The Meaning of Knowledge

The term “knowledge economy” is often used to denote the current world that we live in; moreover, to emphasise the value of higher education. Underpinning this concept is the idea that knowledge can be acquired and traded as goods in an economy often seen though the claims of jobs and employment as outcomes of education.

The direct assignment of education to jobs as a causal premise, or the value of education seen through jobs is so deeply embedded in society that it becomes the norms. Schools where everyone not only career advisers spruce jobs and careers as the goals of post-school education, or parents on Saturday soccer grounds who speak about how much they are pleased when their children are asked to develop a marketing plan as a university assignment rather than writing essays, or the prevalence of entrepreneurship as a subject to be taught at schools or universities.

This phenomenon can be said to be symptomatic of capitalism, where education is synonymous with the labour market. The phenomenon is so prevalent that it becomes an objective structure where people no longer question but assume their being and doing within this market. It begs three questions:

First, does knowledge exist in itself or is it attached to something – a person perhaps – in order for it to be tradeable?

Second, if it is attached to a person for it to have currency, then by trading it away through a labour market, does the person then no longer owns that knowledge?

Third, if the worth of the person lies in the knowledge that they hold which can only be measured through employment returns such as high wage, does that mean education is a means rather than an ends of the person?

Intuitively, one would say yes to the first question, no to the second question. As to the third question, it is probable that people would like to think that they are not merely educated so that they can fill a job but that there is a purpose in that job which defines their being and doing. I wonder how many people actually feel that as they grind through their daily jobs.

My book “International Graduate Returning to Vietnam” questions whether education should serve merely an instrumental value of employment or an enabler in people’s capability to do and be as they have reason to do and be. I suggest the idea of a knowledge society is more appealing than a knowledge economy.

A knowledge society marks citizenship as the value of education. Two ideas are central to citizenship: education is about knowledge for the world, that is education has value for the people in the society that they live in, not what they can return to themselves; education also has value in relation to what people do and produce in that world that count for them and for society, which is more than material benefits for personal interests.

This emphasis on “value” in and for the world that people live in necessarily invoke reflections about what people do and be, and why they should value these doings and beings. Only when we can reflect on the things that shape and drive us rather than assume we are merely players in a game, that we can be and live the worth of knowledge.

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2 thoughts on “The Meaning of Knowledge

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