This blog post about investment in education by countries in Latin America got me thinking: what kind of education is most important to a country? Which begs the question: what is education’s purpose? Is it to create skilled workers, drive employment forward and spur economic growth? Is it to educate the citizenry so that they can lead productive, politically active, socially aware lives that benefit both themselves and the country as a whole?
Ideally, shouldn’t it be both?
The focus of these governments referenced in the blog post — Chile, Costa Rica, Peru — are investing heavily in education initiatives that are focused on technology and the sciences. Indeed, as cited in the blog post, Peru is providing scholarships to young people in poverty who wish to attend university, but only if they agree to study a field related to science and technology.
While providing these opportunities in education is important and vital to building the economic future of these countries (and their citizens), it neglects other critical areas. Most obviously, any nation that wants to improve and advance must prioritize education itself, and therefore, should not the education of future educators be a priority? Moreover, when a society is rapidly advancing technologically, the social sciences — political science, economics, law, history, sociology — are all vital to understanding how those advancements in technology and science fit into the country’s existing culture and laws. Legal codes invariably lag behind technological and scientific advancement, often to a society’s dismay. Individuals are needed who can anticipate problems, predict economic trends, craft policy and legislation, and negotiate and speak persuasively. These are not skills typically nurtured in hard science programs.
When deciding how to spend money, a government always has to choose priorities. When it comes to education, we continue to hope that governments will keep an open mind and a long view as far as what is “important.”