Plato On Education

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Plato On Education
MyElimu Offline

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Post Icon Plato On Education


The question of education has been given particular consideration by many Societies, Western or African. By definition, education is a transfer of knowledge from one generation to another; it is a system or practice of teaching and learning. Also in its broadest meaning, “education is any process by which an individual gains knowledge or insight, or develops attitudes or skill”[1].
This thesis writes about the contributions of two philosophers namely Plato and Mwalimu Julius Kambarage Nyerere and their understanding and importance of education.
“Plato was born in Athens in 428/7 BC…”[2]. When we speak of the existence and development of formal education, he is given a particular consideration. “Education in ancient Greece aimed at producing a complete person, one who had developed intellectually, morally and aesthetically”[3]. Plato’s main ideas of education are found in his dialogues, The Republic, Laws and Statesman.
Nyerere is an African, a Tanzanian who is considered to be a political philosopher and teacher. He “was born at Butiama, in a village near Musoma on the shores of lake Victoria, in 1922”[4], he was the first president of the United Republic of Tanzania and his ideas about education are found in his famous paper called Education for self-reliance, which was issued on March 1967 after the Arusha Declaration. Historically up to independence in 1961, Tanzania was under the British Colonial rule and education then was not aiming at the development of Tanzanians but in the colonial interests of the homeland. Education provided in Tanzania after Independence was education for self-reliance.
Education for self-reliance in Tanzania was an effort at redefining what constituted knowledge for Tanzania society. A reaction against the Colonial construction of social reality, it was an attempt by the Tanzanian leaders to conceptualise its own educational agenda. Education for self-reliance was premised on principles of egalitarianism. Consequently, its early focus was to provide access to a basic education for members of the society[5]
The aim of this thesis is to show how these two philosophers considered the concept and importance of education though they differed in culture, environment and also in time and place in which they lived. For them education is something, which is very important in society, whereby an individual will be formed and becomes a useful member of society and enable him to promote his culture and to lead a good life.
This work is divided into three chapters. The first chapter is about Plato’s concept of education, the second chapter is about Nyerere’s concept of education and the third chapter is about comparative aspects. In this part I shall indicate the similarities and differences in these two philosophers. Finally, this will be followed by a conclusion and bibliography. 


