In this article, I will discuss as brief as possible my view towards theory and practice. I will address some questions such as ‘which between theory and practice should be done first? Which is more advantageous to the society? Which should be given higher prestige? Can either exist and be relevant to the society without the other?... Before we address these questions we need to know what theory and practice means. Cambridge advanced learner dictionary defines theory as a formal statement of the rules on which a subject of study is based or of ideas which are suggested to explain a fact or event, while it defines practice as an action rather than thought or ideas.
Though, there are various ways we can look into this discourse. It’s not really a philosophical question, but it’s an open ended question as philosophers would say. People’s view towards it differs, and conclusion cannot be reached. Therefore, every idea is held tentatively till we encounter superior idea. Theorists would agree that theory is more important than practice, while practisers would say otherwise. Albert Einstein said ‘In theory, theory and practice are the same. in practice, they are different’. To me, both are two different concepts, and they actually complement each other. According to Karl Marx, ‘practice without theory is blind, theory without practice is barren’. So without either, neither can survive perfectly!
Let’s start with this analysis to explain further about the two concepts. There is knowledge and there is wisdom. Without you having knowledge, you can’t claim to have wisdom, because wisdom is the application of knowledge. Likewise, theory is the abstraction of practice, while practice is the application of theory. We can liken knowledge to theory, and wisdom to practice. With this illustration, you can’t tell me it’s better to have practical before theory! I do not say practice is useless, even theory would be useless without application of it to practice. My claim is that theory is mostly important, and it should precede practice. Though, we have seen those that did practice first before going into theory and they made it, but along the way encounter several flaws. The fact is that you can’t compare, someone who has the knowledge of theory before going for practice to someone who did practical first.
Why should theory be done before practice? In Nigeria education system, we see that theory usually precede practice. And despite this, we have not been able to advance beyond our present status. Many other nations who mainly deals with practice like china has been improving drastically in various aspects like technologies. This has made many Nigerians see theory as scam. They believe what necessary the most is the physical skill or ability you can present to the society. But unknown to many, theory teaches how to catch fish, unlike practice which gives fish to eat. Which literary means theory gives the steps, procedures, processes, technique and guide on how to be productive and it provides an easy way of solving a problem efficiently, unlike practice which only concentrates on a particular way of doing something or attempting or solving a problem. Theory gives in-depth knowledge to attempt a task easily and in different methods. The knowledge of theory can easily help in determining how to attempt a task easily and perfectly, what would be the consequence when attempted in a particular way… I will like to cite and give some examples relating this discourse to some fields to support my claim and also for better understanding.
Linguistics, my course of study. It deals with the scientific study of language. To me, there is no step you can take to become a linguist without passing through the theoretical level. How can you start language analysis without the knowledge of the branches of linguistics? You need to know concepts like: phonetics (the study of the production and perception of speech sounds), phonology (the study of sound system of a language), morphology (the study of the internal structures of words), syntax (the study of the combination of words to form larger sentence) and so on. Without the knowledge of these, how can you perform any language analysis? You would think that, what is the essence of the theoretical part of language? This is a topic on its own which I can’t discuss here.
Let me cite another example from the science field. Despite the fact that scientists are absolutely practical in nature. They usually engage themselves in experimentations which is majorly practical. They develop theories after the scientific procedures such as observation, data collection, test of hypothesis, experimentation etc. Do you know that despite all these, they still have to do theory before practice? These people will still have to define some terms and concepts, know some components and properties of each topic before moving to the laboratory for practical. Some terms like element, atom, nucleus, electron, molecules etc. would be discussed in class before practice in the laboratory.
To summarize it all, whatever the discipline, name them! you need theory before practical. Even citing my experience in a time past, when I was opportune to engage myself in a computer training program in a computer Centre. Before I engage myself in anything, I was shown the components of computer naming each part for me to know. I was shown the monitor, CPU, mouse, keyboard, printer etc. which is the theoretical part of the training. So after then I began to work on the system, I was taught and shown several things on the monitor. Then the practice started.
Therefore, on this note I conclude that theory should be given higher prestige, because its more benefiting for effective practice in the society.
‘In theory, practice is simple’ Trygve Reenskaug.