Education is an important human practice, and many books offer various views on the matter. The majority of those books, however, are written by scientists and for other scientists – so, thick, complex, too theoretical. Most of the parents, politicians, even teachers and school administrators do not need to have deep philosophical or scientific view on what education is for. A short, clear, operational definition is sufficient. Everyone who wants to develop a scientific view on education can begin from using a simple operational one, and then deepen it to extend which would feel satisfactory.
At least, that is my approach to teaching, which I, as a practicing educator (a.k.a. a practitioner) has been successfully using for many years (https://www.cognisity.how/2018/10/AtoZ.html).
Here it is, my take on the mission of education.
Education is not about knowledge, per se.
as human practice is to ensure the progress of humanity.
The goal of educational institutions
The main function of educational institutions is Teaching: i.e. guiding students through an arrangement of learning experiences specifically designed for helping students with mastering subjects, acquiring relevant social skills, and feeling good about themselves.
It also requires being able to control emotions, especially frustration of making a mistake. That is why "we have to make learning fun" is not the right way to teach.
A person who is capable of achieving various professional goals within a specific profession is called competent. And the set of abilities the competent person has is called professional competence.
No doubt, knowledge is an important part of a professional competence. But knowledge alone is not enough for achieving a professional success.
This understanding of education and its mission leads to a specific view on teaching practice.
Everything a teacher does has to be helping students to obtain abilities needed to succeed in life.
Actions which could impede future student success have to be eliminated from teaching practice.
Of course, the next step in the conversation would be describing various teaching activities and analyzing them in terms of their possible (positive or negative) effect on future success of students.
This conversation, in turn, could stir a discussion about a success, what does it mean, what is required for it, for are the components and indicators of a success.
The common sense, and my own experience, tells us that no single book or a conversation would be enough to cover all important aspects of such matters.
This is one of the reasons why a teacher should never stop learning.
Teacher professional development is a continuous and never-ending process.
Teachers who are consciously involved in a continuous process of professional development are called a “good teacher” (a.k.a. TeachSmith: http://www.cognisity.how/2017/12/TeachSmith.html).
Based on many years of my professional experience in the field of teacher professional development, I firmly believe that the quality of public education is directly proportional to the number of “good teachers”. Let’s say, a school district has 14 good teachers, and each good teacher teaches 68 students, in that case the maximum number of students who can count on having good education is 952.
Getting a diploma is just the first step in the long teacher career. Sustainable professional growth requires a systematic self-training. In order to be efficient, that training that needs to be “owned” by a teacher, i.e. the teacher needs to know exactly what he or she needs to get trained.
Currently, the system of teacher professional development for in-service teachers looks like a market place where various groups (providers, tech startups, publishers, etc.) show off their programs or gadgets and teachers choose which to try in order to gain the required amount of PDP. There is no direct correlation between the selected PDP provider and learning outcomes of students of the teachers participated in the professional development activities (PDA).
The absence of this correlation is due to the mostly passive position of teaches toward the PDA (“If I listen to this, I may hear something interesting. Will I use it in my classes? Who knows.”).
Professional development practice based on the Theory of Human Activity overcomes that deficiency. A specific approach called “Professional Designing” (http://www.cognisity.how/2016/10/facilitating.html) places at the core of the professional development specific goals of a teacher and builds the professional development process around those goals.
This approach guaranties not only formal professional development, but also advancement in results of teaching due to the achievement of specific (i.e. measurable) professional goals.
We can say, that the mission of a system of teacher professional development is enabling professional success of teachers, and “Professional Designing” is the most efficient approach which fulfills that mission.
If someone preaches “students need fun”, “problems must be world related” just ignore that person – he/she has no idea how learning (hence – teaching) works. Fun and practicality are useless if graduates will lack imagination, cognitive abilities and confidence in themselves. Learning (hence – teaching) has its strict laws, which have to be followed by a teacher who wants to fulfill the mission of K12 education.
The last note is on the subject of such important school subject as mathematics.
STEM education is a topic of many conversations and publications.
Physics, chemistry, biology, and other natural sciences are all bundled together in a single letter, S.
Mathematics has its own designated letter, M, because it is extremely important.
However, as we agreed before, knowledge alone is not enough; students need to be able to use the knowledge they learned. That includes mathematical knowledge.
However, many people do not realize that in order to learn how to use mathematics, students have to step outside of mathematics.
Long story short:
To know mathematics students need to learn mathematics.
To be able to use mathematics students have to learn physics (for starters)!
That is why I have been advocating for teaching physics to all high school students (at least): http://www.cognisity.how/2016/12/learnphy.html.
Everyone who pushes for cyber education needs to know, that it only can happen on the top a solid basic education (as described in: http://www.cognisity.how/2017/12/cyber.html).
as a human practice is to ensure the progress of humanity.
The goal of educational institutions
P.S. I always include this slide in my first lecture. I believe that students should know the broader vision of what education is about.