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The Purpose of Education


I set out to discover the purpose of ‘education’ after hearing about the purposed campaign.  After reviewing some quotes from influential scholars and some definitions on the web, a four-sided picture of education's purpose came to mind.  I began with the Wikipedia definition of education.

Education in the largest sense is any act or experience that has a formative effect on the mind, character or physical ability of an individual. In its technical sense, education is the process by which society deliberately transmits its accumulated knowledge, skills and values from one generation to another. ~  Wikipedia

The words ‘act’ and ‘experience' jumped out at me as those formative effects that can happen everywhere and any time throughout our lives.  But then ‘deliberately transmits’ worried me.  Probably because it gives the impression that content must be deliberately pushed onto learners in an particular place and time.  Then I remembered something I had heard about pull vs. push, or rather what my friend Scott Gould calls “pulley”: “the right balance of push and pull”.

This brought me to the first 'purpose of education'; to negotiate a balance of push and pull between learners and their sources.

Sometimes learners need permission to pull from their own set of sources.  Teachers, peers, and parents simply need to push the content in their direction, so that learners may discover what they’re looking for and then engage with it.   The pulley-like rotation of push and pull between learners and their sources made me reflect more deeply on the word ‘purpose’.  While reading, again on Wikipedia, I discovered this quotation which resonated.

Purpose-guided education prioritizes intrinsic motivation and helps students to become more engaged in learning experiences through connecting their beliefs and life goals to curricular requirements. ~ Jerry Pattengale

I liked the word ‘their’ because it points to the importance of the student’s, or the learner’s own intrinsic motivation. Education needs to be focused on ‘their’ beliefs and ‘their’ life goals.  The priority isn’t  on pushing ‘them’ to pass tests.

Does the present education system focus on their beliefs and goals? Better yet, does the present education system focus on ‘our’ beliefs and goals?  If not, what can we do about it?

To answer that we must look within.  I looked within myself and something Sir Ken Robinson said about the value of the individual comes to mind.

Make the most of whatever it is that floats your boat…

Only when the learner recognises and rejoices in ‘their’ own purpose can they enjoy the process of learning. To keep the boat of the individual learner afloat, we need to become each other’s sources and understand each other’s motivations.  I think the educational phrase is ‘Jane is highly motivated, she loves XYZ’.  Our purpose is something that we love, so it motivates us.

Purpose: The idea that a final goal is implicit in all living organisms. With teleology (purpose) matter is fulfilling some aim from within. ~  Wikipedia

Without wandering too near to spiritual matters, a ‘final goal’ indicates that a purpose must have a destination. The idea of fulfilling an ‘aim from within’ reveals the starting point of the education process. If the learner is motivated to float their boat toward their purpose, we should help them set sail beyond the rough waters of the past.

Build an education system that feeds inquisitiveness ~  John Abbott

The second ‘purpose of education’ is about stepping outside the boundaries of old systems so that we may learn everywhere.  Education is not confined to a school, or a university, or a workplace, it is an ongoing, perimeterless, living, life-long process that “feeds inquisitiveness” and raises consciousness.

Is it consciousness-raising? …in other words does it reveals possibilities that the learner is able to discover, possibilities that they can act upon? ~ Anne Shaw

We don’t know what future jobs will be, so education should nurture and inspire a life-long inquisitiveness focused on what’s interesting to the learner, no matter where they may be.   Asking, “what do you want to be when you grow up?” is the wrong question.  Maybe instead we should ask, “what do you want to be now?”

Explorable opportunities are everywhere and learners should be encouraged to be what they want to be in their moment of inquisitiveness. As learners we ask questions, we get our hands dirty.  Sometimes we succeed at being what we want to be, sometimes we fail. In the sandbox of life our castles may crumble, but we can always keep building, or trying something new.

Sometimes it takes others who are wiser than us, or who simply have a knack for being who we want to be.  Forcing square pegs into round holes is a huge waste of time that only creates unhappy people. Nobody wants to be pushed into being something they’re not.  The “learning ecosystem” recognizes that.

In a learning ecosystem, the objective is to induce change to behaviours that meets the overall organisational objectives. Again, forcing people to change is nigh-on impossible. The Learning & Development team can only provide the conditions in which change is more likely. ~ Mark Berthelemy

In my recent post ‘Educational change starts locally‘ which touched on some important elements within a ecosystem, I presented a case for a holistic approach to ‘education’ that sees beyond the four walls known as school. It starts with a loving commitment from parents at ‘home’, which is supported by friends, colleagues and local businesses within a ‘community’ with ‘school’ being the place where you can experiment in a supportive environment with other ‘like minds’. John Abbot describes this as:

Home – Emotional Development

Community -Inspiration for life in general

School – Intellectual power, how to draw the ideas together

Education – Joining of those three things to get balance.

He goes on to describe the value of 'social capital'.

Social Capital is the meeting and exchanging of ideas through conversation with others. If we want children to be ready for the future we all have to be involved with it. This the beginning of a revolution that is most needed.

The third 'purpose of education' is to fill our learning ecosystem with engaging experiences and conversations. Roger Schank had to say about it…

You don’t learn anything unless you remember it. Memory comes from having had experience. Experiences have to have certain properties, they have to be, emotional, exciting, contain a surprise or a challenge; without those properties, you don’t remember them.

In order for emotional and exciting engagements to take place, John Abbott reminds us to:

Stop talking ‘at’ learners and start talking ‘with’ them.

Being ‘talked at’ is not an effective way to learn. So why do we spend so much time talking ‘to’ learners and lecturing them? It seems to me that if education wants to make a true shift it must first re-learn how we actually learn, through conversation and experience. Jay Cross suggests that:

Learning implies school. School is chock full of formal learning — courses, classes, and grades that obscure the fact that most learning at school is either self-directed or informal. Informal learning is effective because it is personal. The individual calls the shots. The learner is responsible. It’s real. Most of what we learn, we learn from other people — parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, brothers, sisters, playmates, cousins, Little Leaguers, Scouts, school chums, room mates, teammates, classmates, study groups, coaches, bosses, mentors, colleagues, gossips, co-workers, neighbors, and, eventually, our children. Sometimes we even learn from teachers.

If a balance between ‘formal’ and ‘informal’ learning can be aligned so that it fits within a personalised context, an opportunity for learners to see the true value of their education can be assured. We are living in a state of permanent 'perpetual beta' (via Harold Jarche) and education needs to reflect it.

Finally there is the fourth identified 'purpose of education': to combine collective wisdom through listening and balancing the hopes and dreams of those who will inherit what we leave behind.

Let’s support learning everywhere, let's support Purposed.

I want to create my own ladder and climb it at my own pace. ~ Micah Stubblefield

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 Photo credit: Renato Ganoza / Foter / CC BY
The Purpose of Education Reviewed by Paul Simbeck-Hampson on 11:00 AM Rating: 5
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