Skip to content

What is the point of school?

What are we actually doing when we say that education is important? Who is it important for and what do we mean by education?
They seem like they should be really easy, straightforward questions to answer at a first glance, and then you scratch the surface of any answer that’s given to it, and you realise that the questions are not straightforward and nor are the answers.

So, at an easy-level, education teaches you to read, write and do a few sums so that you can go out and get a job, to earn money, to do life. But then those sums aren’t always easy ones so you might need a bit more of a specialised take on how to count and do sums. Some of the writing is quite tricky if you are writing about something in particular, or if someone asks you to write about something technical. So you might need to spend a bit of time working with some specialist people, or hone your own specialised skills in writing in order to do that particular job. And writing. Does someone who writes by hand never need to learn to use a computer because they don’t need to have computer access in their jobs? Or should everyone just use a computer even if writing on a piece of work is crucial to completing a job.

We can already see that the purpose of education is foggy and that’s just around the ‘core’ skills of reading, writing and doing a few sums.

And perhaps education should be to enrich and expan knowledge. It should bestow ‘cultural capital’ (in the current DfE parlance, not the actual Bourdieusian sense) upon those whose cultural capital has been deemed inferior by the powers-that-be. So here, again, we can see that just saying, “Get an education”, or “Education is key”, is not as clear cut and simple to engage with.

There are huge philosophical issues around what the point of education is and whose values it should reflect. There is no ignoring the fact that much education is dominated by white, middle-class values and if you’re not that, then you get sucked into that hole or dumped on the sidelines, framed as a failure.
For me, education should be about broadening horizons and seeing new things. Reading, writing and doing a few sums really matters too but they’re tools to help you see more and engage with the stuff that interests you.

But what do I know? I’m only a teacher.