Explain the philosophical foundation of education.
Introduction: Every academic discipline has its own philosophy or general guiding
principles and theoretical frameworks. Education as a liberal arts subject is no
exception. There are indeed rich philosophical traditions relating to education in both
east and west. Educational practices and planning in all parts of the world are
influenced by theories and philosophy of education and values the state and society
desire to promote through education. Before we embark upon the study of some of
those philosophical traditions relating to education, let us simply define these two terms:
education and philosophy.
The word “educate” comes from the Latin ‘educere’, meaning “to lead out”, “to bring
out”. To educate means to bring out in the child, the student, that spirit of learning and
wonder, the desire to know, and that thirst for knowledge.
1. Rigved observes: “Education is something which makes man self-reliant and
According to Socrates, “Education means the bringing out of the ideas of universal
validity which are latent in the mind of every man”.2
Aristotle believed that Education is the process of training man to fulfill his aim by
exercising all the faculties to the fullest extent as a member of society.
“Modern American education thinker John Dewey considers education as everything
along with growth. To Dewey, education itself has no final destination other than growth.
For this article let us define education as follows.
Education is the process of facilitating learning, or the acquisition of knowledge, skills,
values, morals, beliefs, and habits. Educational methods include teaching, training,
storytelling, discussion, and directed research. Education frequently takes place under
the guidance of educators, however, learners can also educate themselves. Education
can take place in formal or informal settings and any experience that has a formative
effect on the way one thinks, feels, or acts may be considered educational.
The word ‘philosophy’ comes into being from original Greek via Latin to English.The
Greek ‘philos’’ meaning ‘love’ and ‘sophia’ meaning wisdom together form the term
‘philosophy’.So, etymologically ’philosophy’ means ‘love of wisdom’. It is popularly
believed that Greek Philosopher Pythagoras (c. 570 – 495 BCE ) coined the
word.Initially the term referred to any body of knowledge. In this sense, philosophy is
closely related to religion, mathematics, natural science, education, and politics. 3
Different scholars have defined philosophy in different ways. Let us consider a few of
the mostly read and appreciated definitions.
Plato: ‘Philosophy is knowledge about everything that exists, philosophy that is
knowledge that can fulfill the desires of those who are interested in advancing the real
To Karl Marx, philosophy is the interpretation of the world in order to change it.
Bertrand Russel called philosophy ‘the science of the possible.’ By this, Russel
suggests that any philosophical proposition should have two distinctive characteristics:it
must be general and it must be a priori, knowledge that comes from the power of
reasoning based on self-evident truths, not from experience or personal observation.
From the close study of these definitions, we can formulate a simple definition of
philosophy in its wider sense. Philosophy is an activity people undertake when they
seek to understand fundamental truths about themselves, the world in which they live,
and their relationship to the world and each other.
Philosophy of Education
Now we can consider what we mean by philosophy of education before we embark
upon exploring the philosophers and their philosophies on the subject.
The philosophy of education examines the goals, forms, methods, and meaning of
education. The term is used to describe both fundamental philosophical analysis of
these themes and the description or analysis of particular pedagogical approaches.
Considerations of how the profession relates to broader philosophical or sociocultural
3"Philosophy and Other Fields – Philosophy". Archived from the original on 1 February 2021. Retrieved 21
contexts may be included.5The philosophy of education thus overlaps with the field of
education and applied philosophy. For example, philosophers of education study what
constitutes upbringing and education, the values and norms revealed through
upbringing and educational practices, the limits and legitimization of education as an
academic discipline, and the relation between educational theory and practice. In
universities, the philosophy of education usually forms part of departments or colleges
Philosophy of Education in Religious Scriptures
Educational Philosophy of the Vedas
Vedic Literature is considered among the ancient ones in human history.I Veda points
out that a teacher should have faith in the inherent potentialities of each and every
student, for the Atman (Self) is lodged in the heart of every creature. At the same time,
he should be able to recognize the differences in their capacity of assimilation owing to
diverse backgrounds, as has been aptly said:‘Though all men have the same eye and
ears, yet they are unequal in their intellectual capacities.’6Veda also emphasizes that
teachers should have love for knowledge; it says: “Do not forsake learning and
Educational Philosophy of the Quran
The Quran also emphasizes on education and learning.The first verses of the Quran
began with the word:
"Read. Read in the name of thy Lord who created; [He] created the human being from
blood clot. Read in the name of thy Lord who taught by the pen: [He] taught the human
being what he did not know." 8
The Quran speak about science as follows: “The Quran has specifically talked about
8The Holy Quran 96: 1-5
7Rig Veda, 10.71.7.
