Education as an Apostle of Individualism

Education being a key medium of socialization tremendously influences an individual’s world view. The type of education one receives largely rests on the socio-cultural environment they have been raised in. As we all know, countries can broadly be categorised as having a philosophy towards individualism or communitarianism. The education system built on said philosophies is thus likely to mirror the society it rests within.

That being said, the kind of education system being perpetuated these days has a strong inclination towards the western form of formal education, which brings with it a principle of individuality that it is built upon. Therefore, the question arises that since education equals socialisation and western education equals individuality, we can hypothesize that the shift towards western education systems are promoting individualism among people.

Individualism in the Western Education System

John Watt (1989) in his book, ‘Limits to Individualism’, talks of individualism in the education system where he traces the prevalence of this in educational policies in the late 1970s. He advocates that activities that protect individual student interest are concretised over ones that are presented with the community in mind. In classrooms even today, individual autonomy, merit and self-reliance are personal strengths that are highly valued. The formal, western education systems thus, seek to develop and reinforce these characteristics.

David. H. Hargreaves (1980), in his paper titled ‘A Sociological Critique of Individualism in Education’ advocates a stronger view on this. He opines that the western education system is excessively focussed on individualism, so much so that that the primary social functions of this institution seek to become trivialised. He brings in the concept of the ‘educated individual’ which he suggests is the new found goal of education which has little to no regard towards the development of society through education.

The author also brings in the contrast that exists in the present ideologies behind developing the system and the one’s behind the debate of mass-schooling during the 19th century. The latter of which was built on a Marxist view of protecting the interests of the ruling class driven by the fear that the education of the working class would create a community that could entice a social revolution. The irony of this being that in today’s ‘progressive’ world, the same policy is invariably being implemented, where this ‘community’ is inhibited from being developed as a result of the growing individualism in our education system, whether that is the ideology behind the system of not.

Meritocracy as the Root Evil

Meritocracy, a system in which economic incentives and/or political power are entrusted in individuals on the basis of talent, hard work, and accomplishment, rather than the structural social class or wealth class. Although, the definition of meritocracy does appear promising in its emphasis on one’s own achieved accomplishments rather than acquired, nurturing a society embedded with this philosophy can be however, problematic. The problem of meritocracy in education is heightened all the more with the advent of standardized tests.

Bertram (2012) proves this point when he exclaims, “Standardized tests are highly individualistic as they separate students from their classmates, their teachers, and their communities. Holding a school accountable for their success or failure by looking only at standardized test scores de-contextualizes the problem by removing it from its social explanation.” Thus, as conveyed in this excerpt, we can see that the philosophy that underlies meritocracy has the potential of isolating individuals even further, perpetuating a mode of thinking in students that promotes individualism.

Individuality over Individualism

One may argue that imparting individualism is a necessity that is nothing more than keeping with the times where one must learn to be self-reliant. The current reality perhaps demands the quality of individuality – even from the highly traditional and collectivistic societies. With an evolving society, development and advancement of education is a must. Diane M. Hoffman (2000), in her paper titled ‘Individualism and Individuality in American and Japanese Early Education: A Review and Critique’, highlights the essentials in making this distinction by comparing the early educational system in Japan and America, corresponding this contrast to the collectivist culture of Japan, much like India and the individualistic culture in America. Therefore, this strikes a sense of curiosity in one to understand the effect of this phenomenon of individualism in India, a collectivist society.

Hargreave (1980) brings in a valid argument with respect to this which is that individualism in education is not excessive but merely misguided and misdirected. Although, the author himself discredits this view, sociologists believe the reason for not realising the ideal end is because of the capitalistic system, the Western education is based on. Perhaps the right route is intended towards individuality rather than individualism, a bold distinction which however, appears as a blurry line where promoting the educational development of certain individuals proves more beneficial or rather profitable to the institution.

A Means Towards Modernism

Education is perceived by islanders as a vehicle of social mobility; however, by the traditional method education was constricted and subordinated to the interests of the church. The colonial practices involved using education as an instrument for producing tractable population. Moreover, western systems of education are based on values that are discordant with endemic schooling methods. In this way, the decision of embracing an educational strategy involves a clash of two cultures where education in this sense is both a solvent and preservative-simultaneously undermining cultures while alerting the new custodians to the need to safeguard them.

This has been true not just for the Pacific Islands but other nations and societies as well. In the name of globalisation and modernisation, western education systems have been installed. Therefore, looking at the impact of this adoption of the western forms may be interesting to look at its impact on the traditional forms of education.

We can thus conclude that education in the western form that we receive and acknowledge today is a factor towards a rising trend of individualism. Shreds of evidence from multiple countries also reveal a similar plight. That being said, we often rely on an idea that education moves the world towards modern realities and there is no doubt that, this phenomenon is taking us there. So, perhaps the cloud of individualism is but a negative externality that comes with the education boom.

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