The Purpose of Education

As you are no doubt aware, westernised education has already been through at least four, possibly five ‘eras’, each of which has had a cumulative impact on the next. The question is, what will establish Australia as a world leader in what’s next?

A prediction, based on more than 20 research fields, 35 years nationally and internationally of experience across education, business, community advocacy and politics, and what I have been teaching for more than 20 years is that we are now in the ‘Sustainable Systems’ Era whereby we rediscover a personal purpose and individual accountability contribute to community social, economic and ecological wellness. Recent moves at a national level in Australia by your government appear to support this view.

Purpose of Public Schooling


Purpose:                                  To promote common culture and citizenship

Metaphor:                                Community Centre serving political and civic needs

View of students:                   Neophytes- needing to be socialized

View of teachers:                    Sacred profession- called to service



Purpose:                                  To ‘Australianise’ the immigrant and prepare workers for industrial society

Metaphor:                                A factory- serving economic needs, assembly line production

View of students:                   Raw materials- products to be standardized, inspected and controlled

View of teachers:                    Supervisors, administrators and managers



Purpose:                                  Social reform to meet the needs of all kids

Metaphor:                                Hospital- for victims of social injustice, meeting cultural and social needs

View of students:                   Vulnerable- to be protected

View of teachers:                    Caretakers. District staff diagnose and prescribe. Administrators as chiefs of staff



Purpose:                                  To teach people how to learn and to love learning lifelong

Metaphor:                                Collaborative learning community engaged with the larger world

View of students:                   Learners and leaders, creators and problem-solvers

View of teachers:                    Teachers as facilitators and coaches. Administrators as resource brokers and links to community.



Purpose:                                  Networks-Interconnected and Embedded and Consistent

Metaphor:                                Spider web

Students:                                 Explorers and constructors of knowledge, both producers and consumers

Teachers:                                 Learners, Coaches and Guides



Purpose:                                  Macro and micro-system stewardship of living systems

Metaphor:                                Natural Gardens, communities.

Students:                                 Leaders responsible for social, ecological, economic and natural capital

Teachers:                                 Multi-locational learning guides, opportunity facilitators, co-learners

(C) Julie Boyd 2000


  1. Today, we teachers have to accept (with humility, courage and creativity) that there’s a LOT our students need to learn that we simply don’t know (yet), either because it’s ancient knowledge that we’ve lost or it’s brand new knowledge and skills that we haven’t had the chance to acquire (I’m thinking, for example, of perpetual energy technologies).

    So, to your list of teachers for the Sustainable Systems Era (Multi-locational learning guides, opportunity facilitators, co-learners), I would add “multi-generational.” We’re going to have to bring our elders back to “school” (wherever learning takes place now — preferably at a farm or the community garden), invite in more community experts, and accept that some of our students might know more than we know. Co-learning is now vital!