Why do we send children to school? If you’re a parent, your primary concerns are probably making sure they learn things, giving them a chance to meet other children and making sure that they’re looked after while you work. If you study education, however, you’ll learn that the real picture is more complex than that. if you intend to build a career within education, you’ll need to make sure that you have the depth of understanding needed to do work that keeps all these aims in mind.
As far as individuals are concerned, going to school is first and foremost about gaining access to opportunity – just ask anyone who hasn’t had that privilege. Teachers strive to ensure that all their pupils grasp at least the basics of literacy and numeracy so that they will be able to function independently within society. They also do their best to make sure that children engage with the spirit of learning, exercise their imaginations and understand that if they’re curious about something that there are ways that they can find out more about it. This means that if they should lose access to formal education, they will have the option of continuing to learn by themselves.
Stimulating children’s natural curiosity enables them to start growing intellectually. They need to learn basic logic, even if it’s not presented as such, and understand the relationship between actions and consequences. They learn how to analyze and recontextualize what they already know and frame their inquiries more effectively when learning new things. They increase their store of knowledge, but also learn the basics of critical thinking, helping them to distinguish between true and false information. As they advance, they learn about the scientific method and learn how to explore literature beyond the superficial content of stories.
As well as developing their own intellects, children need to know how to interact with others. They must acquire the basic skills involved in making friends and developing relationships, which include learning how to manage conflict and how to engage in productive discussions. Alongside this, they learn when they ought to be cautious about people, who to go to if something seems wrong and other skills which will help to keep them safe. Social education also involves teaching children that bullying is wrong, and what to do about it.
Closely related to social development is spiritual development, which is not, as it may sound, religious in nature in the public school system, but instead focuses on values and principles. It is closely integrated with moral education, which is not about imposing a moral framework but, rather, helping children to get better at making moral decisions for themselves. It usually begins with the Golden Rule, encouraging the development of empathy. From there, children go on to learn about bias in society, how to examine their own bias and learn more about minority groups and their history. They develop and refine the skills which will enable them to be good citizens.
Cultural education helps children to understand the framework upon which the society they live in is based and learn what that society expects of them. This often includes a focus on particular issues related to the local community and the state, and it aims to represent the ethnic constitution of the area, as well as the country in general. It gives children a chance to explore traditions and learn about different aspects of their heritage. They can also learn about the process of cultural production and engage in their own artistic projects.
Education must also prepare young people for the workplace by helping them to develop a general understanding of how the world of work functions, as well as the specific skills they need for the careers which interest them. It also needs to ensure that they obtain the qualifications they need to pursue their ambitions. This can include practical as well as traditional academic learning, and it can incorporate work experience. When students don’t know what they want to do with their lives, educators need to help them explore their options, examining their grades, discussing their interests and suggesting careers that might suit them.
Education plays an important role at a social as well as an individual level. It helps to advance all of society by increasing the ability of people who grow up in poverty to build better lives for themselves and their families. For this to work properly, public schools in the poorest areas need to be able to meet the same standards as those in wealthy ones and need access to adequate equipment and learning materials. In some cases, they also need additional help to enable students to overcome social barriers and meet attendance and homework requirements.
This is an ongoing challenge that you will have to face if you work in education. Luckily, if you study for an online Master’s degree in Education such as the program offered by the University of Exeter, you will learn about the social factors relating to learning, and how education can bridge the societal gaps your students may face. Courses such as these are taught 100% online, so can study around your existing commitments.
As Singapore proved with its massive investment in education post-independence and as Germany has proved by making its universities’ fees free for most students, investment in education is one of the primary drivers of economic progress. At a national scale, it has benefits for the entire society, including those who left school a long time ago. At the policy level, one of the aims of education is to produce a workforce that is skilled in the right areas to take advantage of emerging opportunities, and which has the flexibility to adapt to unexpected developments.
By factoring in the importance of all these different aims, educators can work effectively to support children and young people while cultivating a stronger, healthier and more successful society for them to live in. Educational policies at each level need to strike a balance between competing priorities, but by integrating thinking in all these different areas, they can work towards solutions that give everyone the best possible future.