Character maketh the man/woman

As the examination debate continues to rampage I encourage you to consider one fundamental question “what is education really for?”

The Confederation of British Industry this week warned that GCSEs are stopping teachers delivering an “inspirational classroom experience” and should be replaced as a measure in school league tables by the A-level. How can the CBI, or any other organisation or individual, possibly draw such a conclusion without answering this critical question?

Tracking the education debate in the media, I’m convinced that as a nation we do not know the answer. And, if we do not know the answer to this question, how can we possibly start to address the question of what examinations are for and how to reform them.

According to Ken Webster, head of learning at the Ellen McArthur Foundation, we should be educating for a ‘circular economy’ and teaching the next generation to ‘do with less’, changing our thinking and approach to life from that of ‘cradle to grave’ to one of ‘cradle to cradle’. There is certainly something in this. As educators we need to instil a deep rooted sense of responsibility and ‘service’ in our students, opening their eyes to society’s impact on the world around us and building ‘good environmental citizens’.

But there is more. The role of education is, undoubtedly, to build character, defined as ‘the mental and moral qualities distinctive to an individual’. In doing so, its job becomes to furnish young people with the ability to ‘think without borders’, to engage intellectually, and to become digital citizens. Its role is to promote personal wellbeing, build collaborative skills and foster a sense of community with a strong sense of belonging and caring.

As Albert Einstein said: “Most people say that it is the intellect which makes a great scientist. They are wrong: it is character.”

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