What is education?

What is education?

What is education for?

Is education a cognitive matter or more than this?

Which has more importance and value, training or education?

Is there a difference between these terms? If so, does it have significance?

List some educational aims. Rank them in order of importance. Why?

These were all questions that informed discussion in this week’s tutorial. The aim: to begin to define our own personal educational philosophy. Whilst in Paris in July, I brainstormed many of the ideas surrounding the above questions. I became a bit arrogant and thought I had my philosophy sussed… until I went to Kenya. My tutor asked us to reflect on these questions as a starting point for our philosophies, and I turned to my brainstorms in my notebook. Unfortunately, this brought over a huge sense of sadness and realisation that my short teaching trip in Mombassa this September has completely altered my vision of education. In short, it was a life-changing experience. And so, once more, I must define my own philosophy of education. I’ll start today by unwinding ‘What is education?’

Of course, this isn’t as difficult a question as you might first think. It comes across as one of the trick questions, where you think that the answer can’t possibly be as simple as what is in your mind… or can it? For me, education is dependent on your own cultural context. It shouldn’t be, but it is. For me, it is as simple as this: education is the key. It is the key to: the future; a peaceful and respectful society; the end of so many problems.

I believe that the key to education is something that we are currently missing in the UK and I believe this for a few reasons.

1)   The perception of education as valuable and precious to all

In the news this week a new competition was announced, for the best teacher in the world. It is, apparently, an attempt to honour the profession in a similar way to the Nobel awards, because teaching is a profession which is, increasingly, seen with dissatisfaction. Many adults fail to see the value in education, whilst also failing to see education as a life long journey. At the same time, many children profess to hate school because it is boring. It is something which they have to do: not something which they want to do. Going to school is all the education they need, it isn’t life long, and it isn’t valuable for many. Too many children in western culture fail to see education as something which valuable and precious for each individual and, as such, they don’t grasp onto all the opportunities afforded them.

2)    Aspirations for the future

This feeds perfectly of the previous point. All children have aspirations for the future, however many of those aspirations have become slightly altered in recent years to be geared towards a life of celebrity and riches. Don’t get me wrong, there are thousands upon thousands of children in the UK who have fantastic aspirations AND realistic role models (my next point). There are thousands of children in this country who will work hard and continue to learn throughout their life, and they will fill many respectable jobs whilst contributing to society in a variety of ways. That is not the child I am writing about. I am writing about the child whose sole ambition is to become rich and/or famous in the quickest way possible. This is the child who differs from their counterpart in Kenya. Whilst many of the children I met in Kenya were avid football fans, and many proclaimed to have the skills needed to make it big in the professional world one day, not one of them shied away from the aspirations that they knew only education could bring them. All worked tremendously hard at school, and all held a very similar aspiration: to escape from the poverty they were born into. They might not have had any power over what kind of life they would lead as a child, but they recognised that they solely had the responsibility and power to change that life, through education.

3)    Realistic role models

The final reason I believe that the UK is generally missing the key, perhaps the point of education, is that we fail to give children realistic role models. With the increase in social networking, has come an increase in the insight that is available into celebrities’ lives. There has been a swell of reality television programmes, alongside endless talent contests. Football has become an even greater force, as their private lives have become open to the public, and many children today look either upon their football or musical favourites to shape their identity. This isn’t a rant: I desperately followed the stories and woes of the Spice Girls when I was just 8 years old; I cried when Take That split up; I had a shrine like area of my room filled with ‘Gladiator’ memorabilia and Russell Crowe’s face everywhere. That is, and always has been, the story of childhood. We all have heroes that we look up to when we are children.

However, it is easier today than it ever has been for children to find their identity in a celebrity who perhaps isn’t the most realistic choice of role model. Children cannot necessarily choose wisely when it comes to who their role models are, however it is also up to teachers and family members to provide children with opportunities to find realistic role models. Whilst I was at primary school, my mum gave me a book to read (which is still on my shelf at home) entitled ’10 girls who changed the world’. This was a book filled with 10 real people who had grown up to change the world, but because it was written from the perspective of their childhood it resonated with me more easily. From then on I held Corrie Ten Boom and Joni Eareckson as role models, and later Ellen MacArthur as I started sailing as she reached fame. I was probably never going to be a famous sailor, even if I did think I would beat her record. It was OK for me to dream big, just as it is OK for children everywhere to dream big… but not at the expense of education and their view of it.

Education is as simple as this for me: it is the priceless opportunity, that can value and nurture creativity and originality, whilst freeing your mind and giving a context for life.


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