What is the purpose of Education in the 21st Century?

With the development of a National Curriculum in Australia it is timely to ask the question “What is the purpose of Education in the 21st Century?”.

Systemically the purpose of education in Australia is outlined in the Melbourne Declaration on Education Goals for Young Australians that outlines two goals:

  1. Australian schooling promotes equity and excellence; and
  2. All Australian students become successful learners; confident and creative individuals; and active and informed citizens   

Some may argue that the purpose of education has changed little from the time of Plato who believedthat the purpose of education was to teach “good character, citizenship and leadership”. A common theme throughout the history of public education in the United States, the UK  and Australiais the the need of public education to be free, compulsory and secular. Also, education should produce informed, useful and active citizens. What has changed is what it means to be an active, useful and informed citizens.

Educator responses to a question in YAMMER “What is the purpose of education in the 21st Century?” indicated that there still is a strong belief that a purpose of education is still to develop citizens. Whether that be sustaining community, inter-cultural understanding, socialisation, preparing students for the society in which they will live, transmission of culture in society, develop the skills that will help them with their future lives, good people or to develop respectable, thoughtful and creative citizens who participate in the wider society.

Further it was suggested that there are skill that students will require include: 

  • Critical thinking
  • Problem Solving
  • Creative expression
  • Communication skills
  • Access, interrogate and manipualte  information. Create content
  • Understand yourself. How you learn. Your perceptual and cognitive biases.
  • Collaborate
  • Peaceably resolve conflict
  • Knowledge of a discipline
  • Interdisciplinary knowledge

Some may see these as the skill necessary for students to become active and informed citizens in the 21st Century.

How we do and how we put it into a framework are questions for another time. But however we do this we must ensure that the love of learning is kept alive. “Education is about lighting that inner fire – not filling a bottle”

What do you see as the purpose of education in the 21st Century?

6 thoughts on “What is the purpose of Education in the 21st Century?

  1. Congrats Greg! You beat me to it. I’ve been contemplating starting a blog for a while. Got lots of ideas but procrastination wins out usually. I just completed the survey posted on Yammer by the PLANE team. Blogs such as yours are relevant to the survey questions. I have added you to my ‘Google Reader’ subscriptions so the pressure is on to keep up the good work.
    Do you ever see the time when a session at a school development day is given over to staff members updating their blogs as part of their PLNs?

  2. Yes Garry especially if we devote time to assisting them with PLN and the use of social media in education

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  4. Hi Greg,
    Nothing like starting with the BIG questions in current education thinking! I find myself continuing to stumble over the issues of ‘equity’ and ‘excellence’. While they are both vital components of the education process, I don’t think we are currently delivering them for most Australian students. The disparity in educational opportunity in Australia has increased significantly in my life time and I find myself wondering if equity has become a pipedream for Australian educators. Meanwhile, excellence is so dependent on the quality of teachers we can provide but our society continues to devalue teachers to such an extent that it is very difficult to attract the types of profile of people we so desperately need to be role models for our future Australians.
    Sorry to be such a doomsayer but, as a parent of a child currently in the public education system in NSW, I find myself in conflict with many of the systems in place within the primary school he attends, and find a significant gap between current best practice education theory and the reality of what he is offered on a day to day basis. As high school approaches it disturbs me that our feeder school will definitely not be where he will be attending because of a range of educational issues which, as a parent, I will be choosing to not expose him to. At least in Sydney I have that choice. However as a teacher I wish that this was not the situation because the benefits of being local are many!
    These are big, difficult issues for lots of Australian parents.
    Regards, Deb Hogg (Sydney)

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