1.1  The Meaning of EducationI have already explained in the introduction the general meaning of education, which is the transfer of knowledge from one generation to another. However, Plato would say that:
education the initial acquisition of virtue by the child, when the feelings of pleasure and affection, pain and hatred, that well up in his soul are channelled in the right courses before he can understand the reason why… education, then is a matter of correctly disciplined feelings of pleasure and pain [6].
Apart from this definition, Plato sees education as “… to ensure that the habit and aspirations of the old generation are transmitted to the younger- and then presumably to the next one after that”[7]. Means of transmitting knowledge according to Plato are: father-and- son and teacher- and- pupil; but beyond these, there are others, such as mother- and- child, Officer- and –soldier, court, priest- and –layman, speaker-and- audience, Lawyer-and- Law”[8].1.2  Plato’s Understanding of EducationIf one studies Plato’s morality, politics, education etc. one cannot avoid reading his Allegory of the Cave, and the theory of a divided line. It is upon these theories Plato departed in making the explanation of education. There is a great similarity between the Allegory of the Cave and the theory of a divided line due to the fact that all have been divided into two worlds i.e. the world of shadow and the world of ideas. In these theories, Plato wanted to show how an individual could acquire knowledge from one stage to another. In these different stages of development of human mind, Plato assigned a kind of soul. In the allegory of the cave, Plato says that,
most mankind, this allegory would suggest, dwells in the darkness of the cave. They have oriented their thoughts around the blurred world of shadow. It is the function of education to lead men out of the cave into the world of light. Education is not what some people declare it to be, namely, putting knowledge into souls that lack it, like putting sight into a blind eye. Knowledge is like vision in that it requires an organ capable in receiving it. Just as the prisoner had to turn his whole body around in order that his eyes could see the light in stead of the darkness, so also it is necessary for the entire soul to turn away from the deceptive world of change and appetite that causes a blindness of the soul[9].
However, according to Plato, education is a matter of conversion. i.e. a complete turn around from the world of appearances to the world of the reality. ‘The conversion of the souls’, says Plato, ‘is not to put the power of sight in the soul’s eye, which already has it, but to insure that, instead of looking in the wrong direction, it is turned the way it ought to be’ [10].
On the other hand, it is showing that the power to learn is present in anyone’s soul and that the instrument with which each learns, is like an eye that can not be turned around from darkness to light without turning the whole body.
Following this statement one can realise that because every one possesses the power to learn in his soul, what is needed is to turn our soul in a proper way that is to prepare a good environment for learning. It is shown that the more you move up the more you acquire knowledge. Plato sees various stages of the human mind i.e. from ignorance to true knowledge. The lowest stage of knowledge is imagination: “Here the mind confronts images, or at least the amount of reality”[11]. In using the word imagination Plato wanted to show “simply the sense experience of appearances wherein these appearances are taken as true reality”[12]. The characteristic of this stage is the failure of one to know what is shadow or an image, this man is not aware that he is observing such a thing i.e. image. Plato assigned to this stage the appetitive soul. A further stage of development of human mind is belief. So to a certain extent there is a light compared with the lowest stage; there is a strong feeling of certainty, but not absolute certainty. Someone can observe things that are visible and tangible but Plato would say “visible objects depend upon their context for many of their characteristics”[13]. To this stage, Plato also assigned the appetitive soul. All these stages of development of human mind are found in the world of shadow; finishing these stages one can now move from one world to another, i.e. from visible world to the intelligible world. Thinking was the stage where the great lights are found; entering into this world you have already moved from the realm of opinion to the realm of thinking; reason is used here. The act of moving from the visible world to the intelligible world is progress; but it needs effort and mental discipline. The last stage of development of the human mind is the attainability of perfect knowledge. “Perfect intelligence represents the mind as completely released from sensible objects. At this level, the mind is dealing directly with the forms.”[14] Knowledge that was discussed by Plato was not knowledge of particulars but was knowledge of universals; knowledge of particulars was in the lowest stage while knowledge of universals was equated as abstract.
In short, the theory of the divided line contains four sections; which are intelligence for the highest, thinking for the second, belief for the third and the lower section is imagination. Moving from one stage to another need effort and mental discipline hence one cannot acquire knowledge without great effort.
In every place where Sophists appear in the dialogue, the process of education was given some examination, even when military life is discussed. Likewise some educative features were also mentioned. We can see how much the question of education was considered or how much education was given priority. The whole process of learning requires teachers and students; teachers are the ones who know the subject matter to be taught. In addition to that, Plato would say:
He is the man who persuades in the market place or in the privacy of a small gathering; he is a person with a skill such as weaving or flute playing; he is the head of the state who guides his subject; he is person who discloses arcane mysteries to the particular audience fitted to receive them[15].
The process of learning, was suggested to be in the form of discussion between students and teachers. Plato’s idea of education was primarily intended for those who were to be statesmen. What made him to emphasise the statesmen more was to avoid blind leaders; because these statesmen will be given a state, and if they are not educated will lead the country or the state into a terrible situation.
Plato’s interest in the epistemological ascent is thus no mere academic or narrowly critical interest; he is concerned with the conduct of life, tendency of the soul and with the good of the state. The man who does not realise the true good of man will not, and cannot, lead the truly good human life, and the statesman who does not realise the true good of the state, who does not view political life in the light of eternal principles, will bring ruin on his people[16].
Therefore, Plato was fully convinced that education would help one to know many things; he/she will be able to know what to do in his/her state in order to avoid disaster in the state. So much so, that those who have different tasks in the state were supposed to get education, not merely any education, but education for the real true and good, or, in other words, they should become philosophers. After the long years of studies it was suggested that those who wanted to rule the state were supposed to work or hold some office for fifteen years before starting service to the. State, in order to get experience and also to learn to stand firm when confronted with difficulties and problems. Whoever survived all these tests was qualified to be Philosopher king. Moreover,
These tests are supposed to determine prospective rulers from those who are to be soldiers and artisans. The whole range of the educational system would be in part physical, in part intellectual, and in part moral. If a man cannot withstand moral temptation, then he might sacrifice the interest of the society in order to satisfy his own interests [17].1.3  The Role of EducationEducation should make people fit for their different social roles; as he said, “A purpose of education is to create a balance, a harmonious state; where the workers are to be trained to obey their masters and offer important economic services to the state”[18].
Education also helps to prepare the ruler of the state, on this he said,
The ruler of the state should be the one who has the peculiar abilities to fulfil that function … the ruler, said Plato, should be the one who has been fully educated, one who has come to understand the difference between the visible world and the intelligible world, between the realm of opinion and the realm of knowledge, between appearance and reality. The Philosopher-king is one whose education in short, has led him up step by step through the ascending degrees of knowledge of the divided line until at the last he has a knowledge of the Good, that synoptic vision of the interrelation of all truths to each other[19].
    He thought also that the Philosopher king must have been undergoing many stages of education. The role of education also is to improve the ability of an individual, by dialogue one gets deeper understanding and becomes more creative. It helps to promote the culture of people and enable them to have a good life by preparing children creating good atmosphere, by using play, music, discussion and criticism. “Education must promote a new type of leadership; and this leadership, once found, isolated, and trained, must by rights become supreme”. Education was for the betterment of state and individual.1.4  Education in Greek Society

