In what ways is the moral purpose of education closely linked to your child’s future? For centuries educators and philosophers have attempted to define the moral purpose of education. Arguably the most successful are those who have led us not merely to debate the higher meaning of education (we could do this forever without coming to any conclusions!) but rather to assess whether or not education is achieving its higher purpose through the effect – positive or negative – that it has on our children’s lives.

As far back as the sixteen century, the French essayist Michel de Montaigne wrote that the purpose of education was not to teach children to learn and recite facts but to help them develop sound judgment and wisdom to use throughout life*.

Four and a half centuries later most schools and school systems around the world have still not appreciated or acted upon Montaigne’s advice.  Sadly, in most school systems and curricula, the focus is still placed on learning and reciting facts and formulae for tests and examinations. This has some merit, of course, but is not good enough for the times in which we live.

bayer low dose 81 mg aspirin regimen tablets Examination results are useful for universities and employers to use in their selection processes, but they are not sufficient to prepare our children for jobs that do not yet exist or or to help them live with the profound implications of scientific developments and especially Artificial Intelligence (AI), which will change all our lives sooner than we think.


What is the difference between educational ‘impacts’ and educational ‘outputs’?

The good news is that some schools are just beginning to understand that a fundamental purpose of education is to move from a focus on what are called educational outputs (examination results) to what are called educational impacts (the positive effects that school has on children that will serve them throughout life). Remember, this is exactly what Montaigne wrote about 450 years ago!

The reason why it is essential for schools change emphasis from outputs to impacts is that if we do not know what the future holds for our children, then it cannot be adequate – or moral – to teach them only the knowledge and skills that we understand and use today. Instead, it is necessary for schools to help children develop the key attributes and skills that will enable them to be successful whatever life my bring. These key attributes and skills include the following:

·      Conceptual thinking: the ability to understand the ‘big picture’ not just to learn facts;

·      Critical thinking: the ability to analyze, evaluate, and make decisions upon the available information (this is what Montaigne calls “wisdom”);

·      Creative thinking: the ability to take existing knowledge and develop it further to make products or ideas that are new and useful;

·      Adaptive thinking: the ability to change and develop our ways of thinking throughout life as circumstances change (including changes in science and technology);

·      Resilience: the ability to overcome life’s difficulties.

These are called ‘key attributes’ because they will always be needed. It is the responsibility of schools and parents to ensure that children acquire them. We cannot wait another four centuries.

Based on the above, here are two vital questions specifically for parents:

1.     How do I know if my child’s school is moving from educational outputs to impacts?

2.     How can I understand the attributes listed above and help my child develop them?

I will try to answer these questions over the next series of posts, commencing May 14th.

Thank you.

Next time: Why is it important for children to learn at a conceptual level, and not just remember facts?

*Michel de Montaigne lived in France from 1533 to 1592. He was the first person to write “essays”. His essay “Of the Education of Children” was very forward-looking, and we still have much to learn from it. You can find it online.

What kind of education will prepare your child for an uncertain future – and what is the role of the parent?

The way in which children are taught in schools has not changed much since the introduction of mass education that accompanied the spread of industrialization in the nineteenth century. At that time many countries started to provide elementary education for all children in order to produce a sufficiently literate and numerate workforce for the growing number of factories and offices in the great industrial cities.

This ‘factory’ model of education was characterized by the passage of ‘batches’ of children of the same age through the school system until they graduated into a world of work that offered the same kind of jobs from one generation to the next.

There have been some modifications to that basic model, notably the provision of secondary education to all children in many countries, but the basic pattern of schooling has remained much the same for the past 150 years: children go to school in same-age batches, take school-leaving examinations to test how much they have learned, and then go to work either directly or via a few more years’ education at university.

Unfortunately, that pattern of education is fast becoming irrelevant to the kind of future that faces all our children. Let’s consider what that future might look like:

  • At some time in their lives, most of our children will have jobs that do not yet exist;
  • It will become unusual for anybody to stay in one job throughout their working life;
  • The distinction between a person’s working life, personal life, and retirement will disappear;
  • With the spread of electronically-generated knowledge and communications, the need for schools and universities as they currently exist will probably disappear;
  • Traditional examinations that test the amount of knowledge acquired by students will become irrelevant;
  • Starting (very soon!) with manufacturing and transportation, robots will replace humans in the workforce;
  • Artificial Intelligence (AI) devices will become such efficient ‘thought processors’ that they will increasingly replace humans in ‘thinking’ and ‘decision-making’ jobs such as doctors, engineers and managers.
  • Our children’s interaction with technology will become far deeper than simply responding to screens and audio as they do at the moment. Over time, the thought processing of humans and technology are likely to merge;
  • The natural and human landscapes that we inhabit will change beyond recognition, either for good or bad;
  • The structure of family units will evolve in different directions, but because of the increasing complexity of society the need for parents and other responsible adults to provide skilled and informed guidance for children will increase.

You may not agree with all of the above, and you will probably be able to think of other ways in which our future world will be very different from today.  However, one thing is certain: today’s schools are not adequately preparing our children for their uncertain future. There is an increasing gap between the lives that our children live inside and outside the classroom. Parents know this better than governments and education policy makers, but they may not know how best to create the supportive environment that their children need.

In the next few posts I will explain ways in which education can help prepare today’s children for tomorrow’s world. I will also suggest specific ways in which parents may support their child’s learning. The topics will include the following:

1.     Why must teachers and parents consider the moral purpose of education?

2.     What is the difference between educational ‘impacts’ and educational ‘outputs’?

3.     Why is it important for children to learn at a conceptual level, and not just remember facts?

4.     How do children become critical and creative thinkers, and why is this so important for their futures?

5.     What is the role of technology in education?

I hope parents and teachers will find the next few posts useful, and I would welcome your comments and ideas.

Thank you.

Next time: In what ways is the moral purpose of education closely linked to your child’s future?