Looking backwards, looking forwards

I am on a bit of a “Back to the future” theme at the moment and so when I volunteered to interview for the current purposed campaign, I decide to do a bit looking back as well as forward.

The instructions were:

For our next campaign we want to you to spread the Purpos/ed message by asking somebody two questions and recording their answers:

A) How should we educate people in the future?
B) What do we need to be doing now to enable that?

We’d like people to use Audioboo to record audio for these.

I interviewed my friend Marian who left school at 14 1/2 and, as an added bonus, her partner Ray  arrived part way through the interview.  Unfortunately we had barely got started when the 5 minutes were up but here is the first part of our discussion http://audioboo.fm/boos/388699-interview-with-marian-and-ray.

The sound quality of the last part is not improved by the dog barking in the kitchen – Billy wanted to see Ray too.

After we had run out of audio boo, we had a really interesting discussion, covering the following points.

  • at the time Marian and Ray left school, jobs were in abundance (contrast that with now) but it wasn’t possible for either of them to stay on past the school leaving age even though they regret that now
  • they both learned a lot in their workplaces but have also learned other things e.g. Ray learned to play the guitar through a correspondence course
  • they don’t have access to the Internet but are beginning to be interested though starting digital photography and hearing so much about it

I am very interested in how the generation approaching retirement can gain access to the Internet, learn how to use it and learn through using it at a time in their lives when they will have more free time but less money.  As NIACE tell us,

“Those who are not online are older, in lower income brackets, and are less likely to have formal qualifications. It is estimated that households can save around £500 a year by being online, and one in three internet users say they use the web for learning and finding information online.”

When we are thinking about the purpose and future of education, let’s not forget about the generations who missed out the first time around and are in danger of missing out on new ways of learning.

The purpose of education


Education, 1890, by Louis Comfort Tiffany and Tiffany Studios

What is the purpose of education?

Well, of course that raises more questions:

What is education? I refer you to the stained glass window above see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Education_%28Chittenden_Memorial_Window or my interpretation that it is an activity involving serious angels and though which light can shine.

Whose purpose are we talking about? Well I think we just have to agree that there is a variety of purposes, and I’ll say more about that later.

Why are we asking the question?

Purpos/ed seems to about working to raise the position of education on the political agenda.  It also seems to be located within the learning technology community. This suggests to me that educational funding is seen to be under threat and that the role of technology in education is important.

Fred Garnett referred us to Mike Wesch’s inspirational ideas on the need for educators and learners to (re)gain a sense of the purpose of education. Stephen Downes and Lou McGill showed how educational system can go awry.

Ewan McIntosh persuaded me that we should be “giving up the artificial reins we as teachers, parents and governments use to strangle those passions and the  creativity that lends itself to their growth.” Other contributors stress the need for passion and creativity, and the agency of learners (and teachers).

My own view

Passion about solving the current problems in education and excitement about the possibilities offered by web and network technologies can tempt us to think that current educational systems can somehow be replaced by technology.  This could be a risky experiment!

Conscious of a slightly anti-teaching tone creeping into debates about networked learning, I ran an online seminar where participants explored the role of teachers in learning networks and what happens when they disappear. My conclusion was that good teachers know when to disappear, or give up the artificial reins.

My two applications did not result in a National Teaching Fellowship but the reflective writing I did for them helped me develop my philosophy of education, based on my experiences as student, mother, teacher and researcher in secondary, further and higher education. So I do believe that thinking about and questioning the hows and whys are very important parts of education.  Education is in constant flux: within families, institutions, networked publics.  Keri Facer stressed the “urgent need to have a serious public debate about the purpose of education that builds bridges between students, educators and the wider public”.  Perhaps the purpose of education is to construct a participatory dialogue about the purpose of education: a dialogue that makes a difference to what learners experience throughout their lives.

Education has four pillars: learning to know, learning to do, learning to live together and learning to be.  I believe its impact depends on its ability to enable all of us to shape it.  Purpos/ed is doing a great job of involving educators in the dialogue – the next challenge is to involve the learners.