Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The Purpose of Education (for purpos/ed)

Do you see irony in the above image?

When considering the purposes of education, I think it is important to acknowledge that we are in a new era of human experience, requiring educational purposes that differ from those of our industrial past.

Numerous thinkers agree that a new era has begun. Ken Robinson calls it the Organic Age, John Seeley Brown the Exponential World, Scott McLoed the Information Age, Dan Pink the Conceptual Age, and Thomas Friedman Globalization 3.0.

So to me, questions around the purposes of education begin with: What kinds of adults do we want our children to become? Thus, the focal point of education is the growth and development of people – not the abstractions or objects that consume so much energy today such as test scores, buses, buildings, budgets, and pages vs. screens.

One purpose of education is to prepare young people to become productive members of society through the acquisition of skills and knowledge that enable them to accomplish work and solve problems. How young people exercise their productive roles will vary greatly – some may seek to preserve, protect, or sustain society; others to shape or lead it. Some may seek its improvement; others may plan to ennoble, enlighten, or entertain it. Still others may endeavor to question or challenge it. Some will commence their productivity when young, others when they are older. Many will change or combine roles over their lifetimes.

Individuals may play various roles, and follow differing timelines in performing them. Education should allow for multiple ways of and settings for acquiring and demonstrating learning, within flexible scheduling arrangements. These ideas form a second educational purpose: to recognize and foster diversity in many forms.

A third educational purpose is to enable young people to understand, appreciate, and function effectively within multiple cultures; those that make up their local, national, and global environments. This involves their empathy, collaboration, and leadership. It can be fostered when learning experiences in the arts, sciences, and humanities are organized in interdisciplinary, problem-solving, project-based contexts; as well as in non-traditional educative settings, especially when it is leveraged by the accelerating capabilities afforded by ever more powerful digital and other technologies.

A fourth educational purpose is to prepare adolescents for their roles as parents. We know too much about how effective parenting can help new mothers and fathers contribute to the lifelong well being of their children to leave acquisition of parenting skills and knowledge to chance.

As human life is prolonged and our environment becomes increasingly stressed, a fifth educational purpose is to develop practices, skills, and knowledge related to personal and community health.

These new era educational purposes require strategies that, as Ken Robinson says, “educate from the inside out,” not from outside in. This education enables individuals to construct a more authentic sense of self, one connected to their personal talents while cultivating their imaginations. It builds self-confidence, self-awareness, self-efficacy, and reflection while fostering divergent, lateral thinking (part 2, part 3) and problem solving in varied social settings.

School is but one educational setting. Relevance and personalization serve to maximize the impact of education for the learner. The new purposes of education are about customization, aiming toward cultivation of wisdom.

1 comment:

Doug Belshaw said...

Some solid-gold nuggets in there, Jim! I especially like the importance you stress upon self-efficacy and parenting. I think that, too often, by stressing (one, slightly warped version of) 'diversity' we neglect to uphold the good things.