Education releasing potential to serve humanity

A Bahá’í Perspective

We observed the International Day of Education on 24 January and it is timely to reflect on the role of education: not only in sharing information, but also in terms of releasing the potential of our children and youth for serving humanity.

Access to knowledge is a human right and it is vital to the development of individual’s potential and for enjoying the full range of other human rights. However, it is not enough to have access to knowledge. There is a need to generate in our children a vision of the kind of society they wish to live in – a peaceful society, a society in which empowerment and development for all members of human family are ensured.

In the Bahá’í view, a great responsibility to contribute to the betterment of society rests on young generation. Therefore, as the Bahá’í International Community states: “Educational processes should assist youth to recognize and express their potentialities while developing in them the capacity to contribute to the spiritual and material prosperity of their communities”. The leadership of tomorrow must be guided by universal values, including an ethic of service for the common good.

We need to have confidence that our children and youth have great potential and capacities, and help them to develop and enhance those capacities. A candle, for example, has the potential to give light.  But it does not give light without being lit. It has to be lit so that it can shine and illuminate its surroundings. 

Bahá’u’lláh, the founder of the Bahá’í Faith, compares human beings to a mine containing many hidden jewels, waiting to be discovered. He says: “Regard man as a mine rich in gems of inestimable value. Education can, alone, cause it to reveal its treasures, and enable mankind to benefit therefrom”.Therefore, education should aim at discovery of the God-given potential of our children and youth, not only for their own benefit, but also for “mankind to benefit therefrom”.  

Education must be relevant to the true needs of a community and contribute to the unification of mankind. Service to humanity, including to one’s family, neighbours, community, and nation; should be considered an essential component of education and there should be practical means for its expression in the education process through service-oriented programs. 

“True education,”in the Bahá’í view,“releases capacities, develops analytical abilities, confidence, will, and goal-setting competencies, and instills the vision that will enable … [individuals] to become self-motivating change agents, serving the best interests of the community”.

From young ages our children need to learn to combine their studies with some form of service to community. Combining study with service to community will lead to personal growth and will benefit others. As our children test their knowledge in the field of service, questions will arise out of practice, and new levels of understanding will be achieved. Through an education that contributes both to individual growth and community’s transformation, it will be possible to create just, peaceful, and harmonious societies. 

                    Three kinds of education

The Bahá’í Writings speak of three kinds of education: material, human and spiritual. Material education concerns itself with the progress and development of the body; with how to improve our physical well-being, including better nutrition and hygiene, better family health and greater capacity to earn and provide food, shelter and clothing. 

Human education concerns civilization and progress, knowledge of commerce, the sciences and the arts, and the understanding of institutions and policy. Spiritual or moral education deals with acquiring the right values and with the shaping of characters. It is through spiritual education that one is directed to use the knowledge, tools and means, acquired through material and human education, for the advantage of humanity. 

Our children must be provided with a balanced education – combining all three kinds of education, but with emphasis being on the moral and spiritual aspect. 

The Bahá’í Writings state:“This education … in order to be adequate and fruitful should be comprehensive in nature and should take into consideration not only the physical and the intellectual side of man but also his spiritual and ethical aspects”. It should cultivate behaviours characterized by decency and integrity of conduct, trustworthiness, and freedom from prejudice.

Furthermore, educational programmes and activities should nurture in our children and youth an appreciation for the richness and importance of the world’s diverse cultural, religious and social systems. Our school curriculum must become an instrument for promoting peace and the belief in the oneness of humanity, cultivated in our children throughout their education.

Education should empower our children to become agents of constructive social change through a virtuous life, and by promoting unity and peace in their communities. 

The Bahá’í International Community states: “The future of today’s society will depend to a great extent on the manner in which educational programs and methods are designed to release the latent potential of youth and prepare themfor the world they will inherit”.

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OPINION: Flora Teckie