What is the purpose of education?

You would think that, as a teacher, I would have asked myself this question... probably sometime between 1989 and 1993 (when I did my teaching degree). But no! I think I first consciously thought about this in January 2016.

We sort of take education for granted in this country... in most of the western world. Okay, at some point, many kids ask the question, why do I have to go to school? Do they get a proper answer?

So what happened in January 2016? Well, I can't even be 100% sure it was 2016... but I think it was. I went to BETT and the keynote speaker was Professor Sugata Mitra. He's the Indian guy who did the Hole in the Wall experiment and came up with SOLE (Self-organised learning environments) and the Granny Cloud. He has a voice I could listen to for hours! He is such an engaging speaker!

He was talking about assessment really, but he started off by asking about the role of the teacher. He showed pictures of what society needed adults to be like for most of history. We needed armies, office clerks, assembly line workers... We needed people who all looked the same, obeyed orders... instantly, didn't ask questions, weren't creative, and who could write legibly and read and understand what others had written. And we came up with a fantastic system to produce such adults - our education system. School uniform ensured that we all looked the same. We learned obedience. We were discouraged from questioning things and all that natural, inbuilt creativity that children have - we generally lost it. We came out as adults, ready for the world of work.

The problem is, the world of work has changed dramatically. We no longer want everyone to be the same, or to instantly obey orders. We want people to ask critical questions and be highly creative... but education, for the most part, hasn't kept track.

Even though we know that we can find the answer to most questions online, the need for memorised knowledge is less important than every before, and adults of this generation change careers multiple times throughout their working life, we are still trying to cram children full of memorised knowledge, which we assess in exams. School uniform is more popular (and sometimes more eccentric) than ever before. We want children to ask questions but if it strays from the curriculum, it really isn't the right question. There is still a huge drive for instant, unquestioning obedience.

It doesn't really make sense.

Maybe we should start again and look at what we need our working adults to be like. That would be a great question to start with.

Just watching the news in the last week, I think the skills that adults most need are:
  • resilience
  • ability to take care of their physical and mental health
  • flexibility
  • ability to recognise when something isn't working and plan the right interventions
  • overcoming failure... productive failure
  • ability to reinvent yourself
  • ability to work with others and compromise to get a job done.
I wonder what education might need to look like, if they were the main goals? I mean, obviously, we all need to learn basic literacy, numeracy and digital skills... but a lot of the other stuff just gets forgotten and is never used again. And the skills that we really need, weren't taught in any great depth. 

I love my current job and there isn't much that would persuade me to change right now... but one opportunity would do it.

I would love to take a group of children and experiment with a completely new style of education, with no classrooms, no uniform, no traditional curriculum, and make a brand new curriculum that actually prepares children for adulthood in the 21st century. But what government would ever take that risk? 

Did I add risk taking to the list of skills?


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