Friday, 4 March 2011

What's the Purpose of Education

In the seemingly permanent ongoing debate about education, with arguments about types of school, admissions, funding, curriculum, subjects there is very little said about the purpose of education which misses the fundamental point.

What's it all for?

Now, I'm not a teacher. But I am an educator. As a parent I educate my children and in so doing, I am forced to think about not only my own values and choices, but also what my thought process is and how I got to those decisions. What is important enough that I need to teach them, that they may not get elsewhere. What do I want them to learn?

I want my children to think for themselves; to question why information is presented one way and not another; where are the facts and do we trust them; can we go to the source of information and work it out for themselves; where's the evidence; what's being omitted from the story?

All these sorts of questions can be applied to all subjects in the classroom, but also to news stories and moral and ethical questions. I want them to act a particular way because they've thought about it and decided it's the right thing, not because I've told them to. And I want them to firmly understand that just because everybody else thinks something is so, doesn't make it true and they should have the courage of their convictions and stand up for what they think, even if they do it alone.

I also want them to be considerate, have empathy for other people and a desire to understands what motivates people to act the way they do, rather than judging them.

I've had more interesting conversations with my children round the kitchen table, prompted by something they heard on the Today programme, or Any Questions than I ever thought possible. An hour after the initial question was raised, we're still talking about 'it', and 'it' can be anything.

The more they question how stuff works in the world, whether it's engines or democracy, the more they think, the more they question, and round and round it goes. Hopefully, they get the zest for learning, when they start wanting to find things out because they're interesting, not because they're directly relevant or necessary to their life and not because it's homework. But because finding stuff out is fascinating, and the more you find out, the more you want to find out and the more it joins together. Learning is like a giant jigsaw puzzle that expands whenever you join pieces together.

Formal education, in schools, should provide them with the basic tools they need to learn: research skills, critical analysis, logical thought, and a broad enough knowledge that they have a foundation on which to build. Education provides children with the knife and fork so that they can go out into the real world as young adults and cut their own learning. And it never stops. Learning goes on until you're dead.

"When you know a thing, to hold that you know it; and when you do not know a thing, to allow that you do not know it - this is knowledge." Confucius

I'm writing this because a chance tweet in someone else's conversation (in #ukedchat) led to a chance comment and then another one, and before I knew it, it's an hour later and I'm still reading a stranger's blog because, well, because it's good. Read Teaching Science which then led me to purpos/ed with the challenge to write 500 words on the purpose of education.


  1. Great! Thanks for this. Love the quotation from Confucius and especially the bit about internalising behaviours so that young people do stuff because they want to, not through coercion. :-)

  2. I think the best bit for me in this is the idea of education providing the tools for children/students/people to learn by themselves - education provides the means, and hopefully there will be no end. Hopefully education also exposes us to attitudes we can learn from, ways to approach the world - do we compromise, or stand firm? Can we teach students that neither choice is always right?

    It's really valuable to make the most of 'teachable moments' at home as well as while teaching in a classroom, and often it's about thinking, not about the specific fact. For example, we recently talked about why when I muted the TV during commercial breaks. This led us to the purpose for adverts, the idea of different points of view and how language can be used to persuade.

    Finally, really glad that you liked my blog - any and all comments welcome! I also enjoyed #ukedchat and will try to join in again.