All posts by djohuber

In the summer time…

when the weather is hot, you can stretch right up and reach the sky;

Summer is approaching and the well-earned break from school for teachers, teacher trainers and for learners too. There is life beyond school and I do hope that you can take some time to rest relax and get new energy for the next round. And energy will be needed because the next round is rarely easier than the previous one)).

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 So enjoy the coming weeks and if you find the time think of what you can do in autumn to integrate the following five principles in your daily life and work.

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It is the motivation, stupid!

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It is motivation, isn’t it. As it was the economy for Bill Clinton in the 1992 presidential campaign.

Reproduction of the existing ad infinitum?

I am not so sure about the economy, but I am definitely certain that as far as  learning is concerned the key factor is and will always be motivation: the learner’s motivation. Of course, teachers need to be motivated too, intrinsically, to do the job well.

In these pandemic times, when our habitual ways of dispensing education and schooling were challenged we saw a lot of text on the challenges of the situation and the solutions teachers, creative teachers, could find. This is great and many many teachers have been doing a great job without really being acknowledged for it. Still, it is probably also a very good time to reflect further and deeper about how we organise schooling and education in general and why we do it the way we do it. 

When I look around I see lots of things that are published on how to best “do it”, the various collections of “how to” tricks and tips, things to do and not to do, material support we have or should have, and many more things. What I do not see are texts and thoughts about motivation to learn, self-directed exploration, the pleasure of learning, the power of curiosity, etc.

It is as if the future of education and schooling were a matter of slight adjustments in the organisation of the existing school system. When the Finnish authorities announce that from the age of 16 onwards, they will drop the organisation of schooling along academic subject lines but focus rather on problem-solving and exploration it is a rare event and has many education professionals (practitioners and policy makers) shake their heads in disbelief. Although it is a step in the right direction. It aims at authentically putting the curiosity and motivation of the learners at the centre, not just as words in glossy school profile descriptions and Sunday speeches.

Anyway, what do we mean when we speak of “learning”? While in theory we all know that learning is something fundamental, profound and life changing, we do in practice often settle for learning interpreted as repetition, parroting, testing, examining, doing as one is told, believing what one is told, settling for a life that is and not going for a life that could be. 

And while critical thinking and the analytical mind is never far in discourses about education, in practice it is too often about the reproduction of the existing or as Ivan Illich put it in his book Deschooling Society (1972): “School is the advertising agency which makes you believe that you need the society as it is.” 

The concerns around “How to manage learners and their learning” have been around for a long time and have fuelled numerous debates, and they do not fail to reappear strongly in today’s context of COVID19-before-during-and-after-times. 

It is certain that the closing down of schools and first attempts to generalise tele-schooling pose major challenges to our ways of seeing schooling and all that goes with it

  1. Context of schooling – And going to school, school buses, traveling time, walking, social context and contacts and exchanges and interactions, meals, breaks, subjects, sports, tests, chatting, etc, etc, and endless list
  2. Technology – And a challenge to our understanding of technology – its potential and power and things it cannot do – the procedures you need to adopt to make it work, but also the competences and hardware you need, everyone needs
  3. Methodology – And the novelty of the situation of how to prepare, present, teach, …. when we have been used to and trained for one  very specific context

Proposals abound to help face the situation, training is offered for aspects, demands are made for appropriate means, criticism is expressed at the government’s, administration’s, institution’s, teacher’s, etc  inability, unwillingness to provide what is needed. This is all okay and to be expected. And yet, why not take this opportunity to dig deeper, think further, reexamine unquestioned beliefs about what good education and schooling ought to look like.

Motivation, curiosity and pleasure

Where does it come from that we somehow still believe that education and schooling has to be difficult and hard and serious? Serious as in a no-smiling and no-pleasure sort of way. If we did not believe that, how could we accept that children come home from school, tired, stressed, bored and unhappy. Do you remember how much young children look forward to going to school, how excited they are and how much pleasure they derive from learning? During the first year (at the age of six or so), perhaps the second year too. Then, slowly but surely learning seems to become something they do not like. 

