Education and Real Life Challenges

In contemporary times, almost as a cultural practice, education has been elevated to the level of an initiation rite into the modern world. With the aid of formal educational training, people acquire the skills of reading and writing. It is obvious that literacy, the ability to read and write, has become a requisite for coping with numerous challenges of modern times. As a strategy for ensuring that no child is denied the opportunity of acquiring formal education, not sending a child to school is a criminal offence in some parts of the world, especially in the West. In addition, some governments assist their citizens to acquire formal education by either subsidising the cost or making it available at no cost (at the basic level, at least).

It is impossible to fit into the modern times if one does not go to school. Consequently, education is a necessity, not a luxury. People’s attitude to education in contemporary time appears to suggest, in fidelity to Platonism, that it is better to be unborn than to be uneducated. The demand for education in different parts of the world is unarguably on daily increase. People make numerous sacrifices to acquire education. Parents are willing to give all they have in order to see their children through school. Some people travel to foreign countries in order to acquire quality educational training. Acquiring formal education has become one of the greatest priorities in life today.

However, despite the wide acceptance formal education has gained all over the world, one of the most significant questions about education that is often not asked is, “What is the relevance of education to practical life?’ In other words, to what extent is education helpful in addressing practical life challenges? This question needs to be asked because the expected impacts of education are absent is the life of many educated people. One of the factors that speak very eloquently on this is that education has continuously remained unable to improve the standard of living of numerous graduates.

It is imperative to remark that education is a means to an end, but not an end in itself. The implication of this is that education is a process that leads to the making of a product. The process is incomplete without the product. It is the product that gives value to the means. The quality of the process can be inferred from the quality of the product. As a means, education is incomplete without the end of the process. This end is the purpose it (education) is designed to serve (under ideal situation). Let us justify our claim that the expected impacts of education are absent is the life of many educated people by examining a very sensitive aspect of life of educated people, their finances.

How many educated people are truly financially successful? Most graduates struggle all through life to make ends meet, but to no avail. There are numerous people who graduated from tertiary institutions (even at the top of the class), but who are far below many people with lower educational training (academic intelligence and scholarly ability) than theirs in the ladder of financial success. Perhaps, financial struggles and crises are worse among educated people. Most educated people struggle all through their working years merely to make ends meet, but to no avail, and end as liabilities during their retirement.

The inability of education to assist graduates in managing real life challenges is rooted in the fact that most people are ignorant of the purpose of education. Why do we go to school? Why should people go to school? What is the purpose of education? What is the rationale of education? What are the objectives of education? Why should parents send their children to school? Education is one of the most abused or, rather, misunderstood human experiences. Unless the purpose of education is understood and clarified, the continuity of its abuse (by most people) will remain inevitable. Many people go to school for the wrong reasons. In addition, most parents send their children to school for the wrong reasons. Most people have erroneous conceptions about the objectives of education.

It is imperative to remark that this problem is rooted in the fact that the major incentive for going to school in the earliest days of its inception in different parts of the world was that it was a ticket to prosperity. This was possible then because employment opportunities abound for educated people then. But things have changed, and very significantly. In most parts of the world today, there is high level of unemployment among educated people. Thus, education does not guarantee financial success anymore. In fact, education has become a major cause of poverty, considering the fact that it has no provision for instilling the knowledge of wealth creation principles in students.

It is high time the purpose of education is reconsidered. The idea of going to school in order to acquire certificate should be denounced, if the training will improve the life of educated people. The idea of going to school in order to prepare for gainful employment should also be denounced because there are limited employment opportunities for unlimited graduates. If school prepares graduates for employment, but there are limited employment opportunities for unlimited graduates, it means that school prepares students for unemployment. This is why the conception that school merely prepares students for gainful employment is unacceptable.

The ideal purpose of education is to facilitate an integral development of the human person – the intellectual, moral, physical, social, spiritual, psychical and psychological dimensions of man. Going to school should facilitate the optimum development of all the aspects of the human person. An ideal educational system should not isolate any aspect of man in the training process, nor consider some aspects more important than others. Anything short of this is an aberration, and is unacceptable.

Every educational process should be able to assist students to develop their latent potential. Any educational process that does not fulfill this objective is useless. When the mind is developed, it is able to identify and solve problems for humanity and, consequently, be compensated with reward. Money is merely the reward for solving problems. Any graduate who cannot solve problems in the society lacks the capacity for wealth creation. This is a fact most graduates are ignorant of.

Education will assist graduates to become happy and fulfilled in life if it is structured to facilitate the optimum development of their minds. If this is done, education will equip graduates with the requisite skills to survive the economic battles and challenges of real life. It is very painful to remark that education has remained unable to serve practical purpose because most of the things the school system teach students are things they do not need to survive in the real life. In other words, most students spend years in school learning things that will not be useful to them when school days are over. The crux of this deficiency in the educational system is that the people who are most concerned in the educational sector are ignorant of its existence.

