Tag: Keri Facer

The old is dying and the new cannot be born

Education for a post-pandemic future


Welcome to the fourth instalment in this blog chain about post-pandemic society:

  1. People seem not to see that their opinion of the world is also a confession of character
  2. We have it in our power to begin the world over again
  3. There is no creature whose inward being is so strong that it is not greatly determined by what lies outside it

This time, I want to talk about education. It’s been a decade since I left the classroom as a school teacher and senior leader but, just after doing so, I co-kickstarted a project called Purpos/ed: what’s the purpose of education? While the original website has long since gone the way of all digital bits and bytes, it can still be accessed via the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine (which may take significantly longer to load than most websites, so be patient!)

There were some fantastic contributions to that project, each of which were 500 words long. We followed that up with image remixes, audio contributions, and even a one-day unconference at Sheffield Hallam university! All of the written contributions were compiled into a book that was published by Scholastic (I’ve still got a few copies if anyone wants one) and the campaign ended up being featured on the front page of the TES.


My reason for returning to this project is that it seems that many people, especially parents and educators, are once again thinking about the purpose of education. There is even a UNESCO Commission on the Futures of Education to which you can add your voice.

Below are some of my favourite responses to the Purpos/ed campaign, right after a video clip from Prof. Keri Facer, whose work (especially Learning Futures) served as our inspiration.


Before the first Purpos/ed post was written, I jotted down my own off-the-cuff answer: “the purpose of education is to aid our meditation on purposes — what should we do, why and how?”. I know that’s a bit glib, but it adds a reflexive twist to this debate: how sophisticated and sensitive to changing context are our education systems and discourse? I worry we may be in for a rude awakening when the education squabbles of the Easy Times are shown up as an irrelevant sideshow when the Hard Times bite.

David Jennings

Education should not be just be about the ‘system’ or the schools, it should be about the community and drawing on the skills and knowledge that is within our local communities.  Enabling our children to learn from what has gone before to ensure that they enhance their own future. For many education provides an escape, a way out that broadens their horizons and provides them with opportunities that they did not realize existed, that can ultimately provide them with richness and most importantly happiness.

Dawn Hallybone

The internet provides us with rich and free spaces for expansive learning. The institutions only have left their monopoly on funding and on certification. And so capitalism has begun a new project. The first aim is to strike out at democratization of learning by privatizing education, by deepening barriers to equality and access. And the second more audacious aim is to privatize knowledge itself, to turn knowledge and learning into a commodity to be bought and sold like any other consumer good.

Thus we find ourselves at a turning point for the future of education. The contradictions inherent in the different views of the purpose of education do not allow any simple compromise or reform minded tinkering with the system. For those that believe in education as the practice of freedom there are two challenges: to develop a societal discourse around the purpose of education and secondly to develop transformative practice, as teacher students and student teachers.

Graham Attwell

"Education should disrupt as much as it builds" (David White)
CC BY-NC-SA Josie Fraser

Education should critically ensure children, young people and adults are equipped to be unsettled, to be confronted by difference, to be changed, and to effect change. Education is a conduit to different cultures, different places, different times – to different ways of thinking about things and doing things. Education provides us with an introduction to things unimagined and unencountered. It should provide the critical challenge to examine our beliefs, interpretations and horizons, the ability to reexamining ourselves in new contexts, to develop new interests, to review the ways in which we understand ourselves and our place in the world. The purpose of education should be to expand expectations, not to confine them – to support our learners in understanding the impact they can and do have on their world. We cannot expect education built upon, and educators who model, a fixation with certainty and inflexibility to meet the urgent and ongoing needs of pressing social, economic and political change.

Josie Fraser

For me, the purpose of education is to become a better human being; recognising that we share a commonality with others around us and that we are bound to the ones who walked before and the ones to come. It allows us to draw on the experiences of the past and help prepare us to face the future (with all its attendant opportunities and issues). Conceived in this sense, it allows us to remove the primacy of the veneer (worker, teacher, student, friend) and reinstates these (important) roles within the context that they form part of a larger whole. Doing so would also allow us to rethink the relationship of means and ends and unlock the powerful impact this reconfiguration can have for the lives of people around us when we do treat them as they should be.

Nick Dennis

The desire to learn is woven into the concept of contentment and that, for me at least, is the basic purpose of any education system. Contentment can flourish into happiness, riches, recognition or any other myriad of emotional and material gain. But without a content society, with an ambition to continually discover and question the world around them throughout life, we end up with society’s biggest enemies: complacency, stagnancy, apathy and ambivalence.

Ewan mcintosh

CC BY-NC-SA ianguest

An educated population is probably the least governable, the most likely to rebel, the most stubborn and the most critical. But it is a population capable of the most extraordinary things, because each person strides purposefully forward, and of their own volition, together, they seek a common destiny.

Stephen Downes

Education, it seems, is the method by which we attempt to make the world come out the way we want it to. It is about using our power to shape and control the world to come so that it comes into line with our own hopes and dreams. In any way we move it, even towards chaos and anarchy, we are still using our power to shape and control the future.

