20 Sep 2021


Reflection On The Role Of Education In Society

"And if history is any guide, South Sudanese society is headed towards social and political chaos. We are en route to Libya, Somalia, Yemen, or worst."

By John A. Akec*

Alfred North Whitehead (1862-1947) was an English mathematician and philosopher. He is regarded as one of the philosophical icons of the twentieth century. Whitehead studied at Trinity College (Cambridge), and taught at Imperial College (London) before moving to Harvard.

Most recently, I came across one of Whitehead’s most profound reflections on the importance of education to society. And this is what he said as a warning: “the society that does not value trained intelligence is doomed.”

Another icon of American higher education, Clark Kerr, former Chancellor and President of University of California (Berkeley), also wrote in his book (The Uses of University) and I quote:

“ It will be a sad situation if, over the long run, public investments in prisons continue to take a higher relative priority than investments in universities; and if internally, within the universities, preservation of the status quo takes priority over an aggressive commitment to access, to quality, and to autonomy.” Unquote.

Reflecting on those sentiments coming from two wise and learned men, I worry about the future of the society in which I live. It is a society that gives more priority to purchasing of arms, pouring money into bottomless military and security apparatuses, and enriching connected associates at the expense of providing public goods and services to all its citizens; such as investing in its schools, universities, and healthcare.

As if that is not enough, those who control our society are not keen about employing and engaging its highly educated and intellectually sophisticated sons and daughters to solve our national economic, social, security, and developmental challenges. And paradoxically enough, our society is one in which too much education is seen as a handicap and disadvantage, or even viewed as existential threat to the established order. This is contrary to reality everywhere education is given pre-eminence.

And if history is any guide, South Sudanese society is headed towards social and political chaos. We are en route to Libya, Somalia, Yemen, or worst.

The question is: can anything be done this late in the process of our fast descent to arrest our free fall?

I think our politicians are the best qualified sector of our society to provide us with answers through the kind of policies they pursue, and priorities they make.
Otherwise, we’ll soon prove Whitehead right.

* John Akec is Vice Chancellor of University of Juba, South Sudan

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