What is the Purpose of Education?


 Recently, someone asked me to define “education”, something that most people take for granted. I think a good starting point would be to revisit the National Philosophy of Education (NPE).

Let me quote verbatim: “Education in Malaysia is a continuous effort towards enhancing potentials of individuals in a holistic and integrated manner in order to create individuals who are well-equipped intellectually, spiritually and emotionally. This effort aims to produce knowledgeable, ethical and responsible Malaysian citizens who are can contribute towards the harmony and prosperity of the community and nation.”

To me, what is not evident or obvious in our NPE, is the lack of emphasis on the SKILLS. Here’s my own definition of education…Education has multiple dimensions which boil down to imparting KNOWLEDGE, inculcating SKILLS, and instilling VALUES.

All the issues that we have been discussing on education/higher education actually revolved around these three dimensions (or elements). Any good curriculum design and delivery should be able to integrate these 3 elements, seamlessly and effectively. These 3 dimensions have been encapsulated very well, partly in our FPK and also in Shift 1 in our Malaysia Education Blueprint 2015-2025 (Higher Education) (MEB-HE).

All of the issues that we have been facing in our education system actually hinges on inter-related issues: the whole framework of education (on the macro level) and, on the micro level, the governance of the school/university, curriculum design, teachers, and delivery.

What about the meaning of education from Islamic Perspective? Well, based on the idea propounded by the eminent scholar, Syed Muhammad Naquib al-Attas, Islamic education emphasised on the principle that “pendidikan adalah proses internalisasi dan penanaman ADAB pada diri manusia”. To me, this is the VALUES dimension of a holistic education system. It makes sense, though, because we want our future nation builder to be not only highly competent (with sufficient knowledge and skills) but also well equipped with NILAI kemanusiaan (human values) dan kesejagatan (universality). Of course, education model cannot be a one size fits all. We are guilty for so long of assuming the monkey, fish and elephant to have the same ability to climb the tree!

The dimensions of learning can be developed and nurtured within the individual (KSV - Knowledge, Skills, Values (Adab)) and according to stages of human development and the diversity (as mentioned above). Again, we should keep in mind that the whole process of education is about giving a plethora of experience/ways/techniques/approaches that ultimately produce the balanced person, as propounded in Shift 1 of MEB-HE.

In any discussion on education, there always TWO issues: equity and accessibility. Here we are looking at the best, or appropriate model of delivery that would cater or accommodate different levels of learners, with diverse background, in terms of location, ethnicity, gender, level of income, etc.

In terms of equity, I think what we have formulated in the previous PSPTN and now the PPPM-PT, is very much in line with the recent Incheon Declaration, Education 2030, especially with respect to the SDG4 (SDG - Sustainable Development Goals) — “Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all”. In its essence, SDG4 aims to eliminate all forms of exclusion and marginalization, disparities and inequalities in access, participation and learning outcomes.

Quote: “We commit with a sense of urgency to a single, renewed education agenda that is holistic, ambitious and aspirational, leaving no one behind.It is inspired by a humanistic vision of education and development based on human rights and dignity; social justice; inclusion; protection; cultural, linguistic and ethnic diversity; and shared responsibility and accountability. We reaffirm that education is a public good, a fundamental human right and a basis for guaranteeing the realization of other rights. It is essential for peace, tolerance, human fulfilment and sustainable development. We recognize education as key to achieving full employment and poverty eradication. We will focus our efforts on access, equity and inclusion, quality and learning outcomes, within a lifelong learning approach”.

Read the book, “Excellence Without a Soul”, by Harry R. Lewis, the former Dean of Harvard College, that examines the state of America's universities and colleges with particular reference to Harvard. The essence is the author’s argument on how Harvard and other great US universities lost sight of the essential purpose of undergraduate education.

Can we deliver the quality education? YES, if we collectively are committed to the cause. The MEB-HE (and other MEB for schools) are the platforms from which we can launch the effort. What is QUALITY education in the first place?

According to the Incheon Declaration, “Quality education fosters creativity and knowledge and ensures the acquisition of the foundational skills of literacy and numeracy as well as analytical, problem-solving and other high-level cognitive, interpersonal and social skills. It also develops the skills, values and attitudes that enable citizens to lead healthy and fulfilled lives, make informed decisions, and respond to local and global challenges through education for sustainable development (ESD) and global citizenship education (GCED)". In order to achieve quality, it requires strengthening inputs, processes and evaluation of outcomes and mechanisms to measure progress, which have been crafted nicely in both MEBs. The MEBs will ensure that teachers and educators are empowered, adequately recruited, well-trained, professionally qualified, motivated and supported within well-resourced, efficient and effectively governed systems.


  1. You got a really useful blog I have been here reading for about an hour. I am a newbie and your success is very much an inspiration for me.
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  2. I like your definition Prof for education: Imparting KNOWLEDGE, inculcating SKILLS, and instilling VALUES


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