Purpose Of Education – Is It Just A Mere Tool For Entering The Workforce?

Debates about the purpose of education are never ending. Is education a mere tool to prepare youngsters to enter the workforce? Or should the purpose of education be much more comprehensive to prepare students in becoming engaged citizens? The role of students primarily is to become responsible and engaged citizens. This is possible only when education is used for their social, academic, cultural and intellectual development.

Competitive nature of today’s economy and business puts pressure on governments and businesses to develop a more effective workforce. The demand for k-12 schools is gaining ground (specialized scientific and technical education with a view to having trained workforce in the knowledge industry). But there has been a push back from educationists and social scientists who insist on emphasis on a broader view of education. Role of education in India, indeed everywhere should be to develop critical thinking, creativity, interpersonal skills and a sense of social responsibility. All of these equip youngsters for success in life, work and citizenship.

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That people view education as something far more than a mere instrument for earning a living, gets emphasized again and again in conversations with different sections of society. Even the most disadvantaged sections view education as something that gets them izzat(respectability) in society. Thus social purpose of education is undeniable.

Expectations of parents and students from education are more complex than just a question of employability. A recent study conducted by Azim Premji University titled Educational Expectations, Aspirations And Structural Constraints, drives home this point very clearly. According to the study, 30% of the parents gave employability as the biggest purpose of education but more than 25% of the parents talked about the purpose and reason of education as a means to realize broader social objectives. These parents were clear that education is not merely a means to get better jobs but has other far more important social purposes. These social purposes are related to self worth, respect in society and empowerment. 84% of the parents in the study cited these social purposes among the top three reasons for education. Whereas employability was mentioned as one of the top three reasons by only 71% of the parents for boys and 52% for girls. 

This study has validated the long held view of educationists and social scientists that people expect way more than mere employability from education. Socially disadvantaged sections of the society expect social dividends from education far more than the others. Conversations with them have revealed that the mere fact of their children attending the same school as other upper castes is a  great sign of equality and freedom for them. That they can send their children to these schools now, something which was denied to them only a generation ago, is liberating and empowering. Another reality that people have to grapple with in India is caste and its pernicious effects. People have realized that the real role of education in India is to loosen the grip of caste over their lives as it empowers them and gives opportunities for advancement. 

Above all, education enables people to protect their rights. They can demand their dues and fight exploitation only with the help of education. The dream for a better world is not possible without education. What better example than B R Ambedkar himself?

Looking at education from the narrow perspective of literacy and employability is not correct. Education is the harbinger of equality, empowerment, social dignity and respectability. Failure of education brings about disappointment relating to these deep seated aspirations in people. Conversations about the success of education therefore must focus on these wider ramifications. Role of education is key to development of the nation itself.


  • Education is not just an instrument for employment. Anurag Behar. 13 feb 2019
  • What is the purpose of education in the 21st century. Valerie Strauss. 12 feb 2015

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