One of the key objectives of education is empowerment. If the educational system is restructured to achieve this purpose, graduates will become assets, but not liabilities, no matter the circumstances. Such an educational process will assist students to create jobs if they are unable to get jobs when they become graduates. As earlier remarked, education is a process, and every process is incomplete without a product. The quality of a product is the most reliable standard for ascertaining the quality of the process that produced it. There is urgent need to restructure the educational system to ensure that that the training it instills in students adequately empowers them to effectively confront life challenges, especially when school days are over.

Despite the fact that the consequences of the deficiencies of the educational system in its present form accounts for the ugly experiences of most graduates in the real life, the government has continuously demonstrated increasing incompetence in addressing this challenge. Consequently, it has become obvious that graduates who conscientiously desire a bright, refreshing and happy life must acquire Supplementary Education on their own before their school training will have the desired effect in their life. It also implies that students should also go beyond what they are taught in the class if they are sincerely passionate about happy in the real world (I.e life after school).

Do You Know How to Be an Engaging and Highly Effective Educator?

Anyone can teach. We teach each other every day. For example, we give instructions to each other for such things as cooking, putting together furniture, and completing household other tasks. However, teaching someone is different than the process of educating someone. Consider the difference between informal learning and formal learning. An example of informal learning would be following a recipe to learn how to cook. In contrast, formal learning occurs within a classroom and usually is accompanied by evaluation and assessment. It may seem that teaching and educating are the same thing; however, the difference has to do with the place or context for learning.

This is the same distinction can be made for teaching informally (giving instructions) and teaching students in a formal classroom environment. A person enters the field of education as a profession – either full time in traditional academic institutions or as an adjunct (or part time) instructor. The reasons vary for why someone would choose to be in the classroom. A traditional full time professor may likely be responsible for conducting research, teaching, and publishing scholarly work. An adjunct instructor may teach in a community college, traditional college, or an online school. When someone teaches students in higher education he or she may be called a facilitator, instructor, or professor. This is important as there isn’t a job with the word educator in the title.

The questions I would like to answer include: What then does it mean to be an educator? Does it signify something different than the assigned job title? What I have learned through my work in higher education is that becoming an educator is not an automatic process. Everyone who is teaching adult students is not functioning as an engaging and highly effective educator. However, it is possible to learn how to educate rather than teach and that requires making a commitment to the profession.

What Does It Mean to Teach?

Consider teaching as part of the system of traditional, primary education. Those classes are teacher-led and children as students are taught what and how to learn. The teacher is considered to be the expert and directs the learning process. A teacher is someone who is highly trained and works to engage the minds of his or her students. This style of teacher-led instructional continues into higher education, specifically traditional college classrooms. The teacher still stands at the front and center of the class delivering information, and students are used to this format because of their experience in primary education. The instructor disseminates knowledge through a lecture and students study to pass the required examinations or complete other required learning activities.

Within higher education, teachers may be called instructors and they are hired as subject matter experts with advanced content knowledge. The job requirements usually include holding a specific number of degree hours in the subject being taught. Teachers may also be called professors in traditional college classes, and those positions require a terminal degree with additional research requirements. For all of these roles, teaching is meant to signify someone who is guiding the learning process by directing, telling, and instructing students. The instructor or professor is in charge, and the students must comply and follow as directed. Here is something to consider: If that is the essence of teaching, is there a difference between that and educating students? Is the role of a teacher the same as that of an educator?

What Does It Mean to be an Educator?

Consider some basic definitions to begin with as a means of understanding the role of an educator. The word “education” refers to giving instruction; “educator” refers to the person who provides instruction and is someone who is skilled in teaching; and teaching is aligned with providing explanations. I have expanded upon these definitions so that the word “educator” includes someone who is skilled with instruction, possesses highly developed academic skills, and holds both subject matter knowledge and knowledge of adult education principles.

Skilled with Instruction: An educator is someone who should be skilled in the art of classroom instruction, knowing what instructional strategies are effective and the areas of facilitation that need further development. An experienced educator develops methods that will bring course materials to life by adding relevant context and prompting students to learn through class discussions and other learning activities. Instruction also includes all of the interactions held with students, including all forms of communication, as every interaction provides an opportunity for teaching.

Highly Developed Academic Skills: An educator must also have strong academic skills and at the top of that list are writing skills. This requires strong attention to detail on the part of the educator and in all forms of messages communicated, including anything written, presented, and sent via email. The ability to demonstrate strong academic skills is especially important for anyone who is teaching online classes as words represent the instructor.

