Friday, July 12, 2013

Is General Education Better Than Vocational Training?


“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”  Nelson Mandela

This school opening there is still a nagging argument about which is the best type of education-- a “general” education in cultural subjects or a “specialized” education in one particular field or occupation. Both types of education are actually necessary if based on standards and the demands of society today.

Education is the process of developing or perfecting human beings. It tries to cultivate the humanity of man by developing his specifically human excellences--both intellectual and moral. The ultimate goals of education are human happiness and the welfare of society. Its produce are good men and good citizens (loyal, loving, and faithful to his country).

If the ancients were asked whether education should be specialized, Dr. Mortimer J. Adler, director of the Institute for Philosophical Research,  said he would answer that it should be conceived in terms of man’s special human nature. “If they were asked whether it should be vocational, they would say that the only vocation with which it should be concerned is the common human calling--the pursuit of happiness,” explained Adler. “What we call specialized and vocational training--training in particular jobs--they would regard as the training of slaves, not the education of the free man.”


The classical view of education has prevailed right down to our own century, added Adler. It is reportedly reaffirmed as late as 1916 by none other than John Dewey.  In Democrcay and Education,  Dewey declared that merely vocational training is the training of animals or slaves. It fits them to become cogs in the industrial machine. Free men need liberal education to prepare them to make a good use of their freedom.

“While the ancients had the correct view of education as essential liberal, they did not think that all men should be liberally educated, because they did not think that all men are fitted by nature for the pursuit of happiness or citizenship or the liberal pursuits of leisure,” stressed Adler. “But we today, at least those of us who are devoted to the principles of democracy, think otherwise. We maintain that all men should be citizens, that all have an equal  right to the pursuit of happiness, and that all should be able to enjoy goods of civilization. Hence we think that a democratic society must provide liberal schooling for all.”

Vocational training for particular tasks in the industrial process should be done by industry itself and on the job, not by the schools or in classrooms. The curriculum of basic schooling from the first grade through college, should be wholly liberal and essentially the same for all. 


In view of the wide range of abilities and aptitudes with which the schools have to deal, the curriculum must be adapted to different children in different ways. We must solve the problem of how to give children--the least gifted as well as the most gifted--the same kind of liberal education that was given in the past only to the few. Upon our success in solving that problem the future of democracy depends.

Three experts -- Eric Hanushek, Paul and Jean Hanna Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution of Stanford University; Ludger Woessmann, professor of Economics, University of Munich; head, Human Capital and Innovation Department, Institute for Economic Research; and Lei Zhang, senior Fellow and Assistant Director of the National Institute for Fiscal Studies of Tsinghua University -- recently posted a “new international evidence”  about education type and life-cycle employment opportunities in rapidly changing conditions: 

First, in most countries there are noticeable differences between those entering into vocational education and those pursuing general education. Second, since many countries place vocational education within a general, country-wide arrangement, understanding its overall effect requires looking across countries. Third, there are huge measurement problems, because what is vocational education in one country might not look much like that in another. /MP

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