If you asked this question to a group of teachers, pupils or parents would you get the same answer? You would probably get the same consensus if you asked ‘What is the meaning of life?
When I think about the purpose of education, I remember being shown this video in one of my first weeks of university. Take a look!
Adult life for everyone will look different and so it should. In my opinion for too long now we have been churning out children at whatever point they leave school with knowledge and skills in what exactly! I can only remember using a small amount of what I was taught in primary and secondary school in my daily life or even in my job as a special needs teacher. I am also hoping that when the world is back to some form of normality, that we will see ‘un-skilled’ jobs as a fundamental part of our society and community.
Working in special schools for all of my career has taught me something that I feel very strongly towards. Always asking myself ‘what is the purpose of this…?
What is the purpose of this activity, lesson, curriculum? What exactly will the pupils with a learning disability gain? How will they be able to use this in the future?
I am my schools ‘life-skills’ lead and spent 2 years teaching post-16 SLD students in my previous setting. Our curriculum looked very different. Good different. We went out into the community, we went swimming, bowling, to the theatre. We learnt how to sort washing, fold t-shirts, iron, make a sandwich, make a cup of tea and other general ‘life-skills’ activities.
You wouldn’t believe how long a topic on shopping can last when you break it down…
- Write the shopping list
- Travel to the shops
- Find the basket
- Find the food
- Pay: self-service, cashier checkout, card, cash…
- Bag the items
- Getting back to school
The teaching opportunities are endless when you think about each skill that each individual student needs to learn and then re-learn and put that skill alongside the knowledge they already have and then to transfer that skill to another context. We all know how difficult that can be for a student with ASD/learning needs.
My students at the time of being 16-19 years old, may have been at a developmental level where they could only count to 5 (on a good day), could barely write their name or had only 20 keywords in their vocabulary. But what they could do was request a meal at a café, fold their uniform and put on their own shoes after changing for PE, make a sandwich or a glass of juice and some even were able to find 2-3 items in the local shop and pay the cashier and say thank you with only minimal adult prompting.
The purpose of education for those I have supported and will continue to support is the provide them with the skills that will allow them to live a life that they are capable of, as independently as possible and to support them along their way of becoming young adults that can be socially accepted in the wider community.
A parent once said to me ‘because you took him to the theatre, we can now go as a family. I never would have thought that would have been possible’
That, right there, is and always will be my purpose!