“Free human dialogue, wandering wherever the agility of the mind allows, lies at the heart of education. If teachers do not have the time, the incentive, or the wit to produce that; if students are too demoralized, bored, or distracted to muster the attention their teachers need of them, then THAT is the educational problem which has to be solved. . . That problem . . . is metaphysical in nature, not technical”  Neil Postman, The End of Education: Redefining the Value of School, 1995

And yet, it is motivation that makes the difference, whatever situation you find yourselves in. Motivated children, youths, parents and teachers will manage successfully any situation and find solutions and overcome challenges and above all learn, quicker, more in-depth, with pleasure and will continue doing so.

We should seriously consider how much time and resources, how much human potential we use up to make schooling based on extrinsic motivation work. Hours, days, years on end. How much we could gain if motivation and curiosity were kept alive and central in the learning process. Banking on extrinsic motivation vs intrinsic motivation is like trying to speed up a Vespa while competing against a Ferrari.

“A second major illusion on which the school system rests is that most learning is the result of teaching. Teaching, it is true, may contribute to certain kinds of learning under certain circumstances. But most people acquire most of their knowledge outside school, and in school only insofar as school, in a few rich countries, has become their place of confinement during an increasing part of their lives.”  Ivan Illich, Deschooling Society, 1972

Conclusion

Motivation is not about tricks and manipulation that you play as a teacher and the better you play the more motivated the learners will be. It is about a learning environment where the wish to learn is a fire that is continuously burning.

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Here I like learning – Primary School Straden, Südoststeiermark, Austria

 

Let’s attempt to create that sort of learning environment, let’s take inspiration from many who have thought and reflected about these issues before us and let us find practicable solutions for today and tomorrow. This would be much more rewarding than just to reflect on how to better deliver lessons over the distance. 

I offer the quotes that follow as some more food for thought and inspiration.

 

“Textbooks, it seems to me, are enemies of education, instruments for promoting dogmatism and trivial learning. They may save the teacher some trouble, but the trouble they inflict on the minds of students is a blight and a curse.”  Neil Postman, The End of Education: Redefining the Value of School, 1995

“Universal education through schooling is not feasible. It would be no more feasible if it were attempted by means of alternative institutions built on the style of present schools. Neither new attitudes of teachers toward their pupils nor the proliferation of educational hardware or software (in classroom or bedroom), nor finally the attempt to expand the pedagogue’s responsibility until it engulfs his pupils’ lifetimes will deliver universal education. The current search for new educational funnels must be reversed into the search for their institutional inverse: educational webs which heighten the opportunity for each one to transform each moment of his living into one of learning, sharing, and caring.”  Ivan Illich, Deschooling Society, 1972

“When we consider a child’s natural interest in things, we begin to realize the dangers of both reward and punishment. Rewards and punishment tend to pressure a child into interest. But true interest is the life force of the whole personality, and such interest is completely spontaneous.”  A.S. Neill, Summerhill: A Radical Approach to Child Rearing, 1960

“Children do not need teaching as much as they need love and understanding.” A.S. Neill, Summerhill: A Radical Approach to Child Rearing,1960

“You know that I don’t believe that anyone has ever taught anything to anyone. I question that efficacy of teaching. The only thing that I know is that anyone who wants to learn will learn. And maybe a teacher is a facilitator, a person who puts things down and shows people how exciting and wonderful it is and asks them to eat.”  Carl R. Rogers, Freedom to Learn, 1969

“The question is not, Does or doesn’t public schooling create a public? The question is, What kind of public does it create? A conglomerate of self-indulgent consumers? Angry, soulless, directionless masses? Indifferent, confused citizens? Or a public imbued with confidence, a sense of purpose, a respect for learning, and tolerance? The answer to this question has nothing whatever to do with computers, with testing, with teacher accountability, with class size, and with the other details of managing schools. The right answer depends on two things and two things alone: the existence of shared narratives and the capacity of such narratives to provide an inspired reason for schooling.”  Neil Postman, The End of Education: Redefining the Value of School, 1995

 

Apocalypse and Deliverance are cancelled

The performance of “Apocalypse” and of “Salvation and deliverance” will be cancelled due to COVID19

IMG_7110Crisis and change

Things will not change drastically. Just because we have the COVID19 pandemia people will not suddenly become wiser, less stupid, less greedy or less lazy to think for themselves and to take well-reflected decisions. They will not suddenly turn into authoritarian leaders or followers either.  Some may, but the majority won’t. A crisis may be the moment of change, but it does not happen automatically and inescapably like some people seem to think

