The purpose of education

purpose of education

Britain’s education system “is failing on every measure”. That is the stark conclusion of the recently published Times Education Commission final report, which begins with a discussion of a fundamental question: what is the purpose of education? The report itself is a bold call for new thinking. And what is particularly striking is the extent to which many of the individual views recorded in the report (600 experts were consulted by the commission) resonate with the critique offered by Life-Based Learning, itself a bold call for new thinking in which life itself and the life challenges that we all face – now and in the future – become the focus of a fully-rounded approach to children’s learning and development.

There are many purposes of education, writes Rachel Sylvester, a Times journalist and the chair of the commission, but underlying them all is “the need to give young people the intellectual and emotional tools to live productive, fulfilling lives.”

Who would argue with that?

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?

The clear consensus view among the 600 or so experts who were consulted by the commission is that change is “overdue and vital”.

It is also clear from the report that the commission itself believes that preparing children for the world of work in the twenty-first century is a fundamental priority –­ and that the current education system is failing badly on that score too:

There is a significant mismatch between the capabilities being developed in school and those that the economy needs. The gap between supply and demand is already widening fast in so called ‘green jobs’, including roles in battery technology, and the digital sector, with positions relating to software programming and cybersecurity going unfilled.

from the Times Education Commission report

Another – linked – criticism is that the current education system doesn’t help children become active and creative thinkers: how do we expect to have a dynamic, innovative and responsive economy if the workforce can’t think creatively? One of the report twelve recommendations is a new focus on creativity and entrepreneurialism in education “to unleash the economic potential of Britain”.

Children are creative, they love building and making things . . . but as they get closer to GCSEs and A-levels all that is squashed out of them,” he said. “It’s all about rote-learning, not about using your imagination. The system doesn’t measure creativity; it measures what you can remember of other people’s facts.

The inventor Sir James Dyson, quoted in the report

Life-Based Learning and the purpose of education

“We’re educating children for a world that doesn’t exist.” That’s the verdict of Lisa Mannall, chief executive of a learning trust and a former regional schools commissioner.

Life-Based Learning (LBL) is also a bold and imaginative vision for children’s learning. It is very much about the world as it does exist – the world around us – and our place in it. Life-based Learning aims to bring greater meaning to learning, particularly subject learning, by making life itself the primary purpose – and focus – of learning.

It’s a goal that, according to a survey quoted by the commission, is shared by many parents. Almost two thirds of parents, it says, think that the education system does not adequately prepare young people for work or life. Parents overwhelmingly prioritise their child’s wellbeing over academic attainment — by a majority of ten to one — and they feel that schools focus too narrowly on exams.

So do we.

We owe it to our children to equip them with the knowledge, skills and values to find health and happiness in the modern world and to better prepare them — as they grow into adulthood — to manage the life-threatening challenges facing individuals, societies and environments across the planet. This is an urgent priority. Time is not on our side.

Our LBL blogs are packed with evidence of the urgent need for change in children’s learning from early age through to adulthood. We focus particularly on issues that urgently need addressing. We feature individuals and organisations crying out for children’s learning to be brought up to date with the rapidly changing world and the increasingly uncertain times that are the hallmark of life in the twenty-first century. We also highlight examples of outstanding practice — people and organisations who are making a difference and who offer information and resources useful to anyone with an interest in children and young people’s education and development.

Read More About New Thinking

Image at the head of this article by Pezibear from Pixabay.

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