence of Shakespeare, Montaigne, Swift, HG Wells, Guy de Maupassant or William Hazlitt.

"The brain does not issue commands, it hosts conversations" - Guy Claxton ('Intelligence in the Flesh')

PS, The road to Damascus via Ayn Rand and The Fountainhead did not get past the first page. Maybe I should become an acolyte of Jeffrey Archer.

Corney Korokan Alone

Bribery of school administrators and university lecturers by thoughtless and greedy millionaires especially TV personalities, for the likes of those entering Ivy league schools has been exposed as a 21st century sham. Agreed. You are on point, Phil.

Some of those products have become super-consultants/advisers with hard to fathom titles, starting from the White House down to the black and all manner of color houses of decision making around the world.

We can be better than this sad trajectory.

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been saved. Comments are moderated and will not appear until approved by the author. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Comments are moderated, and will not appear until the author has approved them.

Your Information

(Name and email address are required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)