Gavin Williamson and the purpose of education.

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SarcAndSpark
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The other day, our illustrious education secretary suggested that giving people the skills to get a "good and meaningful" job is the purpose of education.

You can read the full text of his speech here:
https://feweek.co.uk/2020/07/09/gavi...the-full-text/

Personally, I find this idea hugely depressing. Our lives have far more meaning than what we do for work. Learning things for the sake of learning has value. Being a well informed citizen has value. Even in terms of practical skills, I think there is value in having skills I may never use for work.

Obviously a good education will equip someone with skills for the workplace, but is that really its purpose?

I'm interested to hear what others think.
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fallen_acorns
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I think for me we have to separate things a bit -

For me, the purpose of state education, the basic package offered to all by the state, should be to develop people into good functioning citizens of the state. Which would include preparing them for employment, giving them a level of knowledge that enables them to work their way through the world, raise future generations, contribute to their societies and support their families etc.

That should be the base target, for every single person in the country regardless of wealth/social class etc.

Then you can build the loftier goals on top of it. There should be plenty of avenues for people to take their education further and into much more advantageous and exciting places.. to develop themselves, to innovate in ways that help all of us, and to explore what ever creative pursuit that fascinates them. This shouldn't be mandated or forced, and its not applicable to many, but it should be there as a route for those that want it and need it.

I think the problem that a lot of people have with education is that we have had a period of around 20 years where the loftier/creative/personal side of education has been allowed to be substituted for the basic citizen-building type, rather than being an addition on top of it. Hence why we now have the perception of kids who have studied a load of creative nonsense, but then can't get a job. And hence the backlash now that's pushing back in the direction of more standard employable basic courses.

An obvious change for me that fits in line with this idea.. is that I think maths, English and science should be compulsory up to the age of 18. It is in many countries around the world, and it covers the core of what we think education should provide for the masses.. On top of that let people specialize if they want and explore education in their own way.. but to let all 16 year olds choose their 'passion' and take only the loftier side of education without the basics, is a recipe for unemployable youth. For each kid who benefits from being able to take art, music and psychology, and ends up in their dream creative job...there will be 2 that would have been better off if they just studied maths, english, science, and will never make it in anyway beyond that of a normal worker/citizen.
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StriderHort
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GW is a snakey chump, I feel that says it all.
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SarcAndSpark
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(Original post by fallen_acorns)
I think the problem that a lot of people have with education is that we have had a period of around 20 years where the loftier/creative/personal side of education has been allowed to be substituted for the basic citizen-building type, rather than being an addition on top of it. Hence why we now have the perception of kids who have studied a load of creative nonsense, but then can't get a job. And hence the backlash now that's pushing back in the direction of more standard employable basic courses.
I want to challenge this a bit.

I think a lot of the unemployment/underemployment in the generation you're talking about is nothing to do with what they studied, and more to do with the effects of graduating into a recession, and their working lives being built during a period where employment has become increasingly insecure. Creative industries in the UK actually employ a lot of people, and there are lots of jobs out there for people with degrees/FE qualifications in what you might consider "creative nonsense" (or there were, pre-covid).

I also think that to be a "normal worker" doesn't require, necessarily, a specific type of higher education. I think the skills learned on any degree/FE course can be valuable in a lot of professions (e.g. working to deadlines, time management, critical thinking, working to a brief, team working and so on). So why shouldn't people have 3 years studying something you enjoy.

FWIW, as a science grad, I know a lot of people under/unemployed with science degrees as well. I think the issue of underemployed graduates is probably separate from the idea that education should prepare you for a job.
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fallen_acorns
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(Original post by SarcAndSpark)
I want to challenge this a bit.

I think a lot of the unemployment/underemployment in the generation you're talking about is nothing to do with what they studied, and more to do with the effects of graduating into a recession, and their working lives being built during a period where employment has become increasingly insecure. Creative industries in the UK actually employ a lot of people, and there are lots of jobs out there for people with degrees/FE qualifications in what you might consider "creative nonsense" (or there were, pre-covid).

I also think that to be a "normal worker" doesn't require, necessarily, a specific type of higher education. I think the skills learned on any degree/FE course can be valuable in a lot of professions (e.g. working to deadlines, time management, critical thinking, working to a brief, team working and so on). So why shouldn't people have 3 years studying something you enjoy.

FWIW, as a science grad, I know a lot of people under/unemployed with science degrees as well. I think the issue of underemployed graduates is probably separate from the idea that education should prepare you for a job.
Your certainly right that recessions and job insecurity haven't helped. That being said, only 18% of people who studied creative subjects end up working in creative fields. 82% don't, and those statistics are a bit distorted because they include things like design, which is actually very vocational and employable, and couple it with photography/drama etc. courses that are much much less employable. Many of those 82% would end up having better lives if they had studied a different subject, despite how much they enjoyed those 3 years.

That being said - I have no problem at all with people enjoying their studies and following their passion. If its their money and their time (which it is), then they can do what they want. We can all do what we want and indulge ourselves in anyway we like in our spare time. The issue though is where we put the governments line of responsibility (and funding).

