What Is The Purpose Of Education?

There has been a lot of talk about what education is going to look like this fall. From elementary schools all the way through college classes, how to safeguard our students and teachers? To decide, we need to know the purpose of education.

Unfortunately, there is no ideal solution to the current situation.

Parents are torn, as they want their children to be safe from illness. But many also want or need to return to work, and they can’t afford to stay home with children doing remote learning.

Teachers are conflicted. In-person instruction is most effective, and is what they know and are familiar with. However, they don’t want to spread disease in their communities, and they want to keep the most at-risk school employees healthy.

Students are in a bind. They want to see their friends, and return to the life they know. And yet, many of them don’t want to carry sickness to family members, particularly older or already ailing relatives.

To make a decision, it is important to have a common understanding of what education is for. For instance, will we make well-rounded adults for the future? Rather, is it to create independent thinkers?

Do we expect education to be primarily a social setting, for learning how to interact with others? Alternately, it might be a way to provide that children are not at home, but they have someone looking out for the and keeping them out of trouble.

Another possibility is to train the next generation of work labor, to take their place on the rung of our economic ladder. Additionally, as a stepping-stone for future education, be it high school, or college, or graduate school, or night classes, etc.

It probably is some combination of all of these, and more. In short, what do you think is the primary purpose of schools? What is the purpose of education?

Related questions: How do you learn? What’s the most useful thing you’ve ever learned? How do you evaluate risk? Who was your best teacher?

4 thoughts on “What Is The Purpose Of Education?”

  1. I think the primary purpose of education is to get students to love learning. That way, they continue to learn, no matter how old they are or whatever else they might be doing. It creates intellectually curious people, which is ultimately beneficial for society.

    Not so much, however, for those in power. An educated populace is harder to lead. So the natural pressure is for those in charge to try to weaken education.

  2. To begin, let’s recognize that teachers are placed with challenging, if not impossible, expectations (especially in under-funded schools). Not only are they to teach the content of the courses they are in charge of, they must also — in schools without adequate guidance counselors/social workers — address the competing needs of students with economic, mental, and emotional difficulties with the rest of the students in the classroom. Top this off with the broader purpose of education — to prepare students to be economically-, culturally-, and civically-engaged in the world they are a part of — it’s hard to think how in normal circumstances teachers can possess the superhero powers to meet these obligations.

    Now, with today’s challenges of COVID-19 (which the question context quite adequately described) and the economic crisis (which will likely lead to further cuts in education funding as well as more difficulties for low-income students), it is truly beyond me to imagine how we meet the many purposes education is supposed to fulfill.

  3. “Education” doesn’t have a neutral, default purpose. It serves the purpose it’s designed for. One reason that chambers of commerce are big proponents of education is because they want the purpose they have in mind met: specifically job skills and an obedient attitude. The political parties compete for control of school boards because they want their political purposes met: converse the status quo, or progress social change.

    One fundamental criticism of education is that it promotes the “banking” of information, as Paulo Freire called it. Students are passive recipients of information that is “deposited” in their heads, which they are encouraged to accept without question. Freire, a key proponent of what’s called “critical pedagogy,” saw education as a partnership between the educator and the learner that is designed to promote greater levels of liberty and personal freedom by fostering critical thinking skills.

    The earlier you can foster critical thinking skills the better. Once people are socialized into a certain set of beliefs, all kinds of research show that changing those beliefs is hard. Confirmation bias prevents contrary information from being accepted. Usually, you need some kind of crisis or “disorienting dilemma” to force you to reevaluate what you believe and open yourself up to new perspectives.

  4. To gain skills – critical thinking skills, social skills, job skills, everyday living skills. Also to help satisfy the need for mental development and accomplishment and contributing to society.

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