Curiosity and Connecting (The Purpose of Education)

Yesterday I sat by the water, thinking about this post. Where to begin? We all seem to think along the same lines (yay, homophily) and I do feel that much of what I want to say will have already been said.

My eyes were drawn to a sculpture on the waterside. I read the words that covered the piece, and was struck by a quote which encapsulates curiosity, motivation, identity and community – and also triggered deep memories of a similar experience in my own childhood.


In all honesty, I still don’t know ‘what I want to do when I grow up’. We live in a rapidly changing world, operate in a state of flux, and we don’t really know what’s around the corner.

Both formal education and out-of-hours activities have formed a process of elimination, through which I’ve worked out a) what makes me tick, and b) where I can make meaningful contributions to the lives of others – and so, like everybody else in this debate, I found my passion in education.

I have a fairly typical set of ideals around the purpose of education, and I guess that Purpos/ed-ers are all pretty much in agreement, but what about our students? I put the question to a group here at Salford. They spoke about personal growth, social awareness, and societal progress. However, one response in particular jumped out at me: the opportunity to experience/learn something you ordinarily wouldn’t”.

Now the reason I like this is that it makes me think of serendipity, opportunity, and the unexpected – and an acceptance of moving out of one’s comfort zone. I believe the purpose of education is to foster environments where learners are confident, curious, genuinely engaged with the world around them, with an appreciation of others and how contrasting thoughts, actions and disciplines fit into the bigger picture. Connections are a huge part of this – conceptual connections, network connections, and the ability to connect and engage with others who may think differently – whether through epistemological awareness, or the ability to position oneself and ones beliefs within a complex world.

Purpos/ed? Being receptive to what’s around us. Having the confidence to change direction, to be open to opportunities, to take risks.

Purpos/ed? Learning to love failure: to nurture environments where learners are not afraid of making mistakes, but see them as an opportunity for learning.

Purpos/ed? Creativity as everyday practice that bridges communities – learners as active agents shaping the world around them.

Purpos/ed? To motivate, inspire, and help individuals to flourish in a system that regulates, measures, ranks and constrains.

So currently, my practiced interpretation of the purpose of education is to fight against a target-driven system where standardised assessment has stifled genuine curiosity; to fight against narrowing minds through disciplinary boundaries, and to give my students every possible opportunity for creativity and ownership of their learning.

The ultimate goal? To share magical experiences that stimulate curiosity and break through institutional walls, connecting learners and communities in a networked world.

499 words

This post is my response to the question “What is the purpose of education?“. You can find out more about the Purpos/ed campaign here

16 thoughts on “Curiosity and Connecting (The Purpose of Education)

    • Thanks Fred – yep, am verging on obsession when it comes to curiosity ever since we ran the ARG. Rufi Franzen – so much to answer for 😉

      • Glow with the flow and let the memes emerge 🙂 We talked about the “curious and the the confident” digital practitioner creating “artfully constructed student-centred learning experiences”

  1. Helen, I face the same dilemma as you much of what I wish to say has been said before and I would not have thought it would be otherwise on the purposed site there is a consistency of ideal and value underpinning this community. For this reason I’m intending to focus on the political dimensions of “education” .

    I like the notions of curiosity magic and inquirey .

    • Looking forward to your post and fresh perspective!

      I was worried that ‘magic’ might be pushing it a bit – but then realised that I often think of magical moments in learning… a certain energy where learners (and myself) lose sense of time – whether connected in the classroom or online – and don’t want our experience to end.

  2. Terrific post H, love it. The quote says a lot about experience, stumbling into another world can be a fascinating and magical experience and a real perspective shifter. Can be especially attractive when it feels exciting, dangerous or ‘inappropriate’ to your ‘normal’ life.

    • Thanks Ben – well as my partner in crime (hehe) you know exactly what i’m talking about here… we need to remember this stuff. Excitement, danger, (in)appropriateness – it’s not ALWAYS bad.

  3. Pingback: Curiosity and Connecting (The Purpose of Education) | Aprendizaje |

    • Agreed! Unfortunately due to standardised assessment practices and curricula rigidity we risk our learners risk losing their instincts when it comes to moving beyond what’s expected… risk-aversion towards activities that don’t have grades attached, and yet that’s often where the most transformative learning happens.

  4. Great post, Helen! The stifling of curiosity with the rise in standardised testing is something close to heart – have been talking lots about it this week with practitioners in Scotland. And ‘magic moments in learning’ is what it is all about for me…exploring potential…perspectives…and creating environments where learners of all ages feel safe/supported enough to take risks. Completely agree with your ultimate goal!

  5. Pingback: Curiosity and Connecting (The Purpose of Education) | Heloukee ... | Digital Research for Humanities |

  6. Pingback: the purpose of education is to delight (#purposedu #500words) « Infinite Rooms

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