A case for formal education

The last few days many people have been discussing and debating Donald Clark‘s keynote at the Media and Learning Conference last week. Today, he has followed up this keynote with a more elaborated blogpost entitled “21st Century Skills are so last century!”. I have been thinking about his message quite a lot and I do agree with some of his points on formal education.

The thing is: formal education is not only about learning skills. And, reducing formal education to the development of particular skills in learners is restricting formal education quite a lot. He argues that we need fundamental change in the established formal educational system (schools, universities, etc.). But what is this change about? And how should it take shape? It is not only about bringing technology to the classroom.

This past year we have seen a lot of social changes which are partly due to the increased access to communication tools (such as social media). But does this necessarily tell us that we no longer need formal education? Are the people on Tahrir Square in Cairo only there because they had access to and know how to use Facebook?

In my opinion, learning skills is just part of what you do at school. Apart from these, formal education, as it is organised now, encourages:

  • group identification (through classroom / group structure)
  • building of personal social network
  • self discovery
  • organised time and space for self-reflection
  • time and space to build self confidence
  • safe space with a trusted person to make mistakes, get guidance and improve
  • self-discipline: following set rules and guidelines
  • entrepreneurship (or breaking the rules and guidelines if you like 🙂 )
  • ……

These aspects of formal education are often underestimated in our educational research world. However, I think most people who join formal education, as a learner or as a teacher, join for these reasons, and not necessarily to learn/teach skills alone. Formal education is much more than learning skills to function in society, and being accredited for these skills. Those skills are necessary, the accreditation is necessary but they cannot be the only reason you enter school.

I think for this reason, formal education still holds a very important, even essential, place in society, as it always did. And the role of the teachers becomes even more important. They may not be the ones who show you how to use the tools you have at your disposal, but they are the people who will give context to what you see, read, and make. They will make you understand.

Can we really minimise the role of the thousands and thousands of teachers and role models who inspired people in the Middle East to come on to the streets and stand up for what they believe in?

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