Independence & Community (The Purpose of Education)

purposed-badgeSince contributing to the original #500words campaign, my thoughts about the purpose of education have become less cogent. I still want to “bust a hole in the wall”; wishing to place learner independence and preparedness for life long learning at the heart of the debate. However, as I have continued teaching, researching, discussing, debating, I have found that my advocacy for student centred learning is paralleled by a growing belief that schools should be placed at the centre of the community. At times it feels as if these ideas should contradict each other, but I believe that they actually compliment each other. Here, I offer a list of connected (and disconnected) assertions, ideas and questions that are currently resonating with me. I hope that in sharing them, I can begin to form a more coherent thesis.

  • Learning needs to be student centred. Education should offer choice and provide opportunity, not limit it.
  • Schools need to offer a personalised curriculum. One that is adaptive, malleable… designed by learners themselves.
  • There should be parity between subjects. But, should learning be structured in subjects?
  • All learning needs to be encouraged – gaming, exploration, trial & error (when did we decide that getting things wrong was no longer part of learning?). Moreover, I’m concerned that the school system appears to be geared up to remove play, creativity and individuality as learners get older.
  • Schools should be able to acknowledge and accredit all learning (formal and informal). Badges?
  • We need to better prepare young people for the models of learning they will be engaged in after school. This means encouraging learner autonomy as well as co-dependence. The era of ‘sage on the stage’ is dead. It’s time to establish ‘guide on the side’ in all classrooms.
  • We need to stop labelling students; and we need to stop allowing them to label themselves. A learners ability is not genetic; it is not pre-determined by us or anyone else.
  • Education is not about grades or league tables. They are a meaningless, extrinsic motivator; and are detrimental to fostering effective learning.
  • Learning is not linear. Learning is messy!
  • School is not a bubble. Boundaries between learners and the real world need to be removed
  • Libraries should be at the heart of schools and their respective communities. Libraries should be like this one. And in the 21st century, they are about much more than books.
  • Schools need to recognise that Online is ‘now’ NOT the future. Technology should be seamlessly integrated in to the learning experience. There needs to be overlap between physical and virtual spaces – opening up further opportunities for a personalised curriculum.
  • Education needs to be wrestled out of the hands of governments. Communities need to take ownership of learning… freeing education of the fads and whims of politicians. Learning needs to be open/democratised.
  • Schools should be charged by their communities to provide education that is relevant and creative.

This post is my contribution to #500words – Take 2; the latest Purpos/ed campaign, asking the question: What is the purpose of education. Check out to see how you can join the debate.

Published by

James Michie

Husband, Educator, Writer, Runner...

5 thoughts on “Independence & Community (The Purpose of Education)”

  1. Independence and community do seem to contradict, don’t they? You can’t be fully independent if you live in community.

    I think the issue that we have at the moment is not that the school system should become more student-centric, it’s that we have a system that promotes the self-ism of the individual whilst denying the independence of the teacher. Hence students are selfish but dependent on tunnel-visioned teachers who can only see the text in the national framework.

    Perhaps some schools do need to become more student-centred, but I think it should be centred on the relationship between teacher and student. The relationship is the key.

    1. Thanks for commenting Steve.

      I think my use of “student centered’ may be problematic in that I interpret it as being synonymous with ‘personalised learning’, ‘learner autonomy’ and ‘independent learning’. What I am trying to suggest is that schools need to provide a curriculum that:

      1. Offers a diverse, personalised curriculum
      2. Emphasises learner independence (rather than reliance on the teacher to provide answers)

      This is why I suggest that technology needs to be seamlessly integrated, allowing for schools to offer courses that take place in schools as well as virtual courses. Students can pick the courses they wish to participate in. I do not see this as promotong ‘self-ism’ but rather a way of meeting learners needs, which the current curriculum in schools fails to do. 

      I think a pertinent question to ask is: Why are there teachers with ‘tunnel-vision’? How many are simply hamstrung by the system; and pressure from above to guarantee results?

      As to the relationship between students and teachers I completely agree – this is very important and I said something very similar in this post about the purpose of assessment:

      I would however, in the context of my current thinking take your point further to suggest that the relationship should also include the parent as well. This is how I interpret community – student, teacher and parent working together.

  2. Thanks for the (second) contribution, James! I like the way you’ve contextualised some of Keri Facer’s ideas and used them to form a slightly sceptical position as to the ‘replacement’ model of technology in education.

    I’m very much looking forward to seeing how people respond to this!

  3. In my view, the concept of community is arguably the most significant context in education: Interaction between individuals, teachers and students, co-operating in a community lies at the heart of social cognitive learning theory. 

    We need to emphasise more often – as you are doing here – the importance of community to
    learning, which is often is implied but rarely stated.

    “Schools need to recognise that Online is ‘now’ NOT the future.” Hear, hear!

    Thanks for a thought-provoking post James.

  4. So many phrases in this piece that I like – school is messy / not a bubble /stop students labelling themselves – among them. I agree that schools should provide a centre for the community & know that some have provided that shared learning experience. There are so many though that are closed once that final bell has gone.

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