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The purpose of education? Young people should learn to know, learn to work, learn to live together, and learn to be

arms-up-1024Anne-Marie-DuguidLearning from the past and embracing the present are just as important as thinking about the future, writes Anne-Marie Duguid…

More and more I am asking myself the question: who is education for? What is the true purpose? Are we always educating to get somewhere? Or to provide a gateway of credits of experience? Or are we educating to make sense of the present as well?

What are our core beliefs for our young people?

If the core purpose is to provide learners with the best life chance opportunities, what does that mean? We hear the term 21st century skills many times; that we are preparing people for a future that doesn’t yet exist. Yes, all true. But let’s remember that in doing so we must build on past experiences, and remember and respect the present.

And the future? Employability is what it’s all about, many would say. However, a Montrose blog on 19 May pointed out that many in government seem to believe that career education simply means employer engagement and work-related learning. The OECD, the blog notes, suggests a much broader definition: career education programmes should involve help and support for individuals to develop their ‘self-awareness, opportunity awareness, and career management skills’.

What will employers look for now, when they can choose from the plethora of unemployed graduates? Those that offer something different. Can they think critically? Communicate with people at any level? Work as part of a team? Be motivated to work alone with no pattern or routine? Work with someone at the other side of the world without face-to-face contact? Keep working creatively at a problem until a solution is found, or many solutions are found?

Can they cope with failure and change direction? Are they innovators? Are they confident? Are they risk taking? If they take on team management roles, can they see how, by empowering others collectively, you can have a much stronger team than by trying to simply direct?

We should be aiming, then, to ensure our students are indispensable to society as well as to employers. How do we begin to achieve all this, with reference to both the present and the future?

If we have a curriculum designed to suit our students in our (and their) context; empower our students to be the best they can be, principled and creative; ensure values are at the heart of what we all do; provide sustained professional development for our teachers; focus on pedagogical approaches both generic and subject-specific – then, outcomes will improve. This is not about reverting to AS Neill’s Summerhill experience: we have to make this work within the society we live in. But, there are some lessons to learn from this, from High Tech High and many more radical examples.

There is no blueprint for where we should go from where we are now. If this is truly to be a school-led system, then we must grasp the freedoms. This could be our chance to get it right – to make something that wasn’t there before. To learn from the past and embrace the present, as well as thinking about the future. That, I believe, is a more practical view of our challenge.

Our beliefs

In consultation with Humanutopia, SSAT have articulated the following beliefs to give young people the best chance through their education:

  • Students have a right to be happy and they need support with mental health and wellbeing.
  • Education is about making sense of your past, being confident about your present and having hopes and dreams for the future.
  • Students have the capacity to grow experientially and cognitively.
  • Students should learn to know, learn to work, learn to live together and learn to be.
  • Students should be given the language and opportunity to reflect on their actions.
  • Students should think about themselves as both British citizens and global citizens.
  • Students should be given opportunities to lead their own work, both within and beyond the formal curriculum and school.
  • Students should be encouraged to pursue their own dreams, interests and the vocation they choose.

Do you agree? What do we want our children to be and how can we get there?


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