Frances Bell

home at last – for all the mes


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 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.


francesbell • February 16, 2011

Previous Post

Next Post


  1. Cristina Costa February 16, 2011 - 7:37 am Reply

    brilliant reflection. thanks for highlighting such important points as is the role of the teacher and the 4 pillars of education

  2. Doug Belshaw February 16, 2011 - 8:06 am Reply

    Thanks for this, Frances! As a teacher myself (although, since 2010 not in the classroom) what you say about the importance of teaching struck a chord. There’s a tendency to throw the baby out with the bathwater when people misinterpret, for example, Sugata Mitra’s work to mean ‘we no longer need teachers’. Of course we do, although we learn as much – if not more – by imitation than we do by instruction. 🙂

  3. fred6368 February 16, 2011 - 8:20 am Reply

    Oh Frances, this is a beautiful piece of writing. How wonderful that you start with Art Nouveau, an attempt to take art out of the Academy and value the craft of design. William Morris even offered a craft-based political manifesto in News from Nowhere in which citizens had craft skills which they freely gave away to make the world a more beautiful place, which your piece certainly does.
    My freebie OER is Craft of Teaching 2011
    Less is more and rings a bell
    To learn is to be (and to be is to learn) 🙂

  4. Tweets that mention The purpose of education « Francesbell's Blog --
  5. Tweets that mention The purpose of education « Francesbell's Blog --
  6. James OReilly February 16, 2011 - 9:55 am Reply

    Thank you for re-spreading the words of Aristotle: Causa Finalis ranks higher than Causa Efficiens

  7. loumcgill February 16, 2011 - 10:56 am Reply

    Lovely post Frances and do agree about having learner voices in this debate… I came across this facebook group last week so keeping an eye on that!/group.php?gid=131739363504356&v=info

    I also think your point about us adopting a ‘ solving problems’ approach is a real challenge and not just in terms of technological solutions. It seems easier and more economically viable if we just tweak at the edges of our systems – ‘lets make our assessment processes quicker, easier more efficient’ rather than a requestioning of ‘what are we assessing, why and how’ – Really transforming our practice to reflect changes in the social, political and technical environment of both learners and teachers. I agree this kind of transformation requires us all to shape it and all to have a voice.

  8. francesbell February 16, 2011 - 10:56 am Reply

    Thanks for all your positive comments. The transparent teaching and learning was provoked by a George Siemens blog post and happened in a lovely global webinar in CCK09 whose link was lost with my domain .
    I am trying to get student involvement in this discussion via a corkboard but still trying to hack the tech.

  9. purpos/ed — #500words – Frances Bell
  10. James OReilly February 16, 2011 - 3:29 pm Reply

    “adopting a ‘solving problems’ approach is a real challenge”

    🙂 How funny… Well, get ready and hold your hat…
    This output-focussed purpose idea has already been established…

    A correlation link between Education and the Reduction of the Jobless Rate.

    The idea is simple, education contributes to reducing the jobless rate… Indeed, that’s what we actually want, especially for 21st century education and education in these financially awkward times…

    EU: Europe 2020

    USA: Obama: Race To The Top

  11. Peter Hirst February 16, 2011 - 4:29 pm Reply

    Great article. From my understanding of hearing Sugata describe his work it seems he isn’t discounting the teacher role – he’s just reclassifying it by focussing on the aspects that are most appealing to todays YP’s needs. His ‘Granny Cloud’ is populated by ‘informal teachers’ who act as mentors, evangelists and coaches rather than holders of information in the traditional (victorian) mould. The notion that groups of young people, when task focussed, effectively teach each other by discussing, refining and discounting is something that resonates with me as an educator. As a new media evangelist and technology entrepreneur who is interested in Student Voice – it’s a delicious nectar like ambrosia!

  12. James OReilly February 16, 2011 - 4:51 pm Reply

    ERIC database provides 46,961 hits for “Purpose AND Education”

  13. Catherine Cronin February 16, 2011 - 5:25 pm Reply

    Thank you, Frances, for this beautiful post. It was an inspiring read at 8am this morning, with the sun streaming through my own small stained glass panels at home here! I welcome your personal approach to the question and your call to open up the participatory debate to learners as well as educators. As an educator involved in both classroom and online teaching & learning in HE, your notion of “transparent” teaching strikes a chord. Particularly for online students, where facilitators/teachers are physically invisible, their positive presence is essential, though their role will vary: listening, questioning, providing feedback, enabling — and, of course, learning themselves. It can be a transformative space for both student and teacher. You captured this so well. Let the dialogue continue…

  14. Context is Queen « The Heutagogic Archives
  15. 500 words for Purpos/ed « Learning Technology jottings at Goldsmiths
  16. the purpose of education is to delight (#purposedu #500words) « Infinite Rooms

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published / Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.