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What is the purpose of education?

In this issue 2 of The Conversation we asked “What is the purpose of education?” There are of course many ways to answer this questions.

In a 2013 TED Talk Sir Ken Robinson says that the purpose of education is learning. “The

whole point of education is to get people to learn.” (

How many of our conversations in schools, colleges, universities are about learning? How many of our meetings have learning as the main agenda item? Do we talk about the learning of our students enough? (And by the way, it is my opinion that discussion and analysis of progress data of one sort or another is NOT talking about the

learning of students.) If then, we are not talking about learning, why not? And does this mean that we are wasting time and effort on things that are less important or subservient to learning?

But, after all that, we must still address the question of what we actually are trying to get our students to learn. OFSTED chief Amanda Spielman has recently discussed moving the mindset of inspections away from focussing on exam results and towards considering the curriculum offer a school provides. "Ultimately, the curriculum is the yardstick for what school leaders want their pupils to know and to be able to do by the time they leave school. It is therefore imperative that the new inspection framework has curriculum as a central focus.” (

Well that is nice but she doesn’t seem to be offering any guidance on what that curriculum offer should be. It seems that schools will have to justify their choices as to what they want their students to learn as well as their performance data.

So what should our students learn? I think that the answer to that question depends on your educational philosophy. For me the need is urgent. We must teach our students to be critical thinkers with the ability to question those in authority, to have the ability NOT to swallow anything and everything they read, hear or see in this post truth era. We must teach them to be creative, independent, resilient and optimistic. How we do that is another question.

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