Aims of Education

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20 February 2016

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Education has been conceived so variously in human history, especially in term of its aims. Chopra (2005) defines the term ‘Aims’ as: “Long-term ambitions which may or may not be achieved, but which provide personal motivation and direction” (p.16). Perhaps more than other aspects of human existence, it is education which lends a direction to human efforts through a certain underlying ‘philosophy’: “a set of ideas about the nature of reality and about the meaning of life” (McNergney & Herbert, 1998, p. 130). However, aims of education depend on the philosophy that prevails at the time of determining the aims of education. Different philosophies hold different views about the aims of education: “Certain philosophies have created narrow patriots. Others have produced cultured individuals. Some others are responsible for bringing up spiritual men and women” (Shahid, 2001, p. 110). In fact, a philosophy or an ideology serves as a back-bone in determining the objectives or end results of an education system.

  • 2.Western Philosophy and Aims of Education

If we sift the history of education in the West right from the time of Greeks to the present contemporary era we would come across the following major schools of thought influencing the aims of Education:

  • 2.1. Idealism:

Idealism is considered the oldest philosophy of Western culture, dating back to ancient Greece. Socrates (469-399 B.C.), one of the most honored philosophers and the earliest exponents of the idealistic school of thought looked upon the aim of education as not verbal instructions but to enable the individual, by developing in him the power of thought to acquire knowledge by himself, i.e. by self-realization. For this purpose, he presented the “Dialectic Method/Socratic Method” which is also called “Question/Discussion Method”.

  • 2.2 Realism:

Aristotle (384-322 B.C.), a student of Plato and great Greek philosopher, was the leading figure of this school of thought. He believed in “dualism − the tendency to view reality as composed of two constituent elements … form and of matter” (Kneller, 1964, p. 37). Following are the main aims of education
in Realism:

Equipping students with knowledge and skill needed to understand and master their physical environment. Enabling students to adjust themselves with adult approved behaviour. (Shahid, 2001, p. 141)

  • 2.3 Existentialism:

Soren Kierkegaad (1813-1855) is considered the originator of Existentialism. Existentialists believe that the physical world has no inherent meaning apart from human experience. Existentialists believe that the main aim of education is to: “Develop authentic individuals who exercise freedom of choice and take responsibility of their action” (McNergney & Herbert, 1998, p. 139).

  • 2.4 Marxism:

The leading proponent of this school of thought was Karl Marx, an immensely influential German philosopher, political economist, and socialist revolutionary. He was famous for his analysis of history in terms of class struggles. The aims of education, according to Marxists, are: “Shape people and institutions; change material conditions of society, producing classless society” (McNergney & Herbert, 1998, p. 139).

  • 2.5 Behaviorism:

B. F. Skinner, is called the father of Behaviorism. According to this school of thought, the aim of education is to: “engineer environments that efficiently maximize learning” (McNergney & Herbert, 1998, p. 139).

  • 2.6 Cognitivism:

Cognition means the process of thinking and knowing. The aim of education, in cognitivists’ view, is to “develop thinking skills for lifelong self-directed learning” (McNergney & Herbert, 1998, p. 139).

  • 2.7 Naturalism:

“Naturalism is based on the assumption that nature is the whole of reality”(Kneller 68). Jean Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778 ) was the exponent figure of this school of thought. Rousseau stressed that what is natural is good. According to Naturalists, following are the aims of education: (1) Self-expression; (2) Autonomous development individuality; (3) Improvement of racial gains; (4) Preparation for the struggle for existence. (Shahid 125)

  • 2.8 Pragmatism:

According to the Pragmatists, “truth [is] a tentative assertion derived from human experience (Kneller 82). The leading figure of the pragmatic educational philosophy was John Dewey (1859-1952), an American educationist. He believed that the aim of education is to “Develop and apply practical knowledge and skills for life in a progressive democratic society” (McNergney & Herbert 139).

  • 2.9 Perennialism:

Perennialists believe that education, like human nature, is a constant. The leading proponents of this philosophy were Hutchins and Adler. Accorging to McNergney & Herbert, “the perennialists argue people are basically the same, regardless of where they live and who they are, thus all people need the same basic education” and that “education should consist of a fundamental grounding in history, language, mathematics, science, literature, and humanities”(147).

