The common definition of education is the possession of knowledge in academics, citizenship, and basic life skills. Education is important in the sense that it enables people live a more complete and purposeful life by developing and nurturing essential skills and values. By recognizing the importance of open-minded inquiry, people are able to accept that, while they seek certitude, contexts and perspective are the best that may be attainable. By recognizing that growth is a lifelong process, people can begin working towards missions and goals whose culmination may lie beyond their lifetime. Therefore, in defining the meaning of the term “educated,” it is imperative to recognize that success in an ever-evolving world demands an unwavering commitment to learning.
To be educated, one must possess a number of traits, namely knowledge, abilities, and mindset. Knowledge is a critical component of being “educated.” The common usage of the term “knowledge” involves propositional knowledge, which usually assumes the form “A knows that Z.” Therefore, it is expected that an educated individual should, for example, know that the heart is responsible for circulating blood throughout the body, that pterosaurs were a species of flying reptiles during the age of the dinosaur, that the square of three is nine, and that corn is low in vitamins and proteins and rich in carbohydrates. When establishing the information possessed by an educated individual, it is imperative to differentiate between specialized or technical knowledge and general knowledge.
A psychologist is expected to know that in Kohlberg’s Theory of Moral Development, the development of morality is categorized into three groups, namely pre-conventional morality, conventional morality, and post-conventional morality. However, this knowledge is not necessary for an engineer, and astronaut, or a business executive and, therefore, such information are considered specialized knowledge. Conversely, the notion that the solar system comprises eight planets, other objects such as comets and asteroids, and the sun is common knowledge possessed by any educated person. It is imperative to note that what is considered as knowledge is not static and changes over time. If older textbooks are carefully compared to recent editions, then one discovers that the previous versions are greatly outdated and, therefore, it should be apparent that facts keep changing. For instance, Pluto is no longer considered a planet, and the number of chromosomes in a human cell keeps changing with new knowledge.
The theory of functional asymmetry of the right and left human brains did not constitute part of human knowledge during the 17th century, but it is now considered not only as specialist knowledge, but also as knowledge of a lay educated individual. The nineteenth-century climatology concept, which advanced the argument that the rain follows the plow, held that human settlement increased rainfall in arid areas. The theory occasioned widespread settlement in the Great American Desert (the Great Plains), as well as in certain parts of South Australia. However, an educated person is not expected to subscribe to this principle. The differences between general and specialist knowledge are not static, as well. For instance, Newton’s law of universal gravitation, previously considered specialist knowledge in physical sciences, has become general knowledge and all educated persons are conversant with it. Simply put, knowledge is a phenomenon that is in continuous flux. It resembles radioactive atoms in the sense that it decays with time.
It is also worth noting that as a trait of being “educated,” general knowledge has both culture-specific aspects, as well as universal aspects. For example, an individual born and raised in the United States would be considered as lacking in education if he or she was not conversant with the fact that the first bridge was constructed across the Mississippi in 1855. However, the same would not be true of a person born and raised in the Netherlands or even Sweden. Similarly, an educated individual in the United Kingdom is expected to be conversant with UK’s history while an educated Malaysian is not required to know the history of Great Britain. Therefore, being educated entails possessing the general knowledge required in making informed decisions and deductions on routine and new situations in intellectual and personal life. Aside from possessing knowledge and information of the aforementioned kinds, being educated also involves being able to accomplish certain things, or having certain abilities. For example, an educated individual is expected to be able to grasp the contents of a magazine or newspaper, or perform simple arithmetic, such as adding, subtracting, dividing, or even multiplying a few digit numbers independently without the aid of a computer or a calculator.
When dealing with both new and familiar situations, an educated person is not only expected to carry out the required tasks, but to make rational and informed decisions, as well. In addition, being educated demands that an individual should be able to make a choice from alternative beliefs, deal with disagreements in a rational manner, and recognize specific instances when the information provided is not sufficient to make an informed and rational choice from a number of competing alternatives. Long-term memory can be divided into two broad categories, namely explicit (declarative) memory, or the memory of events and facts, and implicit (procedural) memory, or the memory of skills and how accomplish certain tasks. An example of declarative knowledge is the possession of the knowledge that three is the square root of nine. However, procedural knowledge involves knowing how to determine the square root of numbers. When a person possesses procedural knowledge of various kinds, he or she is termed as having “abilities.”
Learning entails expanding, modifying, and resolving existing information in a manner that strengthens and expands an individual’s thinking abilities. Therefore, it may be assumed that an educated mechanical engineer should be able to read a few books on the types of airplane engines and explain his or her knowledge of how a piston engine, a jet airplane engine, or a turboprop aircraft engine works, driven by either intellectual curiosity or the necessity to understand the mechanics of aircraft operation. Aside from the possession of such specialized knowledge, being educated also demands that one possesses a mastery of independent learning to enable them cope with the continuously ‘decaying’ knowledge and an ever-changing environment. The last trait of being “educated” is a person’s mindset, which refers to a collection of attributes that are associated with education, but which are indefinable and can only be indirectly inculcated from the educational environment and not through direct classroom instruction. Mindset comprises several elements, including the knowledge and understanding of the imperfection and uncertainty of human knowledge (counting the supposed “objective” or “factual” scientific knowledge), the openness of the mind to permit the adjustment and discarding of previous beliefs based on new evidence and the willingness to seek such evidence, and a willingness to question propositions advanced as knowledge. Overall, being “educated” calls for the possession of certain knowledge, abilities, and a given mindset.