What is the purpose of education?

The black and white Purpos/ed logo which features speech marks...
Here is my contribution to the Purpos/ed project. This is an unsolicited 500 words answering the question: ‘What is the purpose of Education’.

The purpose of education is to perpetuate and strengthen democracy.

We take democracy for granted in the same way as we take going to bed with a full stomach, or not having our houses totally destroyed and our families killed by an enormous wave which arrives without warning. It’s all too human to take things for granted and some would argue it’s a necessary psychological adaptation, as constant anxiety can paralyse us. But history tells us that democracy is not some kind of everlasting stable state, it is rather an ongoing project which needs people’s contribution. Democracy can disappear and be replaced by oppressive regimes (rise of Fascism in the 1930s), or it can decay and be eroded. Many would argue that democracy in the UK is undergoing this decaying process now; particularly in regards to movements of powers to the EU, or the power of multinationals to override the wishes of the population. That is a debate for another project. I merely assert here that compared to so many other societies in the world, ours is a democracy where the rule of law is upheld (we put MPs who fiddled their expenses in prison!), and there are many checks and balances to prevent tyranny and oppression.

The purpose of education is to perpetuate and strengthen democracy, because without democracy then knowledge, understanding and skills would be worth nothing or a fraction of their true value. If we are not free, then what we ‘know’ cannot be free either. And as democracy is a project, the purpose of education is to prepare people to take part in this system. And I don’t mean some cobbled together lessons about the importance of using your vote or the history of the UK parliament squeezed into the gaps where young people are not being shoved through the hurdles of the GCSE and E Bac or whatever other measure the politicians of the day have deemed to be important. What I mean when I speak of education for democracy is an education which starts with teaching an individual how to value themselves, how to see their potential and realise this potential. Democracy, which we tend to think of as a collective entity, begins and ends with ourselves. Democratic education should also help people learn how to relate to others, how to communicate effectively and plan and execute projects. Luckily many of these skills are transferable to the workplace and can be ‘cashed in’, particularly in a knowledge economy

The purpose of education is to perpetuate and strengthen democracy because this project is not finished and we need new generations to uphold the gains made so far and contribute to further work to ensure that people are treated equally and groups cannot oppress other groups.

The purpose of education is to perpetutate and strengthen democracy. It’s not to teach people who Miss Havisham is.

7 thoughts on “What is the purpose of education?

  1. Hi Matt, thanks for the contribution! I’d go a bit meta on this and suggest that one of the purposes of education is to educate young people to realise that democracy is in their best interests, rather than inculcate it. Learning always works best through self-realisation and pennies dropping! 🙂

  2. Yes this is an excellent point but… I also feel that education is a means to self emancipation and a realization that the society that one is within is a social construction. Once having realized this then the best form of government (so far) is democracy because it is always an unfinished project and as soon as people realize how precious a democracy is then hopefully they will engage with it and support its continuation. That’s my 2 cent worth, nice post by the way.

  3. The civilising influence of arts and culture, as opposed to the benefits of more utilitarian fare, are often some way down the list in debates of this nature. In a democracy we are all permitted access to music, poetry, art, drama, etc and it seems to me that part of what education should be about is to open our eyes to the power of these arts to nourish and move us emotionally and spiritually. It’s incidental that we get to know who Miss Havisham is but fundamental that we are ‘free’ to acquire this knowledge in the first place.

    • thanks for commenting Linda, and you are right that arts and culture often get relegated down the debate. Of course my comment about Miss Havisham was a little arch, I am a literature graduate myself, and Great Expectations is my favourite Dickens’ novel; it is dark and sinister in ways that his others are not so well worth a read. But the insistence on the ‘canon’ and the learning of facts which the UK government now embraces is a long way from what is needed in education. Facts and a knowledge of the canon are irrelevant unless we can give young people a firm sense of the broader outline of what democracy is and how it helps them lead fulfilled lives.

  4. Pingback: The Dangers of US Decay Within the Foundation of its Democracy. « We dream of things that never were and say: "Why not?"

  5. The purpose of education is to guide human beings to achieve the basic life goals, which is to exist, multiply and act positively in caring for the environment and contributing to the society.

    Education is more than schooling and is the process of dispelling human ignorance of the world as well as developing the inherent potential for perfection. Every human being without exception is seeking for happiness in life and has the inherent potential to live happily. Also, the resources needed to attain happiness in life are in the world. Unfortunately, human beings lack a clear understanding of how to development his/her potential as well as utilize the resources in the world to attain happiness in life. The purpose of education is therefore to develop our potential and to guide us to understand the resources in the world as well as utilize our potentials and the resources to attain happiness in life.

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