What is education for?

Saturday 3 November, 12:1513:30, National Library of Scotland, George IV Bridge, Edinburgh, EH1 1EWUK satellites

This debate is part of Battle of Ideas Edinburgh – buy tickets here.

The Scottish Government has declared 2018 to be the Year of Young People – and no question is of more importance for young people than education. Yet Scotland’s education system, once widely regarded, has attracted considerable criticism, with Scottish pupils falling down the international rankings of educational achievement. Compared to 2006, in 2016 Scotland fell in the PISA rankings from 11th to 23rd place for reading, from 11th to 24th place for maths and 10th to 19th place for Science. The Curriculum for Excellence (CfE), instigated by Labour and implemented by the SNP in 2010, places greater emphasis on using and applying knowledge rather than acquiring knowledge. But the CfE has been criticised for ‘dumbing down’ education and lacking ‘academic rigour’. In June, the Scottish government’s education reforms were put on hold after opposition from local councils, teachers and opposition parties

The problems don’t end in schools. Universities, too, are beset by difficulties about their purpose. There are conflicts over identity politics, academic freedom, the relevance of knowledge, accusations of grade inflation and whether the universities are trying to convey the best of human understanding or simply trying to create employable graduates.

Should schools and universities emphasise skills or knowledge? Are we trying to create rounded, well-informed citizens or provide a pool of skilled labour? In an era where information is easily accessible online, do we need to give pupils and students the skills to use that information or are such skills useless without a bedrock of knowledge and understanding first? What is the purpose of education today?