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What is Education?

By Christy Bieber
Updated Mar 02, 2024
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“Education” is a broad term that can have many meanings, but it is generally defined as the process of learning and acquiring information. Formal learning in a school or university is one of the most common types, though self-teaching and so-called “life experiences” can also qualify. Communities around the world place a high value on educating people of all ages, whether formally or informally. It is widely believed that constant exposure to new ideas and skills makes people better workers, thinkers, and societal contributors.

Formal Schooling

Most people associate education with schools and classrooms where trained teachers present information to students. Classroom learning generally starts when a child is relatively young — around age five in most countries — and continues until the teenage years. The purpose of most classroom learning is not to prepare a child for a specific job, but rather to help him or her develop critical reasoning and thinking skills. Reading, writing, and math are very common lessons for young learners. As students progress in their schooling, they often come into contact with more challenging subjects like written composition, history, and advanced sciences.

Educational Structures Around the World

Different countries place different emphases on education, though some form of schooling is mandatory for young children almost everywhere. Requirements are usually based on the belief that an educated population is best suited for advancement, both internally and internationally. In most places, childhood schooling is offered free of charge; university training is also underwritten with government funds in some places.

The Importance of Assessment

Exposing students to new ideas and essential facts is only part of most educational goals. Students are also expected to retain most if not all of the information that they learn in school. Teachers and professors commonly use exams and graded assignments to assess learning.

Standardized tests are one of the most popular ways of driving curricula and lesson planning throughout the world. These sorts of tests help make sure that all students are learning the same basic things, no matter who their teacher is or where they attend school. Sometimes, laws also have a role to play, like the United States’ No Child Left Behind Act. This act creates a way to measure how much each child is learning across different school systems to ensure that all children receive a minimum level of knowledge.

Advanced University Training

Many people choose to extend their formal education beyond what is required by pursuing university studies. Students typically have a wide range of choices when it comes to subject area and degree options, and most schools offer programs at varying levels. Those who are very passionate about a particular topic often choose to study it intently at the graduate level; others who hope to enter certain specialized professions may also seek out more nuanced educational opportunities, such as law school or medical school.

Life Experiences and Informal Learning

While book learning is very important, it is not the only form of education. Some individuals are self-taught, which means that they pursue knowledge on their own outside of a formal classroom. Many of these people may have read extensively or may have become experts within a given field. Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft, for example, was a college dropout. Most of what he learned he taught himself.

A range of “life skills” — things like self sufficiency, independence, and discipline — also frequently come within the broader umbrella of education. Cultural adaptation and the skills needed to engage in society can also be thought of as educational. In most cases, any time a person acquires a new skill or learns to act in a new way, he has been educated in some form or another.

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Discussion Comments

By anon347750 — On Sep 10, 2013

Education is the beginning of character. Education is not for money making but it is for man making. Knowledge and education are the two main things which cannot be stolen by anyone.

By liku — On Jul 11, 2013

I view education as influential in my life. It molds my inner self, especially confidence, self-discipline, and also I have come to realize that experiences play an important role in our lives. It really helps in finding your strengths and weaknesses and helps you become a better person in life.

By anon221173 — On Oct 11, 2011

I don't know what education is. I think eduction teaches us how to live in the world in the proper way how to make people understand your opinions and thinking.

By anon153689 — On Feb 17, 2011

yes,it very difficult to define education as it is a wide term. in true words it is the skill will enables an individual to think and execute skills which enables him/her to walk down the street of life and reach the desired destination.

By anon140903 — On Jan 09, 2011

well said! Putting limits and boundaries in yourself is one of the most important lessons that i am learning as i am finishing my undergraduate degree in math and economics. Happy New Year 2011! I wish everyone a great year.

By bigblind — On Jun 18, 2010

@klore – I totally agree. In fact, I think the overly structured environment of institutional learning can have a confusing effect on someone’s personal education. I’ve noticed this a lot in music in particular. In the last century in particular, many of the most beloved and memorable musicians have opted for a self-guided learning process rather than studying classical music in school. Musicians such as Jimi Hendrix and Kurt Cobain worked tirelessly and on their own terms to forge their own passionate styles that have become immortal to the modern musical landscape. Even Miles Davis, a master of the highly technical jazz genre, quit music school after a year and most of the time skipped classes to go play in jazz clubs. His style of playing is highly emotional and has set the standard for the modern trumpet player, and he taught himself. Self-education is an extremely important part of learning, whether at school or otherwise.

By klore — On Jun 18, 2010

In my opinion, the single most important skill a person can educate him or herself in is self-discipline. This skill is crucial for success in both institutionalized education and extra-curricular learning. Once a person reaches college for instance, the teachers really don’t care whether or not a student is doing the work. It’s not like high school where the teacher is breathing down the student’s neck to get them to turn in the work on time and do a good job. In addition, self-discipline allows a person to pursue and reach his or her own goals when there is no structure to encourage it. As a recent graduate from a fairly highly ranked university, I’ve come to understand that very little real wisdom comes from books. I’ve always learned the most from experiences that I’ve created for myself and followed through with to completion. Real education is the ability to self-motivate.

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