6Rig Veda, 10.71.7
5Noddings, Nel (1995). Philosophy of Education. Boulder, CO: Westview Press. p. 1. ISBN
"In the creation of the heavens and the earth the alternation of the night and the day, in
the ships that sail in the sea with their load…. in the rain which Allah sends down from
the sky and thus revives the earth after its death; and then He spread in all kinds of
animals; in the changing of the winds: in the clouds which have been left suspending
between the heaven and the earth -in all these are clear signs for the people who
Plato's educational philosophy was grounded in a vision of an ideal ‘Republic’ wherein
the individual was best served by being subordinated to a just society due to a shift in
emphasis that departed from his predecessors. According to Plato, the mind, and body
were to be considered separate entities. In the dialogues of Phaedo, written in his
"middle period", Plato expressed his distinctive views about the nature of knowledge,
reality, and the soul:10
When the soul and body are united, then nature orders the soul to rule and govern, and
the body to obey and serve. Now, which of these two functions is akin to the divine? and
which to the mortal? Does not the divine appear…to be that which naturally orders and
rules, and the mortal to be that which is subject and servant?11
On this premise, Plato advocated removing children from their mothers' care and raising them as wards of the state, with great care being taken to
differentiate children suitable to the various castes, the highest receiving the most education so that they could act as guardians of the city and
care for the less able. Education would be holistic, including facts, skills, physical discipline, and music and art, which he considered the highest
form of endeavor.
Plato believed that talent was distributed non-genetically and thus must be found in children born in any social class. He built on this by insisting
that those suitably gifted were to be trained by the state so that they might be qualified to assume the role of a ruling class. What this established
was essentially a system of selective public education premised on the assumption that an educated minority of the population was, by virtue of
their education (and inborn educability), sufficient for healthy governance.
Plato's writings contain some of the following ideas: Elementary education would be confined to the guardian class till the age of 18, followed by
two years of compulsory military training, and then by higher education for those who qualified. While elementary education made the soul
responsive to the environment, higher education helped the soul to search for truth which illuminated it. Both boys and girls receive the same kind
of education. Elementary education consisted of music and gymnastics, designed to train and blend gentle and fierce qualities in the individual and
create a harmonious person.12
12 Oliver Strunk, "Introduction"; and Plato, "From The Republic" (3.9-13, 17-18) and "From The Timaeus" (34b-37c) in Source Readings in Music History (NY:
Norton, 1950, rev. 1998, ed. Thomas Mathiesen), 1-32. books.google.com/books?id=ZtCYwFm2mTwC&pg=PA3 ISBN 9780393037524
11 "Plato: Phaedo | Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy". www.iep.utm.edu. Retrieved 2017-04-29.
10 "Plato and Aristotle: An Introduction to Greek Philosophy | The Art of Manliness". The Art of Manliness. 2010-02-04. Retrieved 2018-06-27.
9The Holy Quran 2:164
At the age of 20, a selection was made. The best students would take an advanced course in mathematics, geometry, astronomy and harmonics.
The first course in the scheme of higher education would last for ten years. It would be for those who had a flair for science. At the age of 30 there
would be another selection; those who qualified would study dialectics and metaphysics, logic and philosophy for the next five years. After
accepting junior positions in the army for 15 years, a man would have completed his theoretical and practical education by the age of 50.