  • Crisis = everything we have ever feared will suddenly materialise
  • Crisis = everything we have always hoped for will finally materialise

There is little logic in either of the above statements. Why should things that have not happened for decades or centuries, such as a more just society, a more sustainable mode of reproduction than the finance capitalism that we now have, suddenly become more likely to happen?  Just because we have been living in relative confinement for a few weeks, the economy is slowed down and many of our usual reference points of social life – schools, universities, shops, cafés and restaurants, parties, etc. … are currently closed or not available for a while. What makes us think that ignorant people, selfish people, careless and greedy people will suddenly become angels of a new social order and organisation; one where everyone is happy to cooperate and support the others. These things are of course of key importance and I will always continue to pursue these aims: before COVID-19, during COVID-19 and after COVID-19. I just do not believe that any crisis can act as a “deus ex machina”  – some outside force which will solve the unsolvable problem that we had been facing. Solutions lie within ourselves and they are mainly made of small step-by-step actions that will one day lead to qualitative change, sure, but the continuous step-by-step work cannot be replaced by a crisis moment of any kind.

The same is also true for the opposite. The fear of sudden deterioration, the fear of a sudden change for the worse in the form of more authoritarian state structures, more exploitation and more inhumanity in our lives. Why should a sudden and substantial increase in authoritarianism of our states happen now if it had not happened up to two or three weeks ago? Lockdown measures in themselves are NOT indicators for or symptoms of authoritarianism neither are they a symptom of an increase of authoritarianism. Governments which already were authoritarian before the COVID19 crisis will continue in this trajectory. Governments, heads of state and presidents will continue being what they were before, they will not suddenly become more or less of anything. The crisis can perhaps act as an eye opener for people who refused or could not see the reality as it was  – and can only see it now in the light of the crisis.

This also holds true for the general population. People will not suddenly become more accepting of authoritarianism. The respect of the confinement measures and instructions DOES NOT make you a submissive person, it does not make you a coward as much as  the non-respect of the measures does not make you a rebel or revolutionary or a saviour of the poor people who just follow authority. Non-respect of the measures does not make you a more independent thinker or individual, it just makes you more of a danger to others and to yourself.

All the talk of how this or that government is not respecting this or that – most of this is beside the point – written by people who either know better but write like this because it sells, or by people who now for the first time discover how our societies work (have worked) instead of the false picture they had of it and now attribute the perceived change to the crisis.

Education

What is the educational lesson in all that? I think the lesson is that we, finally, need to focus on helping young people – and all learners – to become able to think for themselves, to develop their faculty for judgement, to learn to separate right from wrong, true from false, likely from unlikely, they must become able to judge media reports, understand statistics, understand research reports, assess what data can and cannot express., etc. 

For example, understand that the numbers of deaths quoted daily does not mean that all those who died, died because of COVID19.  In many countries all those tested positive for COVID19 and who die whether the death was causally linked to the virus or not are counted as deaths in the COVID19 statistics (similar to all those who die and who are smokers are counted in the statistics as death by smoking).

Or, another example, a sharp rise in the people tested positive for COVID-19 does not necessarily mean that there was a sharp rise in people infected on that day but just that there was a sharp rise in the number of tests carried out. 

Conclusion

I would suggest we see to it that in future education develops the faculties of critical thinking, examining opinions, careful judgement, separating facts from opinion, etc. from an early age on, and that we change the curriculum and content of our education accordingly. 

I also suggest that for the time being we take it easy, relax, and enjoy what this moment,  outside the usual running of life, has to offer, even if there are material worries, and leave the more extreme scenarios, stories of catastrophe and apocalypse as well as of salvation, redemption and deliverance, to the books we read and to the films we watch.

 

The problem with values

IMG_7086What are values?

Everyone is talking about values, and almost everyone who listens nods in agreement: “Yes, definitely, so important, …”. While at the same time nobody seems to care enough to be precise about what we actually mean when we refer to our values, our common values, our European values which we need to defend against values from … Abroad? Outside Europe? From another cou ntry, continent, town, valley, region, religion, …? I particularly like it when people who care very little about religion in their everyday life suddenly feel the need to defend the Christian values against any intruders.

I am not saying that all values are equal, nor that values do not count at all. On the contrary, they do, but before using the word we need to know what we mean by it and then negotiate a common meaning of the terms before we start exchanging value judgements.