Below the age of 16, its government funded education for the most, and we all accept the idea of everyone learning basic skills that will allow them to function/thrive within society. Above the age of 18, largely we take the attitude that the government no longer holds responsibility for your education, its yours to pay for and engage in (or not) as you wish. The tricky part for me, is 16-18. This is where the message is a bit mixed.. it has the funding/compulsory/citizenship ideals of the under 16 arrangement mixed with the freedom and choice of the over 18 arrangement.

What I support is keeping university as it is. Let the market and free choice decide the course and the direction people study. Its their money and their time/work, they can make their own choices. But I would bring us much more in line with many other countries by bringing the 16-18 gap more in line with the under-16 arrangement. E.g. citizenship/basic skills/employment focused, with mandatory lessons that are useful for all.

Gavin was wrong when he made it all about employment, he should have said citizenship. Its broader then just employment, but its also far more practical then education for the sake of education/learning/enlightenment.
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SarcAndSpark
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(Original post by fallen_acorns)
Your certainly right that recessions and job insecurity haven't helped. That being said, only 18% of people who studied creative subjects end up working in creative fields. 82% don't, and those statistics are a bit distorted because they include things like design, which is actually very vocational and employable, and couple it with photography/drama etc. courses that are much much less employable. Many of those 82% would end up having better lives if they had studied a different subject, despite how much they enjoyed those 3 years.

That being said - I have no problem at all with people enjoying their studies and following their passion. If its their money and their time (which it is), then they can do what they want. We can all do what we want and indulge ourselves in anyway we like in our spare time. The issue though is where we put the governments line of responsibility (and funding).

Below the age of 16, its government funded education for the most, and we all accept the idea of everyone learning basic skills that will allow them to function/thrive within society. Above the age of 18, largely we take the attitude that the government no longer holds responsibility for your education, its yours to pay for and engage in (or not) as you wish. The tricky part for me, is 16-18. This is where the message is a bit mixed.. it has the funding/compulsory/citizenship ideals of the under 16 arrangement mixed with the freedom and choice of the over 18 arrangement.

What I support is keeping university as it is. Let the market and free choice decide the course and the direction people study. Its their money and their time/work, they can make their own choices. But I would bring us much more in line with many other countries by bringing the 16-18 gap more in line with the under-16 arrangement. E.g. citizenship/basic skills/employment focused, with mandatory lessons that are useful for all.

Gavin was wrong when he made it all about employment, he should have said citizenship. Its broader then just employment, but its also far more practical then education for the sake of education/learning/enlightenment.
I do take a lot of issue with the idea that you need to have a good/fulfilling job in order to have a "better life" though.

I also think that your definition of what makes a good citizen is quite narrow. Citizens who have been educated for the "sake of education" are likely to have better critical thinking skills and be better able to make decisions that affect their own lives (in all sorts of areas, from healthcare to financial to political).

It seems like you are implying that education for the sake of enlightenment should only be available to people who are already financially stable, and I don't think that leads to a good/fair society.
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barnetlad
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Gavin Williamson is inline to be the worst Education Secretary ever, in a government headed by the worst Prime Minister ever.
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04MR17
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(Original post by barnetlad)
Gavin Williamson is inline to be the worst Education Secretary ever, in a government headed by the worst Prime Minister ever.
I think Gove does take some beating. Williamson has been crap but he hasn't been crap for an awfully long time (been in most almost exactly a year).

Though we do need to remember that Williamson was given a department that didn't have national security briefings included, so that he wouldn't make his earlier "mistakes" (putting it lightly) as Defence Sec.





As for the purpose of education itself, it's a vast debate that Williamson has just landed himself into the middle of. The functional, economic view is not a ridiculous position to take, especially if you're someone who wishes that the state spend as little money as possible. It's not necessarily the position I agree with but I think with the current cabinet as it is there's quite a few worse ways to make a tit out of yourself to be honest.
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fallen_acorns
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(Original post by SarcAndSpark)
I do take a lot of issue with the idea that you need to have a good/fulfilling job in order to have a "better life" though.

I also think that your definition of what makes a good citizen is quite narrow. Citizens who have been educated for the "sake of education" are likely to have better critical thinking skills and be better able to make decisions that affect their own lives (in all sorts of areas, from healthcare to financial to political).

It seems like you are implying that education for the sake of enlightenment should only be available to people who are already financially stable, and I don't think that leads to a good/fair society.
The last part - I think we have already solved. Thanks to student loans anyone can access higher education right up to PHD level without needing the money up front, and without any obligation to pay it back if they cant (at least to undergrad).

For the rest, we have to generalize. After all we are taking about millions of people, and while there will be some people who it doesn't apply to, for the majority of people having a more fulfilling and better paying job would improve their quality of life, and quite often the quality of life of their family/loved ones.

I'm with you on improving the public's education, to aid critical thinking and generally create a better society - but for me the way to that is compulsory teaching of key subjects until 18. Having a population who all have (internationally speaking) a highschool level understanding of science, English and maths, would be more beneficial for the group as a whole then having many go off and study niche subjects at a higher level.

It doesn't need to be a choice though. Many other countries manage to balance having core compulsory (citizenship/employment building) subjects
as compulsory until 18, while still having creativity/freedom/choice within their education system, especially at tertiary level. In the UK only 20% of students study maths up until the age of 18, but in most OECD countries the rate is at least 50%, and in many its over 80%.
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