The use of proper formatting guidelines, according to the style prescribed by the school, is also included in the list of critical academic skills. For example, many schools have implemented APA formatting guidelines as the standard for formatting papers and working with sources. An educator cannot adequately guide students and provide meaningful feedback if the writing style has not been mastered.

Strong Knowledge Base: An educator needs to develop a knowledge base that contains subject matter expertise, as related to the course or courses they are teaching, along with knowledge of adult education principles. I know of many educators who have the required credit hours on their degree transcripts, yet they may not have extensive experience in the field they teach. This will still allow these educators to teach the course, provided that they take time to read the course textbook and find methods of applying it to current practices within the field.

Many schools hire adjuncts with extensive work experience as the primary criteria, rather than knowledge of adult learning principles. Those instructors I have worked with who do have a strong adult education knowledge base generally acquired it through ongoing professional development. That was my goal, when I decided on a major for my doctoral degree, to understand how adults learn so that I could transform from an instructor to an educator.

Becoming an Engaging and Highly Effective Educator

I do not believe that many instructors intentionally consider the need to make a transformation from working as an instructor to functioning as an educator. When someone is hired to teach a class, someone other than a traditional college professor, they often learn through practice and time what works well in the classroom. There will likely be classroom audits and recommendations made for ongoing professional development. Gradually the typical instructor will become an educator as they seek out resources to help improve their teaching practices. However, I have worked with many adjunct online instructors who rely on their subject matter expertise alone and do not believe there is a reason to grow as an educator. For anyone who would like to make the transformation and become an engaging and highly effective educator, there are steps that can be taken and practices that can be implemented.

Step One: Continue to Develop Your Instructional Practice

While any educator can learn through time on the job, it is possible to become intentional about this growth. There are numerous online resources, publications, workshops, webinars, and professional groups that would allow you to learn new methods, strategies, and practices. There are also social media websites such as LinkedIn and Twitter that allow for the exchange of ideas and resources within a global community of educators.

You can also utilize self-reflection as a means of gauging your effectiveness. I have found that the best time to review my instructional practice occurs immediately after a class concludes. That is a time when I can assess the strategies I have used and determine if those methods were effective. Even reviewing end of course student surveys may provide insight into the perspective of my students.

Step Two: Continue to Develop Your Academic Skills

I know from my work with online faculty development that this is an area of development that many educators could use. However, it is often viewed as a low priority – until it is noted in classroom audits. If an educator has weak academic writing skills, it will interfere with their ability to provide comprehensive feedback for students. For online instructors, that has an even greater impact when posted messages contain errors with spelling, grammar, and formatting. The development of academic skills can be done through the use of online resources or workshops. Many online schools I have worked for offer faculty workshops and this is a valuable self-development resource.

Step Three: Continue to Develop Your Subject Matter Expertise

Every educator has subject matter expertise that they can draw upon. However, the challenge is keeping that knowledge current as you continue to teach for several years. The best advice I can offer is to find resources that allow you to read and learn about current thinking, research, and best practices in your chosen field. This is essential to your instructional practice as students can ascertain whether you appear to be current in your knowledge, or outdated and seemingly out of touch. Even the use of required textbooks does not ensure that you are utilizing the most current information as knowledge evolves quickly in many fields.

Step Four: Continue to Develop Your Knowledge of Adult Learning

The last step or strategy that I can recommend is to gain knowledge about adult learning theories, principles, and practices. If you are not familiar with the basics there are concepts you can research and include critical thinking, andragogy, self-directed learning, transformational learning, learning styles, motivation, and cognition. My suggestion is to find and read online sources related to higher education and then find a subject that interests you to research further. I have found that the more I read about topics I enjoy, the more I am cultivating my interest in ongoing professional development. What you will likely find is that what you learn will have a positive influence on your work as an educator and will enhance all areas of your instructional practice.

Working as an educator, or someone who is highly engaged in the process of helping students learn, starts with a commitment to make this a career rather than a job. I have developed a vision related to how I want to be involved in each class I teach and I recommend the same strategy for you. You may find it useful to develop teaching goals for your career and link your classroom performance to those goals. For example, do you want to complete the required facilitation tasks or would you rather put in the additional time necessary to create nurturing class conditions?

After developing a vision and teaching goals, you can create a professional development plan to prompt your learning and growth in all of the areas I have addressed above. While this strategy may require an investment of time, it is helpful to remember that we always make time for whatever we believe is most important. Being an educator is not sustaining a focus on job functions, rather it is cultivating a love of what you do and learning how to excel for the benefit of your students. Becoming an engaging and highly effective educator occurs when you decide that teaching students is only part of the learning process, and you work to transform who you are and how you function, while working and interacting with your students.