During a recent lunch conversation with colleagues we had an interesting discussion on an article that questions what is education for (Biesta, 2015). This topic intrigued me, and that night when I got back I read the article. It lets you take a step back and brings you back to the basics that needs attention. In this post, I put forth a summary of the paper and my own reflections. I think this is an article that is a worthy read for all educators.
Biesta (2015) puts forth a fascinating discussion on the purpose of education and how and why this purpose needs to be balanced by teacher’s own judgments regarding their teaching. He starts by emphasizing the recent diminished focus on teacher professionalism and the necessity for it re-emerge in our conversations on education and its purpose. The second aspect he brings to the table is on the “language of learning”, and which he calls as learnification. I am quite fascinated by his use of this term. He argues that this language of learning is undermining the language of education, and is impacting education in negative ways, particularly the ways in which teachers and policy makers are dealing with education.
According to Biesta, the purpose of education is multidimensional, and he classifies the functioning and working into three domains that are inseparable:
- qualification: the ways in which education qualifies an individual; provides one with the necessary knowledge, skills and dispositions.
The current excessive emphasis on academic achievement causes severe stress on both the students and students, particularly in cultures where failure is not really an option. This strikes a chord with me. In one of my recent studies that looked at impact of implementation of a gradeless learning system at our university, one student summarised this fear very well, ‘The ultimate fear among students is maintaining a decent GPA. Thus, not many would take the risk of widening their horizons by compromising their GPA in a graded semester’ (McMorran et al. 2015). This study helped me realise that convincing students of the value of learning beyond grades, especially for many who have been ingrained in a grade-focused culture, may be the greatest challenge.
- socialisation: the ways in which an individual can become part of and identifies with the existing social, cultural and political practices and traditions; establishes an identity for one
- subjectification: the way in which education impacts on the person; how one exists outside of the existing orders (actions of others, existing social/cultural practices) through his own initiative and responsibility.
For education to be purposeful, there needs to be a balance and synergy between the three domains and it needs to be emphasized that qualification alone is not sufficient. Education should help learners develop and transform to be a better person, caring for others around him. And it is really heartening to know that Singapore as a nation and my own university, the National University of Singapore (NUS) is addressing this aspect. For its 110th anniversary, my university’s theme of ‘Because We Care’ emphasized it’s service to the community, and its drive to improve lives. Here I quote the nation’s education minister to highlight the emphasis taken,
“where employers look beyond academic qualifications, … where educators focus on holistic education, building a strong foundation of values and the capacity to learn, where our institutions of higher learning play a leading role strengthening the nexus between learning and work, learning and life, where parents recognise every child’s unique strengths, and do their part to build their children’s character, where students flourish through a range of academic and co-curricular activities, take different pathways to success and grow up to be well-rounded”.
(Taken from “From ‘Study Book’ or du shu to Learning with Joy for Life.” The Straits Times 2015, March 7, sec. Opinion.)
Biesta’s point is that teacher judgment is at the very centre of maintaining this balance between the three domains. With possibilities for synergies and conflicts arising within these three domains, it is crucial that teachers make informed and situated judgments about what is desirable at any point of time, and the attention that needs to be given within these domains. Taking into consideration the importance of teacher judgement,
Biesta (2012) strongly advocates the need for thinking about teacher education, and puts forth three parameters for consideration:
- a focus on the formation and transformation of the person towards educational wisdom;
- a focus on learning through the practising of educational judgments; and
- a focus on the study of the educational virtuosity of others
This now leaves me to start exploring Biesta’s other work to look into ideas on how a competent teacher can become a good teacher. This will be for another day’s read, and sure it going to be interesting!
Biesta, G. (2012). The future of teacher education: Evidence, competence or wisdom? Research on Steiner Education, 3(1), 8-21, July 2012.
Biesta, G. (2015). What is education for? On good education, teacher judgment, and educational professionalism. European Journal of Education, 50(1), 75-87.
McMorran, C., Ragupathi, K., & Luo, S. (2015): Assessment and learning without grades? Motivations and concerns with implementing gradeless learning in higher education, Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education,