When we look up definitions then we get a full array of options; here are but a few taken from the internet (which quote authoritative sources for their respective definitions):

  • the regard that something is held to deserve; the importance, worth, or usefulness of something.
  • principles or standards of behaviour; one’s judgement of what is important in life
  • principles that help you to decide what is right and wrong and how to act in various situations
  • something (such as a principle or quality) intrinsically valuable or desirable
  • relative worth, utility, or importance
  • the monetary worth of something

And no, these definitions do not all describe the same “thing” just from different angles, they actually designate different concepts of what a value can be. 

Value education

Value education is not about teaching the right values, even if some well-meaning people would like to think so. It cannot be unless we agree that indoctrination is the way forward.

Values do not exist outside of practice. Talking about values and value education has become a hot topic. But what does it actually mean? What does value education look like in practice? What do values in education look like? Is value education about teaching the children the “RIGHT” values (as opposed to the WRONG values). Let someone (WHO) define the necessary values (NECESSARY FOR WHAT and for WHO) and then teach them, in all schools, all over the world in the most effective way. John Dewey is perhaps a good starting point to explore this question. He replaces the goal of identifying an ultimate end or supreme principle that can serve as a criterion of ethical evaluation with the goal of identifying a method for improving our value judgments. Perhaps value education is about learning to understand and critically explore values and their consequences and not about learning a set of given values.

And this is also the reason why we cannot include values in a competence description. It is unthinkable for an open-minded, rational and enlightened world to consider assessing values as part of educational evaluation. Receiving marks of any kind for specific values (“I got a B2 for valuing diversity” “I have only got a B1 in valuing human dignity”) is unthinkable in a democracy. Or is it? Elements included in a competence must be “teachable, learnable and assessable”. Values do not satisfy these three criteria. 

In any case, I prefer to speak of ethical principles or imperatives to guide our behaviour and actions. The following 5 seem to cover a lot of ground

  • Do not harm
  • Make things better
  • Be fair
  • Be compassionate
  • Respect others

 
Let me know what you think of this in the comments below. Thank you.

The fatal attraction of dystopia

flowersNot so long ago the word “dystopian” and “dystopia”, although around for centuries, was not used a lot in everyday conversations. Some years ago it increasingly entered popular use when talking about films depicting some sort of evil development in a future world, be it 10 years or 100 years or more ahead of our time. 

I stumbled in my comprehension process of what my interlocutors were saying whenever they used this word. It took me time to get used to it. I never thought one would need a word like this one. Until I looked it up:

 

dystopia, noun

UK   /dɪˈstəʊ.pi.ə/ US   /dɪˈstoʊ.pi.ə/

a very bad or unfair society in which there is a lot of suffering, especially and imaginary society in the future, after something terrible has happened; 

(Cambridge dictionary online)

 

I never really understood why are people so fascinated with dystopian stories? Why do we want to spend our free time experiencing our worst nightmares? The success of the series of films “Black Mirror” is a prime example for this development. But there are many more. What makes us want to bathe in negativity and despair? Do we feel we have to punish ourselves for something? Are we in love with our – real and imagined – misery?

I have the feeling that the attraction of dystopian stories and attitudes probably also lies in the fact  that we are not courageous enough for utopia, we seemingly prefer to extrapolate current potentially negative trends into full-blown future scenarios. Dystopia is the fashion, the way to be. Utopia is so “has-been” it seems.

Let us rehabilitate utopia!

I call on teachers and other educators to help make our students dream again, dream of a better world, picture a better world, dare to imagine and project potential positive developments instead of  wallowing in descriptions and complaints of negative aspects of current life and in self pity.

Support them in daring to think outside the box of conformism, even, and especially, when conformism has taken the shape of complaining about the present state of affairs. Dare imagining better ways of doing, dare proposing better ways, creating them and putting them to the test.

