Around 4 or 5 years ago while working in the Middle East as an educational consultant I asked around 200 colleagues as to what they considered the purpose of education to be via email. I then analysed the words which those who replied used in their response. At the time the word which came out as the most frequently used was “knowledge”.
At the time I wondered about this given access to the internet and its apparently boundless “knowledge”. At the time 21st century skills were widely talked about as important however when it came down to it those working in education still clung to the importance of knowledge. Words such as creativity, critical thinking, collaboration and communication appeared significantly less frequently.
It is a recent blog (See full blog here) which makes me reflect on my findings back then as it raises the issue of identifying what the purpose of education really is. Mr Ferriters argument focuses on EdTech use although beyond this he goes to suggest that the superficial usage of EdTech may be the result of the pressures being put on teachers to achieve high student results in the terms of standardized tests.
This use of tests including PISA tests to measure the success of teaching and of education in a wider sense seems to imply that the purpose of education is to get students high test results. I have very strong beliefs that this narrow view on education is damaging to student learning. As educators is the purpose of education not to prepare students for the future, with the skills required to deal with the largely unpredictable and the often changeable. Is education not about developing students as adaptable, resilient, self-aware, responsible members of local and global society? And if this is the case how do a series of test questions fit into the equation?
The big question is how we balance the requirements of accountability and the need for quantifiable and comparable data such as that presented by testing with the requirements to develop students as individuals prepared for what lies ahead, and the qualitative data this produces. I would suggest that I don’t know what the answer is to this dilemma however we are currently progressing steadily more towards the quantifiable end of the balance, with the continuing focus being put on exam results and standardized tests. I believe we need to re-establish a balance here before we lose sight of the importance of some of the less quantifiable but equally (and possibly more) important activities carried out within classrooms across the world. After all are we in the business of building students into test taking machines that regurgitate facts and knowledge or are we trying to develop individuals capable of life long learning?