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PurposedPSI May 2, 2011

Posted by IaninSheffield in Musings.
Tags: , ,

I’ve enjoyed reading the 500words campaign posts immensely. I even contributed to the 3×5 images. I discussed the topic over a pint whilst on holiday away with friends (some teachers, some not) and even floated the notion with a blog post in the school ICT ‘newsletter.’ And yesterday I attended the first Purposed Summit at Sheffield.

I was fortunate to enjoy some passionate speakers, stimulating discussion and innovative ideas, but … I’m still not sure I’ve quite got it. I understand the need for a discussion of the purpose of education and I celebrate raising the issue … but I don’t quite yet understand to what end? If I follow correctly, it’s to influence policy makers i.e. the government, or perhaps more correctly given the timescale of the campaign, the aspirant government. But at the risk of becoming repetitive … to what end? Is it simply to raise the level of political educational debate beyond the tired rhetoric of performance, curriculum and examinations and re-examine what education can and should be about? Or is it to go beyond the debate, suggesting possible alternate futures?

(Thanks to Kevin McLaughlin for helping me begin to come to terms with it all in this short clip which became available subsequent to me composing this post.)

I’m not a great wordsmith. I couldn’t have written a 500 word post with even a fraction the eloquence that the 60+ contributors managed. When I thought about preparing a 3×3 presentation for PurposedPSI, I really struggled to find a focus with which to answer the question – ‘What is the purpose of education.’ In the end I wondered instead about what the campaign is up against and what might act in its favour, making these notions concrete using a force-field analysis. With purposed, we seem to be at a turning point and that made me think of Janus, the Roman God of transitions or new beginnings, often symbolically represented with two heads, one looking to the past and one to the future … which seemed quite apposite! So what are the factors which will act against or provide support for, a debate on the purpose of education? Or what is the purpose of education versus what should the purpose of education be?

Change in educationSo we have a system with an inordinate preoccupation with examination results – what prominent item do we see in school newsletters, on school websites, on noticeboards, discussed in assemblies, displayed in classrooms and on corridors. What do the majority of parents first look at when considering a secondary school … if they have a choice! This is continued with accountability by and competition in league tables – schools are compared with schools, subjects with other subjects and teachers with teachers. Is there any wonder it’s at the forefront of anyone’s mind? To what end? Are students now leaving school better equipped to deal with the world they emerge into? The National Curriculum – yes students should have a core entitlement … but did they nor have that before its introduction? OK it was the exam boards who largely determined what students studied rather than the government, but surely there was greater individual choice in what subjects to pursue? With an increase in the number of single parent families and an increase in the number of families with two parents who both work, school’s role as a child-minder has become even more significant – wonder how many parents would benefit from a reduction in the length of school holidays? All but the smallest, isolated rural schools are organised to suit the needs of groups, whether it’s the whole population, year groups, subject cohorts, classes or forms … but aren’t organised around the needs of individuals.

Looking to the future are possibilities; opportunities which offer potential. Education needn’t be just about what’s inside the school security fence, five days a week between 8.30 and 4.30. Is it right for all individuals until 16 or 18 or 21? Why shouldn’t it be flexible and accessible for students when they want (need?) it during the day and throughout their lives? Can’t we begin to exploit our connectedness and access to resources to better adapt provision to learner needs?

You doubtless disagree with the length of the arrows indicating the notional importance of each factor related to others. I’m certain you’ll also have factors I didn’t think of or feel the ones I’ve included are irrelevant. But what about the overall picture? As it stands, this analysis suggests that moving forward is going to tough; the sum of the factors acting to the left outweighing those acting to the right. So which can we influence by reducing or increasing their effect? What do you think?



1. Leon Cych - May 2, 2011

I think the need to be agile and innovative will outweigh the more conservative forces at work at present.

The ‘long tail’ of education is going to become more evident as we travel up the 21st Century. People will want more flexibility and more personalised learning.

Learning ‘spaces’ will be less dependent on a fixed place more on a state of mind and an aggregation of ideas.

ianinsheffield - May 2, 2011

Thanks for responding Leon – I really hope you’re right. I can see the drivers which *might* have an effect, you can, the Purposed folks can, as can many others in the ‘community.’ But what about the vast majority of folks? Are they ‘bovvered?’

Maybe that’s what Purposed is all about? Wow, thanks for that revelation – I owe you one! 😉

2. Sue Beckingham - May 2, 2011

Lovely post Ian. So many questions yet to be answered but at least we have begun the debate. Great meeting you f2f at #purposedpsi in Sheffield!

ianinsheffield - May 3, 2011

Thanks Sue. You’re absolutely right; questions seem to keep right on coming! For me that’s where events like #purposedpsi help – in starting to provide some answers … even if they also surface new questions too! 😉

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