A still burning question: what is the purpose of education?

I was today sent a link to a blog (http://jkfairclough.wordpress.com/2014/09/29/what-is-the-point-of-education/) by a former colleague at Tide in Birmingham relating to the question ‘what is the purpose of education?’  It was asked as part of a new international project Tide are partners in and funded by the EU and it is a great question to ask.

It jogged my mind back to our last international study visit to Kerala in South India where a group of educators from the UK asked a related question ‘What is learning for?’ and worked on this for around a year, including a visit to India to learn from others.  The debates, ideas, moments of joy, fear and enlightenment that made that experience all came flooding back as I reflected on the question posed in the blog.

This is a vital question, however framed, and one that is pertinent to the work around values that Values Soup and the projects it is linked to are trying to engage with.  I was minded that we are far from alone in asking this question however and indeed there was a great challenge a year or so ago from Purpose Ed to respond to that very question ‘what is the purpose of education?’ in a maximum of 500 words.  I took up the challenge and had my day to express my own views and share them with the wider audience.  It was great to engage with different perspectives from so many different fields and from around the world and across cultures.  It makes me think there is still much to do here though and I may even need to disagree with myself now as my thinking, as it should has moved on.  To see the entries in the 500 words visit http://web.archive.org/web/20130501070429/http://purposed.org.uk/page/2/ and in case you’re wondering what I said at the time (May 2012) I have posted it below for ease, all 498 words of it.  What would you say?

An ever moving feast (purpose of education)

My immediate response to ‘what is the purpose of education?’ is that it is ‘to enable people to engage with, learn from, and form a considered opinion’ to exactly that type of question.

The circularity of my response comes from a deeply rooted belief in the power of reflective action-learning.  I have time and again witnessed the transformational impact of this type of learning on young people, adults, and organisations alike.  My recent involvement in a number of inspiring opportunities provides the ingredients for my current engagement and learning around the purpose of education, but as with all action-learning the final picture remains an ever moving feast.  Each of the following provides a nuance of what I believe education to be about, but none provides an answer.

What is Learning For? was a year’s exploration with eight inspiring educators into why we learn, how we learn, and what is learning for?  We looked at this from the UK, but more significantly from Kerala in South India – a state with phenomenal educational attainment and insight.  A lasting imprint for me is the dissonance between a UK-based debate over what makes an ‘outstanding lesson’ and the words of a Keralan state official informing us that ‘teachers are the real dreamers in society, because politicians can only dream in 5 year periods’
Education is about: risk, ambition, people, dreaming, creativity, self-belief

Time 2 Think emerges from work around critical literacy and in particular heightened awareness of self, others and the wider world, in shaping our lifeworlds.  This work has reminded me of the significance of dialogic learning and of the incredibly restrictive limits of time that dominate our education system.
Education is about: listening, conversing, contesting, thinking, perspectives, diversity

Learning through Values has provided me with an opportunity to dig deep into my own lifeworld and to support others to do the same.  Building on the work of Common Cause, a number of educators are now combining to consider the centrality of values to our own sense of being and belonging.  How are values aired, shared and prepared by our education system and how aware of this are we?
Education is about: values, understanding, responsibility, connections, living together, change

Learning co-operatively brings a group of disparate organisations and individuals together to explore the power of co-operative learning.  I feel at home in this world of education as co-constructed, inclusive and fair and so too, it would seem, do the young people who benefit. There is something in this…
Education is about: participation, respect, collaboration, equity, ownership, trust, choice

As befits my own moveable feast I do not wish to impose a closing statement as to the purpose of education, but rather invite you to assimilate these vignettes of my recent experience with your own experiences and insight.  However in true circular fashion, I will risk to posit that perhaps a purpose of education is to give us the confidence and ability to do so?

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