1.4.1  Main Features of Greek Education

Education in Greece was a matter of private individuals. Sophists were considered as educators. These were selling their wisdom, in their schools they admitted only pupils who were able to pay. Consequently poor families could not manage to pay. Sophists moved from one town to another. This situation didn’t please Plato since they were not the best channels of education, neither second best because they desired money and fame rather than knowledge. Therefore,
Plato’s attitude toward these itinerant teachers, who picked up as much information and technic as possible in town and moved on to the next to purvey it, who usually lacked any firm commitment to truth, and who were happy to sell what they had picked up in rather expensive packages of private or semi private instruction, is a mixed one.
Therefore, Plato proposed the state to be responsible for education rather than to leave it to the private individuals, as it had always been the case. So, Plato proposed to have a Minister of Education; this was considered as the most important minister, and his office also was considered as the greatest one. He advised that education of children should not become secondary or an accident. In addition to that Plato proposed that:
Education should be carefully planned as it is universal, with subject matter, admissible candidates, age levels, examinations and rewards being taken up as pressing considerations in state- supported and state- administered schooling.
The Platonic approach to education comprises the following aspects: sciences and arts, which were to be communicated by teachers to their pupils; moral virtue, necessary to teacher and students, and finally political institutions, which were connected with the learning process. But practically, Plato was interested in the method and purpose of education, its transmission through the institutions, which help in education. Teaching and training in accordance with their ages, selection of educators (teachers) and pupils, content of education, effectiveness of those who have already acquired that education. Tradition according to Plato was one of the fundamental factors required in any successful grasp of teaching. Here Plato wanted to show the role of tradition in the whole process of learning since it is through tradition that we can get knowledge of the past. It is through tradition man connects with his past and with the past of society and his city. Moreover, Plato believed that in order to create a balanced and harmonious state, various social orders such as workers, soldiers and guardians should be educated separately in order to fit for their different social roles; e.g. workers were to be trained to obey their masters so that they can offer an important economic service to the state.
Following the mistreatment of women in Greece, education for women raised questions; but to overcome this problem Plato says, “natural gifts are to be found in both sexes … ”. So, women and children were supposed to be sent to school for education and not just to stay home. Moreover, to support this issue Plato asked:
are dogs divided into hes and shes, or do they both share equally in hunting and in keeping watch and in the other duties of dogs? Or do we entrust to the males the entire and exclusive care of the flock, while we leave the females at home, under the idea that the bearing and suckling the puppies is labour enough for them? “No” he said, “they share alike; the only difference between them is that the males are stronger and the females weaker”
So, women have got the same duties as men, and in order to fulfil their duties they must have the same nurture and education.
…then there is no way of life concerned with the management of the city that belongs to a woman because she is a woman or to a man because he is a man, but the various natures are distributed in the same way in both creatures.  Women share by nature in every way of life just as men do, but in all of them women are weaker than men
The only difference noted between men and women is physical function, i.e. one begets, the other bears children. Apart from physical function, all can perform the same functions. Therefore, in order to perform all these duties, education was necessary for them so that society could get best values from both men and women. But this idea was revolutionary to Greek women, since in Greece they were staying home and took care of babies.
However, Plato recognised also some differences in intelligence and talents; so it was suggested to have different schools for those who have got special talents, i.e. he advocated an educational system, which would distinguish and identify rulers, soldiers and the populace.

1.4.2  Stages of Education.

Plato named three stages of education: reading and writing as the first stage; second stage: physical education; and the third stage: secondary or literary education.Reading and writingEducation was not started for the children after birth, even before birth a mother was supposed to exercise properly, to ensure the health of the baby. After birth, exercise must be supplemented by various means that will keep the child from becoming frightened or emotional. This was followed by supervised play, instruction for both boys and girls; although they were supposed to learn the same disciplines and sports, it was suggested to be done separately.
In this stage children should be taught through music, play, physical work, geometrical exercises: this should be done when children are in the age of six. The major aim of this stage is to “promote culture and right living by exposing the child to the proper kind of environment and atmosphere through play, music, discussion, and criticism”
Physical education
In this stage Plato was thinking more of military training rather than mere athletic training. This stage starts from 18th to 20th year. In this course, it was compulsory to attend; the young people of Athensspent two years in this course in order to be trained. Big emphasis was on physical education because it helped to build healthy bodies. And the other purpose of training was to give them stability injudgement. Nevertheless, the education for these Guardians was restricted on a blend of the soft and the rough, so that these guardians would have a degree of aggressiveness tempered with gentleness; to be like watchdogs fighting against wolves, they were supposed to get physical strength, courage and a philosophical temperament: they should have self-control, self-discipline and they must also show wisdom. By those characteristics they could be able to care for laws and customs. Education of Guardians emphasised mind and character; were including stories both true and fiction. Of this stage Plato concluded by saying,
The general purpose of this stage of education –to train both character and moral and aesthetic judgement …The influence of environment on growing mind is again emphasised: it is because of this that so rigid a censorship of the music and poetry to be used in education is required.
Secondary or literary education
This is the study of the works of poets, which were learnt to be recited and were sung to the lyre, so it included knowledge of music. Greeks didn’t have a Bible; the poets were the source of theology and morals. An ordinary Greek was expected to acquire his morals and theological notions from these poets and use them to educate his young, so it was expected that those poets must be suitable for the intended purpose i.e. to teach morality. This was strictly considered because most of the existing poetries were unsuitable and because of this, Plato was afraid that unsuitable poetry could misrepresent God who is Perfect. 

(This post was last modified: 10-01-2014 10:58 AM by MyElimu.)
10-01-2014 10:55 AM
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