There is this interesting question going around right now asking „What is the purpose of education?“ I already posted my point of view on Twitter but I’ll try to extend this here in less than 500 words. Pleas have a look at the project’s page and also Cristina Costa’s and Stephen Downes’ 500 words.
Steve Jobs once said in a speech at Stanford University “you’ve got to find work you love”. You should not settle for someone’s idea of what you should do in life.
Okay you say, but where is the connection to (higher) education? For me it means that we should challenge our students to not only execute tasks we assign to them. Students, the upcoming working force and hopefully research elite should be able to think outside the box. We should engage them to say “No. I don’t think this the best way to do it.” The purpose of education should be making our students responsible beings that try their own way. We should be there and guide their way without disrupting their creativeness. We should give them possibilities to try new things. They will fail sometimes but they will learn and succeed. This way we will give them time and opportunity to find something that they truly love to do, what challenges them and that keeps them motivated.
After formal education, work is going to fill a large portion of their time. They will most probably face problems that we didn’t prepare them for. They will use technologies we have no access to in the educational system. The pace of the real world will be much faster than in any educational setting. What we educators can do to prepare them? We have to equip them with the skills and know-how to solve novel problems and to stay focused. Our courses have to be embedded in real-world scenarios so they keep being motivated. We have to bring the variety of tools, techniques and opinions into the classroom. THEY have to make decisions and they have to deal with the results.
In my courses and with all the theses I supervise I am led by Steve Jobs’ words: You gotta find something that you love, that inspires and challenges you. So tell me what you are interested in, what problems you want to solve, what technologies you find hip. After having a picture of my students’ goals, I adapt my research goals and do you know what? Most of the times they produce awesome results. I am convinced they would never produce the same high quality if they would need to do something that they didn’t like. Never ever.
So what is the purpose of education? Engage them. To try. To fail. To fail often. To succeed and learn. Give them opportunities to find something they truly love.