Only fragments of Aristotle's treatise On Education are still in existence. We thus know
of his philosophy of education primarily through brief passages in other works. Aristotle
considered human nature, habit and reason to be equally important forces to be
cultivated in education. Thus, for example, he considered repetition to be a key tool to
develop good habits. The teacher was to lead the student systematically; this differs, for
example, from Socrates' emphasis on questioning his listeners to bring out their own
ideas (though the comparison is perhaps incongruous since Socrates was dealing with
Aristotle placed great emphasis on balancing the theoretical and practical aspects of
subjects taught. Subjects he explicitly mentions as being important included reading,
writing and mathematics; music; physical education; literature and history; and a wide
range of sciences. He also mentioned the importance of play.
One of education's primary missions for Aristotle, perhaps its most important, was to
produce good and virtuous citizens for the polis. All who have meditated on the art of
governing mankind have been convinced that the fate of empires depends on the
education of youth.13
Now we are going to study the four major schools of philosophy of education: Idealism,
Realism, Pragmatism, and Existentialism. Each school of thought has at least one
philosopher who would be considered the forerunner of the school. Idealism, for
example, is based on the early writings of Plato. Realism is based on the thinking of
Aristotle. Pragmatism is based on the thoughts of a number of nineteenth-century
American philosophers. Existentialism is based on the writings of Jean-Paul Sartre.
Each school also discusses what and how we should teach students.
The word ‘idealism’ may have been derived from the word ‘ideals’. The main feature of
idealism is spiritualism. According to idealism philosophy in education, the higher values
are much more significant in human life and it seeks to explain man and the universe in
terms of spirit and mind.
Further, idealism Philosophy in Education idolizes ‘mind‘ and ‘self‘. An idealist shifts the
emphasis from the natural or scientific facts of life to the spiritual aspects of human
The slogan of Idealism Philosophy in Education is, ‘Exalt the human personality’. It
regards man as a spiritual being and considers the ‘human personality’ as of supreme
value. It asserts that reality is to be found in man’s mind and therefore attaches great
significance to the study of man and his mind. Also, it maintains that the physical and
material universe is subordinate to the spiritual universe.
In the western world, idealism began with Socrates and Plato. One of Plato’s central
themes is the famous ‘doctrine of ideas’, which are at the basis of idealistic philosophy.
Moreover, idealism as a school of philosophy is represented by such thinkers as
Berkely, Fichte, Hegel, Kant, Schelling, Gentile, and many others.On the other hand, the
idealistic philosophy in India is discovered in the works of Tagore and Gandhi, in the
modern era, and the Upanishads and Gita.
As we have considered Plato and Aristotle separately, let us look at Gandhi’s take on
To Gandhi, "Man is neither mere intellect, nor the gross animal body, nor the heart or
soul alone. A proper and harmonious combination of all the three is required for the
making of the whole man and constitutes the true economics of education."14 By
education he means “an all round drawing out of the best in child and man--body mind
and spirit. Literacy is not the end of education, not even the beginning. It is one of the
means whereby men and women can be educated. Literacy in itself is no education."15
Realism can be defined as a philosophical position that asserts the existence of an
objective order of reality and the possibility of human beings gaining knowledge about
this reality. Many teachers support the philosophy of realism and it is seen that the
realist curriculum is highly valued in the field of the present educational system. Realism
believes that in order to teach students effectively, an overall curriculum is of utmost
importance. According to Gutek, Realism's educational goals involve cultivation of
human rationality through the organized bodies of knowledge and should frame their
15 Harijan, 31-7-1937
14 Harijan, 22-6-1940
choices rationally and should be encouraged to define themselves accordingly.16 Under
the realism philosophy of education, teachers must offer adequate teaching materials to
the students based on their developmental levels. The curriculum is usually based by
keeping in mind the readiness, maturity and previous learning of the student. A realistic
teacher can be the model of an ideal teacher in today’s educational system. The realist
teacher should command a variety of methods that may include lectures, discussions,
or experiments and should always use appropriate methods suitable to the learner’s
The realistic movement in education started in the 16th century. The 16th and 17th
centuries witnessed great inventions and epochal discoveries which greatly increased
the store of human knowledge. They extended the horizon of human knowledge.
Education is that which makes a man happy by getting acquainted with real
circumstances of life, creating the capacity for struggling with adverse situations in life.
