Rethinking Education – Knowledge for the Sake of Knowledge or Knowledge for Application?

I’m a strong advocate for giving children any opportunities that might give them a “leg-up” in life – early childhood development, enrichment programs, experiential learning, you name it. Ever since I embarked on this journey, I have become more aware of all the child development programs available. And as my children grow older, I have also begun to notice other programs for schooling students that have been causing me pause to wonder.

Programs that promise to help students get through exams, achieve top marks at school, ace their assignments, etc. have got me wondering if we have somehow gone off tangent somewhere. It’s like we’re arming our children with bows and arrows and teaching them how to shoot but we’ve forgotten what the targets are so they don’t really know where to aim. Maybe I’ve misjudged these programs, but it does appear as though the aim of school is to help our children get through it with top marks. The intentions are good and on the surface, the goals appear to be met so why am I writing this?

Well, there’s knowledge and there is understanding, and there is regurgitation and there’s application. So what are our children really coming away with when they attend these special programs? Do these programs enrich our children’s lives in any way or do they merely teach our children how to get through school? Education should be meaningful – we should be concerned about raising children with a thirst for learning because life is one long journey of it.

Would you be satisfied for your child to be able to regurgitate what he’s learned at school or would you want him to understand what he’s learned? I would like to know that my children can take what they’ve learned in school and be able to apply it in other situations, circumstances, and the like. Yes, I’d like my child to be knowledgeable, but more than that, I would like to know that his knowledge means something – that he can apply what he’s learned to what he experiences in life.

Which leads me to another example from Romance of the Three Kingdoms. Zhuge Liang was a prominent military strategist for the Shu Kingdom. He was an accomplished scholar who was revered because of his intelligence. What impressed me about him was not that he was smart but that he was able to apply his knowledge to create remarkable inventions like the wheelbarrow. He was able to anticipate the movements of his enemies and counter their actions.

It isn’t enough to merely know things. We live in the digital age and information is readily available at our fingertips. It is easy to get information for subjects we don’t know about. It is how we are able to manipulate that information to create something else with it that becomes more important. This is the reason why I’ve been focussing so much on developing brain power and activities that contribute towards my children’s thinking skills. And this is the reason why I’m asking what our children are learning at school – are they merely learning information or are they learning how to use information? The differences are subtle and the two are easily confused for the other, but the results they bring can be worlds apart.

Published by Shen-Li

SHEN-LI LEE is the author of “Brainchild: Secrets to Unlocking Your Child’s Potential”. She is also the founder of (a website on parenting, education, child development) and (a website on Right Brain Education, cognitive development, and maximising potentials). In her spare time, she blogs on Forty, Fit & Fed, and Back to Basics.

2 thoughts on “Rethinking Education – Knowledge for the Sake of Knowledge or Knowledge for Application?

  1. This article resonates with me. Lately I have been rethinking my home curriculum. I have been focusing on filling them with knowledge, and it distracted me from the most important thing as a friend pointed it out: its not what you know as much as it is how you think that will make the difference. Thanks for sharing all this wonderful information!


    1. My pleasure Lacy. It is easy to get distracted by the knowledge part – I find myself losing focus sometimes because we are so caught up with what our children know and how much they are learning at school. That’s why I wrote this blog post – it was also a reminder to myself.


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