Published in The Border Mail on 9th November 2020

We often confuse education with academics and vice versa.  “Education is the process of facilitating learning, or the acquisition of knowledge, skills, values, beliefs, and habits” ( Whereas – according to Oxford Dictionary – academic means “not of practical relevance; of only theoretical interest”. It is evident from the above definitions that education has a holistic meaning that contributes to an individual’s entire character development rather than just theoretical knowledge which is academics.

We can now establish that the purpose of schooling is to impart high quality education and not just to enhance academic knowledge. Lest we must not forget that no education exists without some level of theoretical knowledge.

All educational institutions educate their learners. But the by product of every institute is different. People who have studied from the same school establish lifelong connections through common values. This is because each institution’s education is driven by a unique purpose. Whilst they all teach, they sort and select to produce differentiated outcomes. Each school has a different value system, a unique vision. This is driven by the leadership. There may be schools with vocational orientation while others with academic focus. There are those that value development of employability skills and sensitivity to diversity. While some might ignore bullying but promote leadership skills. Others may invest in pulling up their disengaged learners while some simply facilitate their high potential. It’s about finding the right balance by the management. It’s about choosing the right school for your child that best suits your values and his needs.

Then there is another debate. What constitutes learning? Contemporary culture, literature, mathematics, technology or employability skills. When we dig deeper, another question surfaces. What version of social values, global issues and national history should be taught? Most of these answers are policy driven. Intertwined in our own beliefs and arguments, we restrict what encompasses education. And the objective of development of a child’s potential is lost somewhere in our paradigm differences.

What if the purpose of all education is as simple as the development of high cognition? This doesn’t mean creating geniuses. This means developing higher cognition relative to each student’s ability. It’s going further from where they are at intellectually. If we empower individuals with the ability to read, write, comprehend and interpret, we give them the power to make informed decisions. Do not confuse this with merely acquiring literacy. Cognitive development is also propelled by numeracy. All the theoretical complexities we learn at school, all the drill and practice to hone the concepts for application contribute towards development of intellectual ability.

Carol Dweck’s growth mindset research has proven that intelligence can grow. Intelligence quotient (IQ) increases over time if given the right amount of stimulation in a conducive environment. Intellect empowers you to make informed decisions. Whether they are about social issues, diversity, vocation or skill acquisition.

This means that all we need to do at educational institutions is to create a yearning for knowledge complemented by a growth mindset. David Beswick’s research stipulates that curiosity creates a yearning for knowledge, that leads to an advent of original ideas which are then translated into a system. Therefore, one’s curiosity dictates one’s motivation that informs a series of questions that lead to acquisition of knowledge. This knowledge creates a systematic approach towards the development of ideas that lead to innovation. In process of acquiring knowledge an individual goes through a learning process that develops high levels of cognitive abilities.

Once these cognitive abilities are developed, the question of what should be learnt becomes obsolete. As now an individual has attained the autonomy to learn just about anything. His choices may be triggered by his interests, but his decisions will be mostly rational. I would rest my case of development of cognition as the purpose of education with Falk and Bassett’s research that informs that cognitive abilities inform an individual’s choice of social interactions. To satisfy the proponents of social skill development, I would quote Joseph A. Durlak’s research which is supported by a plethora of other research that states that social and academic skills share a positive correlation under favourable circumstances. 


About the writer… 

The writer is an Education and Career Consultant who has two gifted children. She is a professional member of the Career Development Association of Australia. She has a Bachelor of Electrical Engineering, Graduate Certificate in Careers Education and Development (RMIT) and Certificate of Gifted Education (UNSW). She also holds a Certificate IV in Training and Assessment and Certificate of Fashion Illustration.

She worked for a multinational engineering manufacturing industry before switching to career counselling, professional development, writing, teaching, and case management.  She has worked in the British and American schooling systems and is now consulting with Australian schools. Her diverse experience of working around the globe in the education and corporate sector and strong academic background enables her to see the bigger picture.