Realistic education is connected with the needs of life.17
The term pragmatism is also known as progressivism or progressive education and it
implies the changes that were made in American schools from 1910 to 1950. These
changes were made to make education more practical and capable of dealing with the
day-to-day concerns of the young masses.
The term ‘Pragmatism’ is derived from the Greek word ‘Pragma’ which means the ‘work
done. Some other educators are of the opinion that the term is derived from the Greek
word ‘ Pragmatikes’ which means ‘practicability’ or ‘utility’. The development of this
philosophy is associated with the names of Charles Sanders Pierce, William James,
and John Dewey.
In pragmatism, the action gets priority over thought. Experiences are central here and
everything is tested on the touchstone of experience. Beliefs and ideas are true only if
they are workable. Stress is given on practicability, utility, and action rather than
It is the element of utility that has the greatest appeal and they live in the world of facts
and not in the world of ideas or ideals. For this philosophy, whatever is useful is good,
and whatever is good is useful. Ideas and principles are derived on the basis of
17 Dr. Chaube, S.P. and Akilesh : philosophical and Sociological; Foundation of Education , P. 171
16 Gutek, Gerald, Philosophical, Ideological, and Theoretical Perspectives on Education, 2nd Editio©2014 |Pearson |
experiments. Hence it is also known as ‘experimentalism’. Pragmatism is not a
philosophy but a method of experimentation.
Advocates of this philosophy are preoccupied with change as it is the characteristic of
the world. The world is ever-changing. Nothing is ultimate and what is true today may
be false tomorrow. According to this philosophy, man creates his own values, during the
course of activity. There are no fixed values for all times to come. There are no ultimate
moral principles and all values change with time and space. Nothing is ultimate and
what is true today may be false tomorrow. ‘Truth’ is that which works in practical
situations and this truth is not fixed, but subject to change.
According to Dewey, educational philosophy must be practical and related to political,
social, economic and educational problems of daily life. He is a pragmatist philosopher.
In Pragmatism every thought or belief is subordinated to action.18
The existentialist sees the world as one's personal subjectivity, where goodness, truth,
and reality are individually defined. Reality is a world of existing, truth subjectively
chosen, and goodness a matter of freedom. The subject matter of existentialist
classrooms should be a matter of personal choice. Teachers view the individual as an
entity within a social context in which the learner must confront others' views to clarify
his or her own.
Character development emphasizes individual responsibility for decisions. Real
answers come from within the individual, not from outside authority. Examining life
through authentic thinking involves students in genuine learning experiences.
Existentialists are opposed to thinking about students as objects to be measured,
tracked, or standardized. Such educators want the educational experience to focus on
creating opportunities for self-direction and self-actualization. They start with the
student, rather than on curriculum content.19
19 "Existentialism - By Branch / Doctrine - The Basics of Philosophy". www.philosophybasics.com. Retrieved 2018-06-27.
In school, an existentialist teacher places importance on developing a free,
self-actualizing person. This means having students discuss their lives and decisions
they make. In the classroom, teachers place emphasis on asking questions and
discovering one’s purpose in life. Students are given the chance to define themselves
through how they live their lives.
Philosophy of Education The philosophy of progressivism in the classroom is one that is
student centered. Being developed in the nineteenth century, progressivism philosophy
is considered one of the more modern philosophies of teaching. Founded by George
Sanders Pierce, William James and John Dewey, this philosophy believes in hands-on,
action oriented learning to achieve results.20 This philosophy believes that education
20 Sadovnik, Cookson, & Semel, 2013)
transpires through questions that develop from experiencing the world. In other words,
progressivism is active, not passive. Progressivism is a great way of reaching students
in the classroom as shown through the purpose, and goal of school, the role of the
teacher, curriculum, and method used in teaching with this philosophy of education.
Conclusion: Now that we have had a brief overview of the Philosophy of education from
the Vedic period to recent times, we may evaluate the teaching and learning process
that we are involved in. Though many of us would theoretically acknowledge that
Progressivism is the right education philosophy that we should practice, many still
practically don’t follow it. In our education system, we see learners being ignored and
overlooked in many ways. The focus is rather on curriculum or ideals. Let us end this
article with the optimism that the whole education system of Bangladesh becomes
progressive and learner-centered.