Friday, 8 June 2012

The Purpose of Education

At a recent meeting at my daughter’s school involving representatives of the teaching staff, the school’s council and some parents, I was struck by the school’s determination to offer a program that encouraged its pupils to be both creative and remarkable.  This school is one of many who are questioning the role of education and aligning themselves to 21st century needs. 

This is a necessary endeavor and one that all schools should be undertaking and it has led me to question what schooling is actually for, and the needs of society schools should be addressing.  There is, I think, a disjoint between what schools have traditionally offered and the needs of society.

Education produces adults who are:
Economies need adults who are:


19th century industrialization, which led to the creation of universal education was based on low-cost uniformity to educate students to a minimum standard to produce compliant workers and eager consumers. Strange though that as consumers we increasingly demand customization and personalization of what we purchase but don’t have the same expectations of mass education.

In Japan there is an expression about ‘knocking down the nail that sticks out’ – implying that uniformity is the goal.  UK politicians have recently cited Japan’s education system as one to admire and aspire to.  I disagree, not because Japan’s system doesn’t produce graduates of a high standard – it does, particularly in mathematics and science rather than in the ‘softer’ (harder to test?) subjects – but because in seeking uniformity, ultimately some talent gets wasted and some young adults don’t get to follow their ‘passion’.  Seth Godin, writing about marketing in  his book ‘Purple Cow’ states that the opposite of ‘remarkable’ is ‘good’.  I believe this can be applied to school graduates also – that producing remarkable adults ought to be the goal and that ‘good’ is not good enough.

Meeting minimum standards is also not much of an aspiration.  It leads, in my opinion, to a ‘most children left behind’ world where adults miss out on finding their true talents and end up bored or disgruntled in the jobs they have.

To transform the system and encourage schools to strive to produce remarkable adults we have to ask ourselves if there is a need to change teacher education. Are we mass-producing teachers indoctrinated into teaching for a bygone age?  The answer may be yes and no, but it is as good a place to start asking questions as any.

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