The twin propositions that ‘more education is better’ and ‘the more people who are educated the better’ appear uncontentious. However, how ‘better’ is defined is crucial. When you ask people why they think education is important, most, including educators and a lot of parents, point immediately to its personal, instrumental value in ensuring a high-paid and rewarding job. After all, that’s been the predominant public story for decades now. And such thinking is almost certainly partly responsible for the push for greater ‘choice’ in education and the shift by the children of the well off into the private system. Such thinking appears to inform the contemporary discussion about economic growth and productivity; education, especially ‘skills-based’ education, is seen as a panacea.
The contribution of education to individual creativity, health and wellbeing or to wider social objectives like reducing prejudice and improving our democracy might be tossed in as an afterthought. And, God forbid we should even hint at woolly ideas like the sheer glorious excitement of learning, the delight of mastery, of bright curiosity satisfied and of play. Even when these more expansive, less readily measured effects of a good education are mentioned, they are often a cover for a tight focus on test results and school exit performance, a mandatory nod on the school website or in the glossy prospectus, but not a real test of worth. There was a time when it was not considered naive to talk about education in expansive terms; there was a time when teachers were generally revered and the idea that learning could be ‘for its own sake’ was not considered quaintly old-fashioned. Of course, education was particularly valued because it offered the less well off a path to improvement, but such improvement was not thought to be limited to the material; what my parents wanted, at least, was for me and my brother and sisters to experience and know more about the world than they did and to transcend what they saw as the intellectual limitations of a country upbringing.
There are many educators and parents who believe that the way we now think about education and measure achievement dismally fails to capture all the facets of young people’s lives. The fear is that the restricted focus on vocational preparation and testing may result in young people being denied opportunities for genuine intellectual discovery and creativity. Correspondingly, the nation may be starved of the ingenuity and problem-solving needed to respond to pressing social and economic dilemmas.
A podcast of a public lecture at the London School of Economics by Professor Colin Crouch entitled "Social democracy as the highest form of liberalism"Tweet