Education, knowledge and freedom | Sunday Observer

Education, knowledge and freedom

14 February, 2021

“Freedom comes with self-knowledge, when the mind goes above and beyond the hindrances it has created for itself.” – Jiddu Krishnamurti

Man’s highest good and the aim of education lies in the attainment of freedom; said the 17th century philosopher Baruch Spinoza while Jiddu Krishnamurti himself has said that there must be freedom from knowledge to make way for wisdom. In the efforts of understanding the connection among the true meanings of these words, ‘freedom’, ‘knowledge’ and ‘education’, one will find such statements made by philosophers, theologians, world leaders and scientists alike.

It may not be a waste of time to make an effort to understand how we really want to use these words in our lives since every one of us would like to improve our living standards in the physical plane with the expectation of achieving emotional and mental happiness as the end product of all our efforts throughout our lives.

Consensus among various dictionaries and etymological descriptions of these words can be summarised as follows.

Education: A process of teaching, training and learning to improve knowledge and develop skills. The etymology shows that the Latin word ‘educere’, meaning ‘lead out’, as the origin of the English word ‘Education’ which describes the process of bringing one’s knowledge and capabilities out.

Knowledge: Knowledge is a familiarity, awareness or understanding of someone or something, such as, facts, information, descriptions or skills, acquired through experience or education by perceiving, discovering or learning.

Freedom: Having the ability to act or change without constraints and/or being prevented by other forces: having the power of self-determination.

People have been using these words for centuries and newborns are automatically programmed to accept the meanings of the words as we know them.


The word ‘education’ will remind us about the schools, universities and educational systems of the world while the word ‘knowledge’ basically would refer to what we learn at those institutions and/or the things we learn through our own experiences and other accessible information.

Most people will be able to see the connection the two words ‘education’ and ‘knowledge’ have, education being the tool to gather knowledge.

The word ‘freedom’, more often than not, would remind people of political systems and or history of the world with specific types of freedoms such as ‘freedom of speech’, ‘freedom of the press’, ‘freedom of choice’ and ‘freedom from slavery’ that have been drilled into their brains by such systems. When a prisoner is released people say that he has gained his freedom back.

Countries with so-called ‘democratically elected governments’ boast about the freedom their citizens enjoy compared to people in other countries. The President of the United States is sometimes even referred to as the ‘leader of the free world.’

Billionaire media mogul Rupert Murdoch once answered the question “what do you think about the freedom of the press?” at a news conference saying, “Well, you don’t have any such freedom but I do, because I own the media”. That pretty much explains the illusory nature of all other types of freedom people assume that they have achieved. If people search for freedom as a way to achieve happiness and the knowledge is regarded as the path, then, the freedom of thought would be the topmost priority among all different types of freedoms.

Freedom of thought

Before we speak or make a choice we have to think. If our thoughts are being controlled, manipulated and guided by other forces then, it is just a matter of getting us to think or feel that we have the freedom of speech and or choice though we really don’t have it.

The main objectives of our educational, social and political institutions should be to help people to achieve that freedom of thought.

The first attempt then should be to recognise the factors hindering such a freedom in general and also for each individual in particular. Such an understanding will, hopefully, guide people to design and structure their education systems appropriately since that will be the main path to knowledge which in turn will help them to become free thinkers.

Conversely, if what we expect from an education system is just easier and more efficient ways of getting on with our lives in the physical plane then that exactly is what we get, just as we are experiencing it all over the world today.

To achieve this broader objective of freedom of thought, and free ourselves from mental slavery, we certainly would have to stop interpreting knowledge as information about particular subjects but as the awareness necessary to achieve a paradigm shift one step at a time.

Social norms can deceive one to feel that he/she is well off and comfortable with life though one may not feel happy with that life. Conforming to the norms would easily make one feel accepted and even rewarded by society. But society is just one segment in the plethora of human endeavour.

Even though schools, institutions, universities and colleges are convenient forms introduced to educate people to acquire knowledge of life, the amount of human conflicts, poverty, crime, man-made disasters and suffering around the world today clearly show how unsuccessful they have been irrespective of all the advancements people have made in the field of education.

This kind of education has become one of the most profitable service industries in the world where the success of the institution and or the system is measured mainly by the level of materialistic success its clients have achieved after completing their programs.


The knowledge and or the certificates obtained through such education systems are just convenient contrivances that can help one to live a comfortable life. If what one learns cannot make one free and confident in oneself then, the knowledge acquired through such learning has no value in the journey of life.

Since there are different degrees of understanding the reality of life the wisdom of the teacher and the readiness of the student will decide how the learning process will progress from stage to stage.

Therefore, one might even say that the most important step in achieving the kind of freedom that has been limited to the dream worlds of many is to understand the purpose of education within the context of understanding life. That perhaps is why Bertrand Russell said: “It is because modern education is so seldom inspired by a great hope that it so seldom achieves great results.”

The writer has served in the higher education sector as an academic for over twenty years in the USA and fourteen years in Sri Lanka and can be contacted at [email protected]