Welcome to Purpos/ed. We’ve been bursting at the seams waiting for this day to come when we can share with you our hopes, dreams and plans about sparking a debate about the purpose of education!
We’re delighted to have onboard Prof. Keri Facer of Manchester Metropolitan University (and formerly of Futurelab). Keri gave an inspirational keynote to the JISC Innovating e-Learning conference 2010 questioning the purpose of educational institutions. After much discussion this led directly to us working on setting up Purpos/ed. Her exhortation to get involved (along with some very pertinent questions) can be found below.
Much, much more to come – but for now, make sure you’ve signed up to the newsletter and you’re following @purposeducation on Twitter! We’ll keep you informed.
Doug Belshaw & Andy Stewart (Kickstarters, Purpos/ed)
What is education for? This, as Philip Larkin might once have said, is the sort of question that brings the priest and the doctor running across the fields in their long coats. Or at least, the education experts, the pundits, the industrialists with an axe to grind, the revolutionaries wanting new worlds, and, occasionally, the students, parents and community members whose lives might be most immediately affected.
Everyone seems to have an opinion on education. Everyone knows what’s wrong with it, from the disenchanted educator to the frustrated parent. Everyone knows which bit of madness they’d like to tweak, which daft policy they’d get rid of, which irritant they’d soothe.
But where do all these voices and these concerns come together to listen to each other, to resolve their concerns, to reach consensus or at least understand the nature of their disagreements? Where is the forum where we take a look not only at the parts but at the big picture of educational purpose?
Today, we seem to have lost our capacity to have an informed public debate on the big picture questions about education. Instead, in the popular media we see the annual ritual surrounding exam results exam results and the tired old debates over teaching early literacy. The recent public protests over the future of HE didn’t ask what university education was for, simply how to pay for it. The recent government White Paper on education felt no need to offer a vision vision of educational purpose, other than the desire to score more highly on league tables designed by economists in which half the countries don’t play by the rules. The think tanks tend to operate within one ideology or delight in playing off opinions and anecdotes against each other without moving the debate forward.
There is an urgent need to have a serious public debate about the purpose of education that doesn’t simply divide itself neatly into opposing camps rehashing the familiar arguments between progressives and traditionalists. There is an urgent need to have a serious public debate about the purpose of education that builds bridges between students, educators and the wider public. It is not enough to proclaim that education is a public good and should be protected, when it is clear that some students take their education and translate it into employment that radically exploits those who have paid for it. It is not enough to proclaim that education is a personal matter, when without an educated, intelligent population, we cannot expect long term security or wellbeing for anyone.
The next couple of decades bring serious challenges. They bring economic challenges that will require us to think carefully about the relationship between education, enterprise and society. They bring demographic change that threatens to undermine the intergenerational contract and that unsettles the assumption that adults will always have young people’s best interests at heart. They bring technological change that throws up into the air our ideas about intelligence, about human-machine relationships, about what it means to ‘be human’. They bring environmental and energy challenges that require us to develop the creativity, ingenuity and compassion for more sustainable ways of life.
We’re not going to address these challenges through a hollowed out and polarised debate about education. Nor are we going to address them by thinking that education is the universal panacea that will fix all of these issues on its
own. Instead, we need to create mature public space where we can start to think creatively about the sorts of futures we want to see, the sorts of capacities that this will require from us as individuals, as citizens, as workers and as parents, and the sorts of education that we therefore need to build. I very much hope that this site can start to develop that debate.
In the hope that these ideas might be achieved, I’d like to suggest some questions that contributors to the site could explore:
- What is your vision for the good society?
- What is the part that education can play in achieving that and what is the part that others need to play? Who are these others? What is/what should be their relationship to education?
- What are the building blocks we have in our schools and universities already that could move them towards that role?
- What are the building blocks outside formal education?
- What are the impediments to change and what causes them? And are there good reasons for these?
- What can I see of merit in the ideas of those who disagree with me?
- Do the ideas I suggest draw on the expertise and insight of others?
- Do the ideas I suggest offer enough benefit to outweight the disruption that they would cause in their realisation? how would we get there?