The Purpose of Education

Written as part of September’s #blogsync project.

The Purpose of Education

Part of me wonders where even to begin. And part of me feels guilty that I don’t already have this clearly defined in my mind. After all, if education is the mainstay of my life’s work, then surely I should know why I’m doing it.  But, of course, reality is that there are many competing “purposes” which impinge of my work, not all of which are part of my philosophy and not all of which I properly address.

That said, after some brief thought, I ended up with a not-entirely-unpredictable conclusion. To me, the purpose of education is Broadening Horizons.

I think it’s worth contrasting this with some things that might otherwise come up and with which I can’t agree. For example, although a socialist of sorts, I don’t see the purpose of education as being to remove inequality. Obviously I would hope that it might go some way to doing that, but that is not its purpose. After all, if it were simply that, then it would be far simpler simply to hold back the opportunities of the ‘haves’ in order that the ‘have-nots’ might catch up.

It also isn’t simply about employability. Again, hopefully the by-product of a good education is the employability of its recipients. But again, if we were looking only to fill job posts then there must be easier ways.

I think the reason I reached Broadening Horizons as my conclusion is because of its over-arching nature. Each of the students in our care will take something different from the education offered to them. For some it will be limited, for others it may be a springboard, but most importantly for all of them it ought to offer something that they might not otherwise have encountered.

The offer seems more obvious for those children from backgrounds where even basic literacy and numeracy present a challenge. In these cases it is absolutely necessary that the horizons of such children are broadened to encompass some of the essential building blocks of social life and communication. True, they are the basic skills of employability, but also of engagement in wider society, of culture, of pleasure and so much more.

But even at the other end of the extreme, education should offer those who seem to have much, an opportunity to have some knowledge or experience of that which is ordinarily outside their existence. In an affluent area, with well-supported students, the basic skills are of course just as important. But so too are the opportunities to recognise that not everyone lives in the same way. To recognise too that things have not always been so.

The latest incarnation of the National Curriculum, which Mr Gove and his allies consider to contains the greatest of all that has been said and done (or various other combinations of verbs) offers something of this. The recognition that there are many aspects of history, society and culture which are valued widely and so should be shared widely with our children is not an unreasonable one. That’s not to say that I believe that the choices made are always correct, but the underlying premise is sound: that all of our students deserve something more than just a diet that resembles that which they already know.

Other blogsync entries can be found at

Debates go on quite regularly about the place of ‘relevance’ and ‘engagement’ in classrooms. I’d argue that all learning can be relevant if we value it for what it is. And true, sometimes it’s useful to have familiar content or contexts as a starting point, but the true purpose of education ought to be about more than that. It should be taking that which is familiar to our students and showing them how their experience fits into that of the wider world; introducing them to knowledge, ideas and experience which they might not otherwise have met.

The 0.4 hinge-point of Hattie’s work is now familiar to many: we talk of a difference between that which works (pretty much everything) and that which makes more of a difference than any random intervention. We need to look at schooling the same way. Our purpose should be to have a far greater impact on a student’s life, to introduce them to more, to broaden their horizons in a way that might never have been achieved had it not been for those important years of education.

Other #blogsync 7 entries can be found at:

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2 thoughts on “The Purpose of Education

  1. Whatever next? 16 September 2013 at 7:29 am Reply

    An interesting viewpoint, worth reading. thank you.

  2. […] Tidd: The purpose of Education? – Broadening […]

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