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What is the intent of education?

To find the answer to the question of intent, my initial instinct was to look at how education is measured globally. The annual OECD Education at a Glance report was quite helpful. It “provide[s] information on the human and financial resources invested in education […] and on the returns to educational investments” and is used by European and American governments to justify their education policies. Accordingly, one might reasonably conclude that:

The underlying intent of education is to increase the economic prosperity of the society (and consequently increase the tax or revenue base of its political representation).

At that point, I realized that the above answer to the question probably doesn’t tell the whole story. I wasn’t satisfied.

My next step was to consider the defining characteristics of education. This is tricky, because education philosophy offers more than a dozen paradigms to choose from. Because of its simplicity I was drawn to Kant’s proposition that: “Education differs from training in that the latter involves thinking whereas the former does not.” In my view, it follows that education is a teaching technique that requires the learners to think. This yielded the insight that there are actually multiple perspectives to consider when looking at intent. Even on the most basic level there is the intent of the teacher and the intent of the learner. In reality, there are multiple additional actors (e.g. governing bodies, industry, infrastructure providers).

By thinking about the various actors in the system, it becomes easier to answer the question of intent. Each actor in the education system has its own intent. Therefore a discussion about the Future of Education should be guided by first identifying the relevant actors, their motives, and their relations (basic system thinking). 

Having formed my basic framework to tackle the question of intent, I’ll use it in the next blog entry to share with you my opinion on learners’ intent.

See also:

The Future of Education

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  • Hi Sebastian,

    how about training is for professional development and the education is for overall human development? and i think both require thinking just like any human activity. so, if we strive to obtain training it's clearly for some kind of financial (or economic) return. this is why we pursue certifications and maintain our professional standing in order to keep/increase our billing rates. education is less about monetary return and more about learning about ourselves and others around us. this is why i try to network here and in other social media (mostly on twitter and less so on linkedin, wordpress, etc.). this is also why i'm also pursuing certifications (CPA, PMP, SAP, etc).

    for education i have discovered iTunes University and while the quality is uneven, i enjoy that resource to better myself, but don't really expect any payoffs in the near and the more distant future.

    good luck in your educational pursuits,


    • Hi Gregory,

      Thanks for sharing this thought. I think the distinction between learning activities which are motivated financially and those driven by personal interest makes a lot of sense. Along these lines, would you say that a mother's learning about how to treat her child's illness would fall in one of these categories?

      Best, Sebastian

      • i would call it enlightened self-interest and self education as i don't think she would turn around and train to create a business (Lorenzo's Oil). i think most SDNers are here for training and less for pure joy of education, but you never know.

        • I see. What I was trying to point at, was that there might be even more reasons for people to educate themselves apart from money and for self-interest - to help others for instance. Apart from the mother I mentioned above, this could be a pensioner who learns accounting just to do the paperwork for a local NGO.

  • In fact I believe that every form of education has main focus the increasing earnings even if it's directly or indirectly linked to the technical side.

    We have to consider the knowledge even as a hobby or leisure increases their social acceptance and consequently your network.

    • This is an interesting thought. If I understand it correctly, you argue that even learning activities that are completely unrelated to your work might be beneficial to your income indirectly as they increase your general competences and social network.

      I would mostly* agree to this observation. But even then, the question remains whether people only choose to learn for the purpose of increasing their wealth. Especially when the education's impact on income is indirect (e.g. when taking a diving course) and thus the return on investment is hard to calculate, the prime motivation for people might be something else.


      * for someone in the assembly line at foxconn or similar positions this might not be true

      • Indeed the main motivation of learning is not always wealth. Perhaps all forms of learning put you closer, however I prefer to believe the focus on gaining a better social status and personal wellbeing.

      • Hi Sebastian,

        with the greatest of respect if I may add two comments to this thread.

        1, The intellect of the author of this thread is beyond question, I look forward with interest to the next delivery in this series.

        2, Diving,

        I would argue, as a long time ago novice diver, that the founding principles and more of diving, respect for danger, working with buddies clear communication, training, practice, repetition, all with the goal of minimising mistakes and therefore reducing the chance of accident in what isa dangerous past time,

        these traits are all equally well applied to working with SAP

        respect for the system you are working with, respect for responsibility you have to keep it running and enable end user productivity, training and practicing to reduce the chance of downtime etc etc etc. Working in a team and as a team, trust in your team mates etc etc.

        The principles of diving are a very good example of principles that can be very well applied to many areas of life.

        All the best.