Purpos/ed – What is the point?
This post is my contribution to an ongoing project organised by purposed.org.uk, “a non-partisan, location-independent organization aiming to kickstart a debate around the question: What’s the purpose of education?” This was initiated by Doug Belshaw and Andy Stewart.
Please get involved.
“…what really matters is how we’re doing compared with our international competitors…”
Clegg and Cameron in the Foreword to The Importance of Teaching 2010
Somebody advised me to be controversial if I wanted to get a response to my #500 words, so here goes – Cameron and Clegg are wrong.
Education must be about more than doing better than other countries in some tests (especially if it means having to endure MPs and journalists disparaging other nations in the ‘we came 12th, beaten by Estonia!!!!’ style) Education should prepare people for a globalised life and this should include how to be successful in it but not in a simplistic league table or ‘who earns the most?’ way, but in a much broader sense as articulated by so many of the #500words. In terms of David Jennings synthesis it is about combining approaches not polarising them. Our students will be under pressure to solve society’s problems and the EBacc is probably not the preparation to do so. Developing creative lifelong learners and problem solvers will be essential but we do still need some measure of outcomes. Can we find a way to really utilise the ‘voice’ of teachers, learners and parents in more qualitative ways utilising social networks for example? Who should define the success criteria? Certainly not Cameron, Clegg or Gove.
Education is an emotional human experience. The things that live with me, whether learned in the pub or in school do so because of an emotional connection not simply due to utility. The things I remember most from school are trips, productions, relationships etc. I think I’m smarter too, in many ways, but being smarter implies something measurable and I’m not sure that my education is. It is certainly more than my certificates and grades. Each of those letters represents an emotional engagement. It’s why I chose to start a part-time MA recently. I wanted to learn more but, it’s taken more than a decade to find the MA I wanted to do, in an area I wanted to do it.
“I see that all outside compulsion is wrong, that inner compulsion is the only value.”
Education should be about helping people to discover their inner compulsion (or their passion and curiosity as Tom Barrett put it) and then nurturing it but I also believe that students need a core set of skills (e.g. literacies, numeracy, critical thinking) and a vital question is how to encourage students to want to learn things that experience has taught us will help them but at the same time not kill their creativity.
Like many others before me, I asked some people what they thought: My nephew (5yrs old) said school is for playing. My niece (8yrs old) said it is for ‘learning numbers to buy stuff and spelling’. When I asked about the next 8 years she replied ‘I’m not sure, they don’t tell us what we’re doing tomorrow’. When I asked if she enjoyed it she said she did but most don’t, ‘my boyfriend says it’s like prison’. I think they may all be right.
A final thought – how many of those involved so far can honestly say they represent the views of the disengaged, the ones that education has failed, those without the easy bridge? How do we broaden the debate to include them?