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What is the great purpose of education? – Part 2


Students in a classroom.

Students in a classroom.

Education nurtures nature. I have heard it said that some higher institutions award their certificate “for character and learning”. That is how it should be.

Education without character will create clever manipulators not wise, public -spirited men and women. Before, and beyond education, character is key to make a living, to make a life, to make a nation. Yes, to make a nation because “countries are built on the character of their people” (Our Daily Bread, 1/2/98)

There is a saying in Yoruba that “Igbagbo eni k’i koja iwa eni”. This means that a man’s religiosity can only be as pure as his character. Put differently, a man’s character defines the quality and practical application of his religiousness.


Education is a tool to nurture the nature of a man, to direct him to ‘lofty thinking’, elevate his character, strengthen his power to choose what he ought over what he will, and to act every time, for a purpose higher than self. “Learning expands great souls” says a Namibia proverb.

An inherently good man will be made an even better man by his education. If education is a tool to improve character, then, in terms of a nation, the better holistically educated a people, the better the state of the nation.

It is necessary to periodically examine, review, and upgrade the content of education in order to assure quality and continuous improvement, for the overarching purpose that it helps to make a living and make a life. As earlier noted, intellectually brilliant people who are destitute of good character easily turn out to be mere “clever devils”. Of course clever devils are dangerous to society; at leadership level, they are toxic.

Considering the way Nigerians in leadership positions behave, it is easy to state that well-educated but innately bad men and women who are impervious to the refining process of education inevitably behave according to their despicable nature.

If one is not a “great soul”, education cannot “expand” him. For example, Judas was with Jesus. No greater opportunity to attain Godliness was ever available to a man. But see what a mess he made of it!

Education nurtures lofty thinking. But this is not enough. In line with Spenser’s notion, ‘lofty’ thoughts should prompt lofty acts. ‘Lofty’ act is the great purpose of education.

They say “Knowledge is Power”. I do not completely agree. Knowledge by itself is only potential power. What is done with knowledge, how it is applied is power. Applied knowledge yields the tangible and intangible products of the human mind.


In physics, there is latent (or potential) energy and there is kinetic energy. The one is dormant; the other makes things to happen.

Knowledge not applied or put to action is latent; it is not power nor is it powerful. Spencer is quite right the great purpose of knowledge is its application to produce result. That is knowledge in action as opposed to ‘latent’ knowledge. Gbenga Adebambo’s statement on Bill Gates earlier quoted is germane here.

Education for Leadership role
“Education”, says Wendell Lewis Wilkes, “is the mother of leadership. It is a sine qua non for leadership because necessarily, the first requirement is to lead by ideas. The better the idea, the better the quality of leadership.

Besides, quality of ideas distinguish mere leaders from great leaders. Rosalynn Carter opines that a leader takes people to where they want to go but a great leader takes them to where they ought to be.

Where do good ideas come from? From knowledge, understanding, experience, wisdom, and inspiration. “I will study and prepare, and someday, my opportunity will come” says Lincoln. When indeed his opportunity came, he did not fail and for that, history remembers him.

Aspiring leaders, as well as persons in leadership positions cannot educate themselves enough. In order to be ready and able for the multi-dimensional challenges of leading unpredictable men and women in a complex world, leaders must continually educate themselves in diverse fields of knowledge.

While it is good to specialize in a discipline and become an expert in it, the received opinion is that a specialist or an expert is someone who knows more and more about less and less.


Leadership requires a generalist, defined as “a person who is knowledgeable in in many fields of study” (Collins Dictionary of the English Language, 1985). Equipped with a broad education for cross-disciplinary thinking, the generalist is what F. Scott Fitzgerald describes as “that most limited of specialists, the well-rounded man”. And, “cross- disciplinary thinking”, it has been said, “is critical to proffering solutions to contemporary development challenges”.

To lead people in the 21st century knowledge society requires the generalist who is “competent in several fields” (Oxford Dictionary of English Language, online). It calls for, multidimensional thinking that can only come from a multidisciplinary knowledge and experience of the world.

The generalist, the well-rounded man, is able to see the present ‘big picture’, as well as the long term perspective to an issue. The product of his thinking is, most likely, a more informed judgment and an enduring decision.

A deep immersion in the Humanities is an absolute necessity to these ends. I cannot agree more with A. Whitney Griswold that “The only sure weapon against bad is a better ideas. The source of better ideas is wisdom. The surest path to wisdom is a liberal education”.

The leader must immerses himself in the Humanities. The knowledge and skills needed to manage human affairs is vastly different from what is required to function in the Science laboratories, or work with mindless machines in the world of Technology.

James Michener in A Michener Miscellany (1980) writes that “The more complex the world becomes the more desperately it needs men trained in liberal arts… the government of the world must always rely upon the man with broad human knowledge. … [and] governing anything requires knowledge of men, a balanced judgment, a gift for conciliation, and above all, a constant weighing of good versus bad. Only men with broad education can perform such tasks”. Therefore, in the conduct of human affairs where uncountable ideas contend, a leader must continually improve his capacity “to weigh and to consider”.

Plato recommends that societies be governed by philosopher-kings “who possess both a love of knowledge, as well as intelligence, reliability, and a willingness to live a simple life” (Wikipedia). I fully agree. The much talked about success of story of Singapore is largely the handiwork of a Cambridge –trained lawyer named. Lee Kuan Yew. The great stride in education by the Western Region of Nigeria in the First Republic was the product of the combined educated minds of the Awokoyas the Ajasins and the Awolowos of this world.

In Nigeria however, and contrary to Wendel Lewis Wilkes’ assertion that education is the mother of leadership, the authors of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended) certainly do not see a link between education and leadership. The provisions of Sections 13, 655, and 318 attest to this. I shall dwell more on this later. Suffice to say that, this constitution, being a product of a military rulership, implicitly grants that a man does not need much education to rule (as opposed to govern).

To be continued tomorrow

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