In beginning to think about the characteristics of a well-conceived education system, one which may require change to the current system, we first need to begin by reflecting on what education is. This is important as experience suggests that education is a concept which is used to mean different things by different people. An example of this is the relatively frequent argument made by some teachers on twitter that ‘educational research is often a waste of time’ because it doesn’t focus on the concerns of teachers and their practice in the classroom. This demonstrates a particular positioning of both research, and for the purposes of this current reflection, education itself. It suggests that for some, education is synonymous with schooling. In some ways this might not be particularly surprising; successive English education secretaries have decimated wider notions of education, and have focused solely on schools, colleges and universities. This might be due to the purposes successive secretaries of state have assigned to education. Under New Labour the purpose of education became handmaiden to economic growth; under subsequent Conservative administrations, Michael Gove and Nick Gibb (the real power behind the department once Gove had left) both saw education as a generator of social conservatism and traditionalism. In both cases, such aims could only be realised through certain channels within education, hence the defunding of a wider spectrum of activities, such as community education. Over an extended period, politicians successfully narrowed the national perception of education to cover only formal education (i.e. structured, systematic education which is formalised by the state and which covers the core elements of education which take individuals through their learning from perhaps 3 or 4 years old, to graduation or completion of training through apprenticeships).
However, this is a very narrow description of education. An alternative is to see education as encompassing a range of activities and processes which stretch from the cradle to the grave; it sees education as a tangle of processes through which we learn in a wide range of contexts. An example of this might be community-led learning through informal projects such as allotment societies or groups who teach each other how to repair and upcycle old furniture. Here, those taking part are doing so because they have a keen interest and motivation to learn a particular skill, or develop an area of understanding and expertise beyond the core process of schooling and FE/HE. Where learning activities are provided to help people grow beyond the formalised structure of schooling/FE/HE it is described as non-formal education.
Beyond both formal and non-formal education occurs the ongoing emersion we experience through being part of a family, a community and a society. In the contact we have with other people, and even other species, we learn from conversations, dialogues and experiences which all add to our learning. This might include the insights a child gains from listening to the life experiences of a grandparent, or the way in which a child shows their grandparent how to use an app on their mobile phone. In these cases, learning is spontaneous and is not focused on but is the by-product of interaction and experience.
These different ways of defining the contexts and processes of learning are important in aiding us to begin to think about how widely or narrowly we wish to define education as a concept. If we wish to keep it narrow, and only include formal education, what are the processes which occur outside of this narrow sphere? If we include these wider processes what implications are there for the processes and position of formal education in relation to this more holistic context? I’ll reflect on these questions in my next post.
This is a blog which hopes to explore and navigate a different way of doing education