4 Purposes of Education

What are the purposes of education? Sir Ken Robinson has covered a multitude of concepts surrounding education. One of his videos was posted in July of this year on YouTube. He discussed how to change education from the ground up. I saw a different title in the video: 4 Purposes of Education. Are there more? Possibly. We could delve deeply into it, but there are books for that…and TED Talks. Here are the 4 purposes as Sir Ken outlines them:

  1. Economic: education will contribute to the economic system. We want our children to be economically independent.
  2. Cultural: how have we come to the place we are in regarding our views? What is our worldview…our cultural identity? Learning our own identity and that of others is crucial to being part of society and not just a bystander.
  3. Social: how do we fit into this society? This is not a plug for conformity. Rather, it is a case against it. To enjoy your place in the world and contribute as an individual thinker who can collaborate and share.
  4. Personal: education is about people being educated. It’s all about people. Not tests, or supplies, or technology. The relationship between people and how that plays out is the crux of this thing we call education. Without it, true learning doesn’t develop. We can experience a transfer of knowledge, and we can learn on our own, but education is supposed to create an environment where you can integrate your individual learning with the learning you experience with other people.

One of the most provoking concepts that Sir Ken went on to say after his analysis of the four purposes was a thought experiment: getting back to the basics. He references a book entitled The Empty Space by theatre director Peter Brook. In the book, Peter Brook describes the simplistic nature of theatre were it to be stripped to its most fundamental attributes. What exactly do you need to have in order to have “theatre”? Sir Ken retells this by saying that the most fundamental thing about theatre is the people. You cannot have theatre without actors and an audience and the relationship between them. You see where this is going, don’t you. Education is built on the relationship between the teacher and the student(s). I’ll break it down even further. It is the relationship between one learner and another. After all, we as teachers are learners, too, right? Right. Most importantly, as Sir Ken says, At the heart of education is a teacher and a learner.

Here is a link to the video of Sir Ken with a few of my own ideas and questions to go along with it at certain moments: https://richardlane.makes.org/popcorn/1icd

If you don’t want the written commentary, here is the original YouTube version.

A final takeaway (for me, anyway). Learning will happen anyway. It will happen spontaneously. It is enriched, expanded, and enlightened when it happens among people and not just by people. The education system should not be reduced to a simple delivery system for content. Technology can do that. That is why, instead of asking why we need teachers or thinking that they can be replaced, we need to ask ourselves how teachers can most impact learning. What can they provide that technology cannot? Simple. A relationship.


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