The Purpose of School

Our Current System

As an architect designs buildings to match its function,  so an educator must craft what is taught to serve a purpose.  Many years ago, I attended Asia’s first TED x ED talk, which led me to ponder whether our education system is truly designed for a purpose.

Dr. Jadis Blurton from Hong Kong Harbour School used the suitcase metaphor to explain our current school system. Students compartmentalise what they learn into a “suitcase”. They travel with these “suitcases” throughout their schooling years.  When they reach their destination–the workplace, they “unpack” what they have learned.  Our education system is designed to transmit content knowledge to students for their future jobs.  This premise is faulty.

We cannot predict how technology will shape our students’ future.  For example, today’s voice to text technology has made typing classes outdated.  Our world is more complex than last century’s factory model, and our society knows this. Employers don’t want to hire workers who can only follow directions.  They want people who can think, create, collaborate, and communicate.

Nowadays, parents of young children are tech savvy. These parents can easily access information and comfortably use social media networks.  Their children acquire basic literacy and numeracy skills by playing on mobile devices prior to entering school.  Years from now these parents will question the value of university.  After all, information can already be accessed from their own homes.   We must rethink the purpose of schools.

What do schools need to do differently?
Schools need a new perspective.  Education should go beyond teaching information.  We consume data constantly on the Internet.  Yet so much of that information is unreliable or false.  Education needs to shift from consumption of knowledge to critical selection and application of knowledge.

The future school will be about social meeting spaces–physical and virtual– for teachers and students to apply what they know.    These educational institutions will emphasise collaborative skills.   The experience from artistic or athletic performance  will require  the facilities and audience that  online computing cannot offer.   Consequently schools will be providing ways for individuals to grow socially beyond academic intellect.

If  these are the lofty goals for education, how close is our current system preparing for our youth’s future?  Many Hong Kong students focus on grades and exam scores.  Ten years from now, will their memorised facts prove useless  when the information is finally “unpacked”?  Are  we really designing today’s schools for tomorrow’s purpose?

One response to “The Purpose of School”

  1. Great post. I feel that in the last decade, a consensus on education in the US has emerged about the purpose of education. We say it a lot: “College and Career Readiness.” In many ways, the Common Core advanced this agenda. But, the mission needs more clarity and this will help drive curriculum. For instance, if studying biology in high school is about getting ready for the AP exam and college biology, it should be taught one way. But, if high school biology is the last biology course that the student is going to take, it should be oriented quite differently. Right now, our system only offers the former, not the latter. This has to do with the question of are we preparing people for college and a major in the subject, or for careers and life in which some general biology and its applications is important….

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