Note: This post has been written as a contribution to the national debate on the purpose of education. http://purposed.org.uk/2012/04/500words-take-2/
The purpose of formal education is a filter:
Most of the posts I’ve read so far have come from education professionals such as teachers, academics and other thinkers. These are people who answer this question in far more detail than I would do. Just so you know where I’m coming from; I’m a student in the middle of A level exams who does a blog in his spare time using a pseudonym. You can read the other posts I’ve made on here for other ramblings. To me, formal education is a hoop I have to jump through like a trained dolphin, to allow me to get the job I want in life. My A level grades will not be based on how well I answer the questions, but on what percentage of candidates I beat. This will determine what university I go to which further impacts my future prospects. Other students I talk to have similar views to mine.
Schools may do more than just churn out qualifications. For example, I have personally benefited from the chance to take part in a Himalayan trek, contribute to local politics and receive music tuition; school also gave me a chance to make long term friends. But this is the purpose of a school, not education itself. The purpose of school and society is a more interesting question. Equally, it is possible to get education away from school, such as from the Internet. Many of my interests I could only really learn from the Internet where I could also connect to other people who share my interests.
The government will spend £89.5 billion on education this year (I Googled UK education budget), and it’s surprising to me that it causes this much debate.
I would say that there are 4 types of education. A social one, to help you in social situations and stop you becoming an 18 year old who spends his Saturday nights writing blog posts. And then I’d say there is a thing called trivial education. This is the useless stuff like learning Monty Python quotes. Another type is vocational, on the job. Nobody learned to do the washing up by reading a book; they did it by trying it, getting salmonella, then buying a dishwasher. I highly doubt that any of the budget goes to these branches, and my specific example of vocational education probably comes under the health budget, leaving just the academic branch.
So it all comes back to the purpose of education being a filtering system. You see even though I’d never get a job without GCSE maths, I wouldn’t need to be able to express the square root of 18 in surd form while cutting hair. When I worked in a restaurant making desserts, I didn’t need any skills beyond year 9 food technology lessons.
I asked two friends and a teacher what they thought the purpose of education was, and they gave me a four word answer; “To get a job”. The teacher actually said “get the skills to gain employment”, which when translated from jargon reads; “to get a job”. And really, I think that is as deep as it goes. You get an education to get the qualifications that stop employers disregarding your CV.