Education is to prepare for an unknown future.

I know in the last post I mentioned that I would discuss some historical authors that have written on education in general, and adult education specifically.  However, over this week, I have had some experiences that I thought I would share and hopefully start a conversation.

The first experience was on the flight home from my doctoral confirmation seminar.  I had the pleasure of sitting next to two wonderful ladies from the Ballarat (Victoria) area.  We got talking about why we were at the Gold Coast and why we were flying back to Melbourne.  I briefly touched on why I was there, and this generated a wonderful discussion on education and the things that are wrong with the current education system; and this led to conversation about what education should be.  (Sadly, I did not get any other details as I would love to tell them how much that conversation meant.)

So, that conversation and the reflection that arose, I wondered what is the purpose of education.  I am not talking how to go about educating, or even how to engage the learner (regardless of age), but what do we what from the education system.

For me, I believe that education should prepare the learner for an uncertain and unknown future.  No-one knows what the future will hold, we can only guess.  Schools should guide students at the primary, secondary, and tertiary levels through the development of a foundation knowledge-base that skills them with the ability to read, write, and integrate their current knowledge, skills, and abilities with each new piece of learning.  It should equip them with the skill set to be able to independently research new information when they recognise they have a new learning need; and not just asking someone else or be bound to a computer to make decisions and blindly follow what the computer spits out.  It is this last point where my next experience in the ‘what is wrong with education’ journey.

Today I went to my local library to pick up some books on order.  Somehow I had racked up a considerable amount of overdue fines.  While I accept that I deserved some of the amount they levied, I am sure and was adamant that I returned a number of books on time.  I relayed this to the unhelpful librarian who looked at me and stated, “well that’s what the computer says”.  And that was that.  The computer was right and I was wrong, so left with no choice I paid the fine and got the books I had on hold. 

This experience left me wondering about how much people are relying on technology to do the thinking for them?  Has technology dulled the innate ability to search for information?  Has Google made it too easy to find information?  And, just because one can find the information, do they have the skills and abilities to assess and determine if the information is accurate and then integrate it into their current knowledge and skill set?

Based on my experience as an adult educator I am starting to think not!

The recent news that the working population aged 15-74 in Tasmania:

years lack the literacy skills needed to cope with the demands of everyday life and work.  For example 49% of adult Tasmanians or approximately 174,000 people, do not have the basic skills needed to understand and use information from newspapers, magazines, books and brochures.[1]

Is not really news, as this information is based on a 2006 Australian Bureau of Statistics Adult Literacy and Life Skills Survey. And, if anyone looks at the survey, they will discover that the mainland states fair only slightly better.  See extract found here:

Approximately 7 million (46%) Australians aged 15 to 74 years had scores at Level 1 or 2 on the prose scale, a further 5.6 million (37%) at Level 3 and 2.5 million (16%) at Level 4/5. Results for document literacy were similar to prose. There were 7 million (47%) Australians at Level 1 or 2 on the document scale, 5.4 million (36%) at Level 3 and 2.7 million (18%) at Level 4/5. On the numeracy scale, approximately 7.9 million (53%) Australians were assessed at Level 1 or 2, 4.7 million (31%) at Level 3 and 2.4 million (16%) at Level 4/5. On the problem solving scale, approximately 10.6 million (70%) Australians were assessed at Level 1 or 2, 3.7 million (25%) at Level 3 and 800,000 (5%) at Level 4 .


So why is it being raised some eight years later – who knows?  What is important to note, is that despite billions of dollars and plenty of political rhetoric, it has not got better.  So how do we fix it?

In my humble opinion, we need education to dump the political ideology that all things are to be seen through.  For example, from the physics cross-curriculum priorities:

While the significance of the cross-curriculum priorities for Physics varies, there are opportunities for teachers to select contexts that incorporate the key concepts from each priority.

Through an investigation of contexts that draw on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories and cultures students can appreciate Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples’ understanding of physical phenomena, including of the motion of objects, and of astronomical phenomena.

Contexts that draw on Asian scientific research and development and collaborative endeavours in the Asia Pacific region provide an opportunity for students to investigate Asia and Australia’s engagement with Asia. Students could examine the important role played by people of the Asia region in such areas as medicine, communication technologies, transportation, sports science and energy security. They could consider collaborative projects between Australian and Asian scientists and the contribution these make to scientific knowledge.

There is also a section on Sustainability.  

Now, from my limited understanding physics is a hard science, that is one that uses testing to validate or otherwise of the hypothesis.  And, again I am no expert, but the laws of physics apply regardless of culture.  Please let me know if I am wrong.  So, why do we limit students’ frame of reference to specific cultures rather than focussing on the scientific principles and properties of physics.  If they can understand the basics, then they can start to apply them to varying scenarios and cultures; thereby preparing them for an uncertain future. 

What do you think; let me know by leaving a comment.


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