What is the purpose of the education system?

Is education still about getting a job? If its not then what is its purpose?

Asked on the my3P discussion on LinkedIn. (Ask me to connect with you.) “The my3P global advisory group helps shape our Youth Social Enterprise & Innovation program.”

Education does not have a single purpose, but many purposes proposed for a variety of reasons, economic, political, religious, and other. Among the purposes I have seen are

  • Creating a polis, a community in which every free citizen could participate in politics effectively (Athens, Greece, in the Classical period; John Dewey, Democracy and Education)
  • Making it possible for everybody to read the Bible and form their own relationship with God based on it (Scottish Enlightenment)
  • Enabling each child to realize his or her potential (Maria Montessori, Caleb Gattegno, Seymour Papert, Buckminster Fuller, and many others)
  • Providing narrowly educated workers, government bureaucrats, professionals, and soldiers who could not interfere with the King’s plans for war and conquest but could carry them out efficiently (Prussia and other European empires, non-European empires) in one school system, and aristocrats and industrial leaders who could plan the wars in another system
  • Keeping colonized peoples under control (European and other empires again) or keeping nominally free peoples in post-Colonial countries under control
  • Keeping slaves, and later freed slaves and other lower orders “in their place” (Former slave and Confederate states in the US)
  • Ensuring religious orthodoxy (various religious groups, including the Catholic Church, the Prussian religious allies of the King, the US Religious Right, and so on. Also Hindutva in India, Sinhalatva in Sri Lanka, and others like them.)
  • Ending poverty and enabling a billion children at a time to learn to enhance the world’s collective intelligence in order to deal with other pressing problems (Nicholas Negroponte, One Laptop Per Child; Walter Bender, Sugar Labs; Alan Kay, Squeakland; Doug Engelbart, SRI)

The educational theory and practice of all but the last of these were finely honed over centuries. The last is a constellation of relatively new ideas enabled by new technologies, which is still being worked out in practice. But we know already how to help children learn cooperation (Axelrod, The Evolution of Cooperation; Paley, You Can’t Say You Can’t Play) and non-helplessness (Seligman, Learned Helplessness), assisted by Free Software and Creative Commons and by the Internet.


About mokurai

Generalist; End poverty at a profit for all
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1 Response to What is the purpose of the education system?

  1. The learner’s best purpose, I propose, is delight in accomplishing insight (the aha! experience) and the consequent empowerment to accomplish other chosen goals. When these goals are self selected, and eagerly sought, the rate of learning and the overcoming of barriers can be truly awesome. When this is fettered by rules attempting to form complete uniformity of result, e. g. teaching to a common test, most of that success is sure to be lost. When each student is also a teaching resource for other students, the richness of understanding by both is deeply enhanced. We will, I suggest, succeed more richly in an environment which assumes and provides true abundance of both educational and supportive resources. Pleasure comes naturally to all participants in such nurturing environments.

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