  • 2.10 Essentinlism:

Essentialism asserts that ‘Essence’ is prior to ‘Existence’ and that “education … involves the learning of the basic skills, arts, and sciences that have been useful in the past and are likely to remain useful in the future” (Kneller 256). The exponent figure of this school was William C. Bagley. The aim of education, as the Essentialists hold, is the “Acquisition of culture; cultural literacy for personal benefit” (McNergney & Herbert 139).

  • 2.11 Social Reconstructionism:

A key word to learn when trying to understand postmodern education is constructivism. The leading figures of this educational movement was George Counts. The reconstruction theory seeks to rebuild the society afresh. Its supporters believe that the role of education is to create a new social order that will fulfill the basic values of our culture and at the same time harmonize with the underlying social and economic forces of the modern world. According to them, the aim of education is to “Solve social problems and create a better world” (McNergney & Herbert 139).

  • 3. Islam and Aims of Education

Like Western philosophies of education, Islam also holds a view on the aims of education. However, it presents an independent, unique and much broader framework of reality, knowledge, existence and values to which the aims of education have got a logical connection. As a revealed religion, there is an objective quality of the goals of education in Islam.

  • 3.1 Philosophy in Islam:

Philosophy gets its roots from the ancient Greece. It emphasizes on the search of truth with the help of human reason. It is known as ‘falsafa’ in Arabic. On the other hand, Islam is founded on the Word of Allah or the revealed knowledge. The way Islam came into contact with philosophy is explained by Fakhry (1997) in the following words: The rapid expansion of Muslim Arab civilization in the 100 years after the death of the Prophet Muhammad [SAW] brought the faith into close contact with Greek, Persian, Egyptian, Syrian and Indian cultures and certain elements of those cultures incorporated (sometimes on adapted form) into Islamic thought. However, ‘Islamic Philosophy’ takes its roots from the Holy Qur’an.

  • 3.2Education in Islam:

The term ‘education’, as finds its meaning in Western philosophy, does not correspond very closely to any one exclusive term in Arabic. In fact, there are three words which are normally translated as ‘education’_ one emphasizing knowledge; one growth to maturity and one the development of good manners. However, all these concepts aim at producing good Muslims with an understanding of the Islamic rules of behaviour and a strong knowledge of and commitment to the faith. Ashraf defines Islamic education as: an education which trains the sensibilities of pupils in such a manner that in their…approach to all kinds of knowledge they are governed by the deeply felt ethical values of Islam. They are trained and mentally so disciplined that they want to acquire knowledge not merely to satisfy an intellectual curiosity or just for material worldly benefit but to grow up as rational, righteous beings and to bring about the spiritual, moral and physical welfare of their families, their people and mankind. Their attitude derives from a deep faith in God and a wholehearted acceptance of a God-given moral code. (Hussain & Ashraf 1)

  • 3.3 Aims of Education: Complete Submission to His Will:

Islam means complete submission to the Supreme Being of Allah (SWT) and His Shari’ah. The sole purpose of man’s creation as described in the Holy Quran is to worship Allah (SWT): وَمَا خَلَقْتُ الْجِنَّ وَالْاِنْسَ اِلَّا لِيَعْبُدُوْنِ‏ “And I have not created the Jinn and the men but that they may worship Me.” (al-Zariyaat 51: 56)

So, according to Islam, the purpose of the creation of humanity should also be the sole purpose, aim and objective of philosophy of Islamic education i.e. the complete, unconditional submission to the Supreme Will of Allah (SWT), the Almighty. As Rizavi puts it: Thus in Islamic creed, the idea of omnipresence of God permeates life in its totality … God is everywhere and hence prayers can be said anywhere … A Muslim is supposed to be in communion with God throughout his life — sitting on the prayer-rug, labouring in the field, defending his coun­try’s borders, in short, while doing anything and everything. (113)

  • 3.4 ‘Taqwa’ (piety) and ‘Adl’ (justice) as the Cornerstones of Islamic Teachings:

‘Taqwa’ occupies a pivotal position in the aims of Islamic teachings. The Holy Qur’an considers it a requisite for getting Divine Guidance (‘Hidaya’):