I want utopia back in our daily conversations as a stimulation to imagine and create a better world. It is still and will always remain a worthy cause. Let us go along with Victor Hugo or with Slavoj Žižek:

“There is nothing like a dream to create the future. Utopia to-day, flesh and blood tomorrow.” (Victor Hugo)

“… we should reinvent utopia but in what sense. … The true utopia is when the situation is so without issue, without the way to resolve it within the coordinates of the possible that out of the pure urge of survival you have to invent a new space. Utopia is not kind of a free imagination, utopia is a matter of innermost urgency, you are forced to imagine it, it is the only way out, and this is what we need today.” (Slavoj Žižek) https://vimeo.com/7527571

Imagining utopias as a concrete tool to solve the challenges we face in a constructive and positive way instead of getting stuck in repeating the hopeless “more-of-the-same” type of solution (Paul Watzlawick : Change. Principles of Problem Formation and Problem Resolution.)

Let us dare utopia again!

 

On change… and reciprocity

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“An open debate on values, their transmission and maintenance, and their (re)definition is as imperative as it is inescapable. It needs to arrive at a clear view of the necessary values, attitudes, skills and knowledge, which allow an intercultural and democratic reorientation of our behaviour made up of solidarity and understanding, mutual respect and trust in order to arrive at a strong social cohesion. The challenge here is at least two-fold:

 

  • As individuals we need to be able to make sense and manage the implications of our multidimensional identity, of our feelings of belonging and our multiple loyalties, of me and the other, of our relations and relationships, of our place in this diverse world.
  • As a society we need to review and redefine the common denominator for living together, to identify and describe a basis to which all can subscribe whatever their particularities, including a redefinition of what is private and what is public. 

 

A crucial precondition for this to happen is the realisation and acceptance of the fact that change, in itself, on an individual as well as on a societal level, is inescapable. The same way as we cannot not communicate (the fact of refusing communication carries and expresses a message) we cannot NOT change when we meet others. What we can do, however, is to act on the direction in which the changes lead us.”

(Josef Huber in the foreword to “TASKs for democracy”, Council of Europe Publishing, 2015)

 

The above excerpt is not something that is addressed to only a part of the people in a given region or country. It applies to all of us, independent of the fact whether we are early arrivers or newcomers, whether we (or our ancestors) have arrived in a place one year ago, two years ago, 50 years ago or two hundred years or more ago. We cannot go on defining ourselves and others solely and mainly by an initial origin be it our language, or be it the geographic and socio-political or socio-economic context we come from. While these factors play a role and create links between people, even facilitate communication and exchange, they by no means define us. We share much more with every other individual from any other place through the common traits that we have. We all belong to the larger group of “human beings” and as such have more in common than we have through cultural, ethnic or sociological factors.

What we face here is a fact which is readily forgotten by those who revel in creating differences and misunderstanding, strife and fight, between humans. There are those of us who can only perceive of themselves, of their context, of life, the universe and everything by making their way of looking at the world special and unique. They do not feel and do not want to be “the same” as the others. 

If they would stop here, I would be tempted to agree and to let it be because as a unique human being, of course, my way of looking at the world is unique. But somehow, in order to give it greater weight, they prefer to say that it is their group’s way of looking at the world, their social group, their ethnic group, their spiritual group, their national group, etc. Most probably in order to lend more credibility to the belief (or way of doing) in question. Otherwise it is only an individual view and that counts less in people’s minds. 

And so a vicious circle begins…

In schools and in education we need to see to it that all the learners can develop their personality and can develop as a person:  As someone who comes from somewhere, certainly, but more so as someone who goes somewhere new, together with others, preferably.

 

It was so much better before… people talked to each other… Did they? Must we?

“No Wifi here, we want our customers to talk to each other.” “Look, everybody is looking at their smartphones on public transport instead of …“. Instead of what exactly? Should they rather read the paper, or look at the drab urban scenery instead?

Twenty years ago I would have gone to a cafe and everyone would have their coffee and read their newspaper. They would rarely speak to the other people at their table. It was quiet … and pleasant. And nobody would have thought of putting up a poster saying “No newspapers available, we want our customers to be together and to talk to each other.” Talking to each other is only one way of being together.

We live in a crazy world where schools are seemingly proud to ban mobile phone use and compete with each other (partial or full bans), instead of integrating the use of mobile technology in the learning process as some successfully have shown and by that manner also allow young people to develop a reasonable way of using mobile technology.

The latest craze seems to be “Limit screen time” and mobile phone companies even develop software that allows you to monitor your screen time. How much screen time is “good” screen time? When is the cut-off point? There is as little evidence for the right amount of screen time as there is for the right amount of daily steps to take. The 10.000 daily step rule apparently comes out of nowhere or at least not as an evidence-based measure for continued health (why not 8000 or 12.000).

