By Jessica Baptista, WYA Latin America Director
Today the education system in many countries has a special focus: functionality. The question here is: why do we go to school in the first place?
In a developing country such as Mexico, around 45% of university students choose business related fields of study, and those who choose a different field like humanities, very commonly are encouraged to choose a more practical field with which they could at least ensure a decent living.
Since the late 19th century in Mexico, a culture of practical education has been in place, leaving arts and humanities out of the picture for most Mexicans. There have been groups who have tried to give importance to the “cultural” part of education, but economic growth always has been viewed as more appealing, perhaps mainly due to the country´s interest in being competitive in a world where a way to measure power is the size of the economy.
Nevertheless, if the system was a different one, would students choose different majors?
Ever since the new economic order, that we know as capitalism, was developed, people have changed priorities and goals in order to adapt to this system where the mechanism to move and survive is money and material belongings. In this scenario, education is the tool that people need in order to live within the system—they study from a very young age with the purpose of developing enough skills to be employed.
These kind of educational programs focus on exact sciences, many times looking to develop a competitive skill for the economic system. They leave the study of humanities out of the regular program, since these studies require reflection and reveal a truth about the world that could be hard to process, while the scientific method delivers objective information that is easier to receive.[i]
But a person by nature will find that there are other things which cause restlessness, like the answer to the questions of his or her real purpose in life. In trying to find a solution this person might find that his or her education has been shallow and did not provide him with the necessary tools to deal with these problems. Humanities are needed to identify and deal with this human necessity, and since science cannot entirely fill this need, the person experiences a kind of emptiness that provokes distress and longing.
Perhaps the initial question has no simple answer given today´s set of priorities. In a developing country, the initial reason why a person goes to school might not be fulfilled by what the system provides. However we will always be able to rely on our human nature, since as long as people are still able to feel that emptiness and longing, there will always be a reason to look for new paths and new systems, which are better than the ones we have today, always with the purpose of seeking genuine human development.
[i] KRONMAN, Anthony T., “Education’s End. Why our Colleges and Universities have given up on the meaning of life”, Yale University, Press, 2007, pp. 227-234