Dave Cormier

It is make or break time for humanity and we have a responsibility to draw a line in the sand, admit our mistakes and create a system of education that can begin to undo the harm that we have done to the world. For all the talk over the last twenty years of the ‘global village’, it has not stopped us continuing to destroy our planet, to wage wars and to continue to ignore the inequalities in society. What is the purpose of education? Surely, it is to create unity by helping future generation to recognise the values that humanity share.

James mIchie

As Purpos/ed was a non-partisan campaign, Andy Stewart and I didn’t give our views on the purpose of education. But perhaps, in a follow-up post, it’s time to explicitly state what, for me, it’s all about? I’d certainly like to read what others are thinking…


Quotation-as-title from Antonio Gramsci. Header image via Pixabay.

The school system is a modern phenomenon, as is the childhood it produces

Good old Ivan Illich with today’s quotation-as-title. If you haven’t read his Deschooling Society yet, you must. Given actions speak louder than words, it really makes you think about what we’re actually doing to children when we send them off to the world of formal education.

The pupil is thereby “schooled” to confuse teaching with learning, grade advancement with education, a diploma with competence, and fluency with the ability to say something new.

ivan illich

I left teaching almost a decade ago and still have a strong connection to the classroom through my wife (who’s a teacher), my children (who are at school) and my friends/network (many of whom are involved in formal education.

That’s why a post entitled The Absurd Structure of High School by Bernie Bleske resonated with me, even though it’s based on his experience in the US:

The system’s scheduling fails on every possible level. If the goal is productivity, the fractured nature of the tasks undermines efficient product. So much time is spent in transition that very little is accomplished before there is a demand to move on. If the goal is maximum content conveyed, then the system works marginally well, in that students are pretty much bombarded with detail throughout their school day. However, that breadth of content comes at the cost of depth of understanding. The fractured nature of the work, the short amount of time provided, and the speed of change all undermine learning beyond the superficial. It’s shocking, really, that students learn as much as they do.

Bernie Bleske

We’ve known for a long time now, that a ‘stage, not age‘ approach is much better for everyone involved. My daughter, sadly, enjoys school but is pretty bored there. And, frustratingly, there’s not much we as parents can do about it.

If you’ve got an academically-able child, on the surface it seems like part of the problem is them being ‘held back’ by their peers. However, studies show that there’s little empirical evidence for this being true — as Oscar Hedstrom points out in Why streaming kids according to ability is a terrible idea:

Despite all this, there is limited empirical evidence to suggest that streaming results in better outcomes for students. Professor John Hattie, director of the Melbourne Education Research Institute, notes that ‘tracking has minimal effects on learning outcomes and profound negative equity effects’. Streaming significantly – and negatively – affects those students placed in the bottom sets. These students tend to have much higher representation of low socioeconomic backgrounds. Less significant is the small benefit for those lucky clever students in the higher sets. The overall result is relative inequality. The smart stay smart, and the dumb get dumber, further entrenching social disadvantage.

Oscar Hedstrom

I worked in a school in a rough area that streamed kids based on the results of a ‘literacy skills’ test on entry. The result was actually middle-class segregation within the school. As a child myself, I also went to a pretty tough school in an ex-mining town, which was a bit more integrated.

The trouble with all of this is that most of the learning that happens in school is inside some form of classroom. As a recent Innovation Unit report entitled Local Learning Ecosystems: emerging models discusses, ‘learning ecosystem’ is a bit of a buzz-term at the moment, but with potentially useful applications:

It remains to be seen whether the education ecosystem idea, as expressed in these varieties, will evolve as a truly significant new driver in public education on a large scale. These initiatives reflect ambitious visions well beyond current achievements. Conventional systems, with their excessive assessment routines, pressurized school communities, and entrenched vestigial approaches, are difficult to shift. But this report offers a taste of the creative flourishing in education thinking today that has emerged against, and perhaps in response to, the erosion of resources for public education, often abetted by indifferent, even hostile government.

Local Learning Ecosystems: emerging models

My go-to book around all of this is still Prof. Keri Facer’s excellent Learning Futures: education, technology and social change. I still haven’t come across another book with such a hopeful, practical vision for the future since reading it when it came out in 2011.

Hopefully, taking a learning ecosystem or ‘ecology’ approach will provide the necessary shift of perspective to move us to the world beyond (just) classrooms.


Also check out:

  • Flexible working is possible if schools focus on outcomes, not hours (TES) — “Children deserve access to experienced, specialist teachers at a time when they are needed most. To achieve this we need a step change. We need to drive a culture shift in the education community to make teaching more family-friendly.”
  • Why Constant Learners All Embrace the 5-Hour Rule (Inc.) — “Franklin’s five-hour rule reflects the very simple idea that, over time, the smartest and most successful people are the ones who are constant and deliberate learners.”
  • This App Helps You Learn a New Language With Music (Geek.com) — “Okay, they don’t literally use “Baby Shark,” but Earworms MBT can teach you Spanish, Italian, German, and French and is great for common situations like getting directions, taking a taxi, or going to a restaurant.”
Get a Thought Shrapnel digest in your inbox every Sunday (free!)
Holler Box