I sat down and put pen to paper, actually electronic pen to tablet, and wrote down all the things I use my smartphone for and what type of things it replaces. I was surprised!

What I use my smartphone for

Mobile phones and tablets are very useful and they make a large number of things easier for us to do. What we need to learn is how to avoid the pitfalls such as data tracking at all times. However, this is not learnt through banning the use of such devices in education.

I propose you that you do this exercise yourself first and then, if you are a teacher, with your pupils. It opens the way into discussing the pros and the cons, into exploring today’s culture and, why not, you might discover some great and useful applications on the way.

I would be interested in your thought about the topic and I invite you to leave a comment below.

 

Wherever you come from…

… it is what you DO that defines you and makes a difference.

 

messyI have been following a debate about post-truth and what is true and what not and how we can assert the truth of something and the non-truth of something else. Different ideas, ideologies, beliefs came up with different approaches I will not go into now.

What is more important for me today is that while listening I was reminded of the imperative of learning formulated by Heinz von Förster*, cybernetician, as part of his three imperatives: “If you desire to see, learn to act”. I also read it as “If you want to understand, look at the actions”.

For me it encapsulates in a few words the fundamental realisation that it is after all the acts, it is what we – or others – do that really count. They create the reality, whatever thoughts and ideas might have led to it or might serve as explanation or justification for it. When in the name of a peaceful system of beliefs – and by the representative of that system of belief – weapons of war and their agents are blessed before they pull out into the battle field a very real reality is created and reinforced. A reality which is not peaceful and harmonious.

So whenever people talk to me about their convictions, visions and aims, when they talk about their world views  and principles, when they analyse situations and conditions as well as people… I always wait. I wait until they propose an action, I wait until they act. It is at that moment that I can understand (perhaps) what they really mean and what they stand for. This is the moment I can get a glimpse and a feeling of what their world is like and what our world would be like if they are allowed to structure it.

And I am often surprised, also by myself, that where I could feel closeness in thought and analysis I feel distance in action and the other way round, where I feel a big distance in thought I can feel closeness and acceptance in action.

Look at what people do, look at what you do yourself, … this is my litmus test.

I keep working on it.))

*) More on Heinz von Förster

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Education in three dimensions… or more

I want to start these reflections on education with three three-dimensional images which all play a major role in my thinking about education.

 

Hand – Heart – Head

A04D61E8-EBBC-42CD-8CCD-0EF916436E2DThanks to Johann-Heinrich Pestalozzi these three dimensions have left already an imprint in the minds of those who theorise and those who practice education. Ideally the theorisers and the practitioners are one and the same. What is learning for the head without understanding with the heart and without shaping things, shaping reality, with your hands? The whole person is the subject of learning and making sense of the world. Only this way we can hope to find real solutions to the challenges around us and ahead of us, solutions that work and solutions that are humane.

 

Purpose – Practice – Policy

cropped-cropped-untitled_artwork.pngThe purpose of education, why and what for we organise the education of the young (and older ones too), must be reflected in the everyday practice of education as well as in education policy. Too often there is contradiction between them, one pulling this way and the other pulling that way while the third doesn’t care… What we need is that the purpose of education we agree upon determines education policy and the day-to-day practice of education. What we need is a purpose that is the driving force behind our movement towards an aim. The aim is up to us to define. For me it is the vision of a sustainable society based on the universal values of human rights and dedicated to the well-being of all its individuals.

 

Understand – Live together – Sustain our well-being

There are many ways to understand and to describe the purpose of education. Some see the purpose of education in a) the reproduction of the existing, b) the critique of the existing and c) in pushing the boundaries of our understanding of the existing. Some others, such as the Council of Europe, see it as a) the preparation for a life of democratic citizens, b) the preparation for the labour market, c) the maintenance and development of a broad knowledge base and d) personal development.

While I find a lot of interest in these descriptions personally I prefer the following three:

  • To understand myself and the world in which I live
  • To be able to live with others and to contribute to a sustainable way of living together
  • To sustain my own material and otherwise well-being and to contribute to the well-being of society

When speaking of society here I would not reduce this to the society of this or that country, region or town but I would include the society of all of us living on this planet.