The Real Goals of Education

We are part of an increasingly globally-connected and knowledge-based world and educators have the responsibility of continuing to prepare students for what is around them and what they will experience when they leave school. Our task is not easy. We do not really know how the world will look in five, ten, or twenty years’ time. So preparing them for what we don’t know seems impossible.

But even though we are witnessing mind-boggling advances in technology in many aspects of life, the real goals of education have not changed. It is important that our children continue to love learning new things throughout their lives. We want to nurture confident and healthy students, physically, mentally and emotionally, who understand their own bodies and ways of thinking.  We want to encourage caring and compassionate students who will make a contribution to the well-being of the world around them.

Currently in the Middle School I am at, we are examining our curriculum framework and pedagogical practices to make sure that we are providing the best possible opportunities for our students. A quality curriculum and quality teaching go hand in hand as we go forward.

Skills and concepts that are vitally important for our students in this fast-changing world include collaboration, communication, global thinking, critical thinking and information technology literacy, which need to be fostered in a creative and innovative environment. Humans have a wide range of cognitive abilities and so we must offer a balanced curriculum, giving opportunities for our students to explore and experience in a number of settings.

The role of a teacher is that of a coach. In this age of instant information, teachers can no longer think of themselves as the giver of knowledge (I would argue that they should never have thought this), which is eaten and then regurgitated by the students. Teachers need to support, encourage and nurture a talent or interest and help students to learn independently. By establishing an exciting and welcoming learning environment, we as educators invite students to take an active role in the learning process, as they use tools provided to enhance and promote their own enrichment.  This, in turn, builds the foundation of the entire community, as every individual student engages in learning as a celebratory and empowering enterprise. 

At St. John’s International School, Belgium, we have made huge advances in providing our students with these tools. We have a new data management system, full Wi-Fi throughout the school, one-to-one netbooks being rolled out in four grades this year, a new virtual learning environment for students (Study wiz) and a strong commitment to investing in technology and professional development for staff.

But we also have a strong commitment to what we see as the real goals of education: helping students to be themselves and helping them to understand that they have choices in life that can have a huge impact on themselves and the lives of others. There is a quote carved above a fireplace in the dining hall at Earlham College in the States that says “They gathered the sticks, kindled the fire and left it burning”. This, for me, describes our job perfectly. “Keep it burning” is our goal.

5 Comments on “The Real Goals of Education

  1. I was just having this debate in a pub the other day. I basically agree. We are educating kids in a Rumsfeldian world where the portion of knowledge taken up by ‘unknown unknowns’ is by far the largest slice (perhaps it always was, but in an exponential age couldn’t we hypothesize it is growing?)

    Educating kids to be able to navigate a world that we cannot even comprehend how much we don’t know about, has got to be essential.

    But. Is there not an argument that the best way to do that is actually through the cannon? The teaching of the existing knowledge base. Am I actually not better equipped to understand the unknown when it comes along if I have a grounding in the best of what is already known…

    Of course, it’s a balance, right? Rote learning at the expense of teaching skills is awful. But so, I think, is unrooted skills teaching.

    • I agree, it’s a balance. Exploring and learning about the exsiting knowledge base helps us to think critically. The teacher’s role in this is vital. Teacher’s need to use their wisdom to ecourage and enable their students to apply the skills they learn.

  2. You are right about how we need to approach this mammoth task. Instilling curiosity naturally leads to a love for learning and discovering. But (to come back to our discussion during today’s Kestner’s Kafe) I don’t agree that we live in a “knowledge-based” world; rather, we live in a confusing world overloaded with information. We are in the business of actually helping students to make sense and meaning of it all.

  3. Sir, “create a spark, light a fire and keep it burning” – Is that through the rubbing two different types of wood together method, or the old flint and steel approach. I certainly hope that at St John’s you are all only using one match to do this!

    Nice to see you writing again Ben.

    Drop me an email at BBIS, I haven’t got your St. John’s email.

    Steve “BP” Gregory

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