ذٰلِكَ الْڪِتٰبُ لَا رَيْبَ ۛۚ ۖ فِيْهِ ۛۚ هُدًى لِّلْمُتَّقِيْنَۙ‏ ‏ “This is a perfect Book; there is no doubt in it; it is a guidance for the righteous” (al-Baqara 2: 2)

Regarding “the sacrifices offered by the Muslims at the time of ‘Hajj’ or ‘Id al-Adha, the Quran clearly says that the flesh of animals sacrificed does not reach Allah; what reaches Him is the piety or ‘taqwa’ operated behind these teachings”(Rizavi 115). The Quran also gives us a clue to the achievement of ‘taqwa’ or excellence of character:

اعْدِلُوْا هُوَ اَقْرَبُ لِلتَّقْوٰى‌ۖ “Be just: that is Next to piety” (al-Maidah 5: 8).

In fact, “With respect to man … justice means basically a condition and situation whereby he is in his right and proper place” (al-Attas 26). Thus, Islam aims at preparing such persons who are pious and just.

  • 3.5Justice implies knowledge:

Islam has made it obligatory on all believers to acquire knowledge. In the very first verses of the Quran, the prophet Hazrat Muhammad (SAW) was instructed to read: اقْرَاْ بِاسْمِ رَبِّكَ الَّذِىْ خَلَقَ “Convey thou in the name of thy Lord Who created

خَلَقَ الْاِنْسَانَ مِنْ عَلَق
Created man from a clot of blood.
(al- ‘Alaq 96: 1-5)

The best Islamic education must encompass the two traditional categories of knowledge, and the hierarchical relationship between them; revealed knowledge, attained through the religious sciences; and acquired knowledge, attained through the rational, intellectual and philosophical sciences. In Islam, both types of knowledge, the revealed and the acquired, contribute to the strengthening of faith, the former through the careful study of the revealed word of Allah SWT and the latter through the systematic study of the world of man and the universe. The Qur’an appeals constantly to reason and experiment which is a blessing indispensable to arrive at proper judgement. It invites & directs the humans to study the reality.

  • 3.6 Taqwa and Faith:

The basic features of the Islamic constitution as embodied in the Quran & Sunnah are the creed or doctrine (Aqeedah) or faith (trust and belief founded on authority) _ as belief in Allah SWT, faith in the prophet SAW and the basic attitude that all human activity should follow in the complete submission to Allah SWT. Islamic education has to inculcate these beliefs and attitudes in Muslim youth. The more comprehensive equivalent of ‘faith’ in the Arabic language is “Iman” derived from the root-word ‘Amn’ which means freedom from fear, security, peace, satisfaction, trust, affirmation, acceptance of correctness and submission or resignation to truth. According to the Holy Quran a ‘Believer’ i.e. a Momin must have faith in (1) Allah, (2) The Hereafter, (3) The Unseen Clestial powers called Malaika (roughly translated as Angels), (4) The Book and (5) The holy prophets. (Haq 242)

  • 3.7 ‘Ijtehad’:

Side by side with the inculcation and strengthening of these basic values, Islamic education must create in the minds of Muslim youth an adaptability and a mechanism for adjustment to worldly matters. The Arabs were the first people to demonstrate such an adaptability during the prime of Islamic intellectual pre­eminence. They acquired Greek learning, subjected it to investigation, experimentation and expansion in such diverse fields as algebra, geometry, astronomy, navigation, chemistry & medicine and evolved the scientific principles of empiricism. This attitude extended into Europe in the fifteenth & the sixteenth centuries as part of the Renaissance. The Islamic education system must now adopt the same scientific empiricism in worldly matters which the Muslims themselves invented but have forgotten during the past five centuries. The value of adaptability, experimentation and tolerance (as opposed to dogma) must be embodied in the new system. This will, in all probability, require the institution of ijtehad or interpretation of the Islamic law. An Islamic educational system is an integrating force and it prepares men for ijtehad where it is due. In the words of Iqbal: The teachings of the Quran that life is a process of progressive creation necessitates that each generation, guided but unhampered by the work of its predecessors, should be permitted to solve its own problems. (1989)

  • 3.8 Action as Complementary to Faith:

In Islam good actions are a requisite to faith. The Holy Qur’an says:
‏ وَالْعَصْرِۙ‏
“By the fleeting Time,
اِنَّ الْاِنْسَانَ لَفِىْ خُسْرٍۙ‏ Surely, man is in a state of loss,
اِلَّا الَّذِيْنَ اٰمَنُوْا وَ عَمِلُوْا الصّٰلِحٰتِ ‏ Except those who believe and do good works” (al-‘Asr 103: 1-3)

  • 3.9 Enjoining Right and Forbidding Wrong:

According to Haq, “It [Islam] is not only a ‘religion’ of the Muslims, in the usual sense of the word; it is their whole life. It encompasses all aspects of human life: social, cultural, economic, educational, spiritual, material, political, in fact, all. A cult of universal brotherhood must, of necessity, be highly organized. (244) What Islam aims to produce are sentient and committed individuals who work for the promotion of all that is good and the renunciation of all that is bad for the ultimate success of all human-beings. The Holy Qur’an says:

كُنْتُمْ خَيْرَ اُمَّةٍ اُخْرِجَتْ لِلنَّاسِ تَاْمُرُوْنَ بِالْمَعْرُوْفِ وَتَنْهَوْنَ عَنِ الْمُنْكَرِ وَتُؤْمِنُوْنَ بِاللّٰهِ‌ “You are the best people raised for the good of mankind; you enjoin what is good and forbid evil and believe in Allah” (Al-i-‘Imran 3:110)

  • 3.10 Sincerity of Motive (‘niyyah’):

According to Rizavi, “Islam gives due consideration to human weaknesses, and, therefore, accepts from a person whatever he may achieve, with the sincerity of motive” (117); and that “Motive (niyyah) is a serious factor in the acquisition of education. In fact, Islam judges all conduct according to its motives” (116). 4. Conclusion: The aims of education stem from the kind of philosophy directing them. Western philosophy, in general, is this world-oriented, and divorced from revelation, its aims of education have been changing and varying from one approach to another; it ignores the true self of man (both physical and spiritual); its chief sources of knowledge are senses, reason and intuition which are deceivable and temporary; it neglects the final purpose of man; therefore, it fails to provide one single approach and thus leaves man into chaos and confusion. On the other hand, Islam, having a divine base, aiming to bring man closer to God and seek His pleasure as his ultimate aim, is characterized by clarity, realism, sublimity and singleness of direction; thus, offering a solution to all of man’s problems and giving him a right direction in this world.

The Holy Quran.
al-Attas. ed. Aims and Objectives of Islamic Education. Jeddah: Hodder and Stoughton, 1979.
Azam, Ikram. A Futuristic Paradigm of Education. Islamabad: ABC Enterprises, 2003.
Chopra, Rakesh, ed. Academic Dictionary of Education. Delhi: Isha Books, 2005.
Fakhry. Islamic philosophy, theology and mysticism. Oxford: Oneworld, 1997. Haq, Mazhar A. Educational Philosophy of the Holy Qur’an. Lahore: Institute of Islamic Culture, 1990.
Hussain, S.S. & Ashraf, S. A. Crisis in Muslim education. London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1979.
Iqbal, A.M. The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam. Lahore: Iqbal Academy, 1989.
Kneller, George F. Introduction to the Philosophy of Education. Los Angeles: University Of California, 1964.
McNergney Robert F. & Joanne M.. Herbert. Foundations of Education.
London: Allyn & Bacon, 1998.
Rizavi, Sayyid S. Islamic Philosophy of Education. Lahore: Institute of
Islamic Culture, 1986.
Shahid, S.M. ed. Philosophy of Education. Lahore: Majeed Book Depot, 2001.

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Aims of Education. (20 February 2016). Retrieved from

"Aims of Education" StudyScroll, 20 February 2016,

StudyScroll. (2016). Aims of Education [Online]. Available at: [Accessed: 30 September, 2023]

"Aims of Education" StudyScroll, Feb 20, 2016. Accessed Sep 30, 2023.

"Aims of Education" StudyScroll, Feb 20, 2016.

"Aims of Education" StudyScroll, 20-Feb-2016. [Online]. Available: [Accessed: 30-Sep-2023]

StudyScroll. (2016). Aims of Education. [Online]. Available at: [Accessed: 30-Sep-2023]

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