What Is Education For?

Education is in the news, once again, as thousands of students receive their results and decide what to do next. Some students are well served by the system and get what they want; others are not so lucky and wonder what to do next. In both cases, it is useful to consider the purpose of education.

Some commentators argue that education should focus on the development of the individual; others suggest it should focus on the development of the economy.

In recent years, the emphasis has moved from the former to the latter, as the role of education has shifted from catering to the needs of the individual to the demands of the market.

Leading world organisations such as the International Monetary Fund and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development have highlighted the need for education to support the economy.

Many governments have developed policies to ensure that education has changed from a process of providing people with learning opportunities for self-development to a commercial process of providing people with particular skills and training.

The change, whether for pragmatic or ideological reasons, is driven by the mistaken belief that such change is for the greater good, as it is argued students prepared for the marketplace will help create the wealth needed by society.

Government’s shift to a market driven approach stems from the belief that education should help to provide a workforce that serves the commercial and economic needs of the country.

It may be too late to hope that such an approach can be reversed and too little to remind policy makers of the value of developing the individual but it is, without doubt, time to balance the core purpose of education with new market realities.

Even in the current context of austerity and cutbacks it is possible to combine the best of what education should be with the demands of the market, not least because education should always aspire to reach beyond the narrow bounds of economics.

SO, the focus of education has changed from the development of the individual to the service of the economy but has it gone too far.

What about you?

What is education for?

Look forward to hearing your feedback in the comments below.