Education was briefly back in the headlines this week with the hype ahead of the prime minister Rishi Sunak’s ‘Building a better future’ speech that all young people should be learning mathematics up to the age of 18. His argument is that a growing number of jobs rely on mathematical ability and the education system needs to change to reflect that. It wasn’t, as it turned out, one of his five ‘pledges’ but he did say that improving education “is the closest thing to a silver bullet there is”. On that we can probably all agree. New year – traditionally a time of looking forward – is as good a moment as any to come back to the question of what the purpose of education is and, more specifically, what sort of education system we want for our children and young people in the years and decades to come.
We may or may not welcome the shift to some form of maths for all up to the age of 18, if and when it ever happens. We may also be in favour of other tweaks to the system – the proposed introduction of a natural history GCSE, for example. The problem is that this is tinkering at the edges. What is required is something more fundamental and transformative.
Last year’s Times Education Commission report, Bringing out the best: How to transform education and unleash the potential of every child, concluded that Britain’s education system “is failing on every measure”. The clear consensus view among the 600 or so experts who were consulted by the commission was that change is “overdue and vital”. As we said at the time:
What shouts out from the opening pages of the report – chapter one, or section one, is actually called ‘Purpose of Education’ – is how widespread is the view that education needs to be about so much more than preparing for exams, and that the UK’s longtime obsession with chasing exam results has badly damaged the entire education system, ruining countless young lives along the way. Surely, education ought to be about things like helping children achieve fulfilment, unlocking potential, offering different pathways and preparing them for life?from our blog The purpose of education
A key focus for the commission was, of course, the needs of the economy in the future, as it was for the 2022 report on education from the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change (TBI), which made the point that the role of education is to equip people with the skills and personal qualities they need to succeed in life.
The TBI report talked of the need to “futureproof” education by focusing on developing skills to complement the technologies that will drive the next stage of economic development – “a world increasingly shaped by automation and artificial intelligence (AI)”. The workers of tomorrow, it says, will need the 4Cs – critical thinking, creativity, communication and collaborative problem-solving.
Life-Based Learning is predicated on the idea that we cannot simply carry on as we are in education. Not surprisingly, therefore, there are significant areas of overlap between both of the reports mentioned above and LBL, particularly in relation to the curriculum – the argument that the current national curriculum is not fit for purpose and needs to be fundamentally rethought.
The world faces immense challenges. The LBL view is that we need to be thinking and planning long-term, and that means starting with the education we are offering our children.
Physical health and wellbeing. Mental and cognitive health. Economic dynamism and flexibility. Cultural vibrancy and community cohesion. The environment and sustainability. All of these are important priorities for the coming years and decades. They are central to LBL, a fresh approach to education and development for children and young people.
LBL brings greater meaning to learning, particularly subject learning, by making life itself the primary purpose – and focus – of learning, which is organised around life-based themes delivered through subject content.
The Times Education Commission’s chair wrote about “the need to give young people the intellectual and emotional tools to live productive, fulfilling lives.” The animating forces underpinning LBL are agency and empowerment, helping children and young people develop the knowledge, skills and practices to be happy and successful throughout life, including in the world of work.
Life-Based Learning prioritises:
Image at the head of this article by Alisa Dyson from Pixabay.