The Purpose of Education – Rethinking the Foundations in the Face of Inequity

“Let’s challenge the status quo, question the foundations, and pave the way for an education that nurtures individuality, embraces diverse wisdom, and confronts the inherent inequities.

Joanne McEachen, Waitaha, Ngāti Māmoe and Ngāi Tahu, is CEO + Founder of The Learner First, a global education consultancy operating in three countries. She is a bestselling author with 35+ years of experience as a teacher, principal, regional Ministry of Education leader in New Zealand, and now a globally recognized pioneer in the fields of educational design, assessment, and well-being.

In the twilight of my career, the lingering question echoes: What have I contributed to the world? Yet, this introspection isn’t just a nostalgic gaze from a deck chair; it’s a fervent declaration that I still have more to offer, an urgency that resonates with many approaching the milestone of sixty.

The contemplation, however, leads me to challenge the very essence of education and question whether we should salvage it in its current form, especially considering the pervasive inequities we have inadvertently woven into its fabric.

The Purpose of Education

At its core, education should empower every child to understand their identity, recognize their place in the world, and discover how they can contribute to the collective betterment of humanity, our planet, and prosperity. However, we find ourselves entangled in a system that has shifted toward a ruthless model of sifting and sorting.

Assessment Dilemma

The singular reliance on assessments, where one test is hailed as the holy grail, has become a damaging force, eroding the essence of what it means to be human. The quest for quantifiable metrics has overshadowed the nuanced and diverse capabilities that make each child a unique contributor to our shared future.

Echoes of Colonization

The echoes of colonization resonate in our educational systems, perpetuating structures that privilege certain knowledge over others. It’s a subtle act of silencing diverse narratives and perspectives, stifling the richness that could emerge from embracing a multitude of voices.

The Streamlining Effect

In the pursuit of efficiency, we’ve succumbed to the streamlining of education, pushing students through predefined channels. This one-size-fits-all approach neglects the individuality of learners and their unique potentials.

The Future of Education

In contemplating the future of education, we must grapple with a fundamental question: Is the current system, with its ingrained inequities, worth saving? Can we truly provide an equal opportunity for every child to flourish when systemic disparities persist?

The current educational landscape feels like the desperate grip of a dying taniwha1, the patriarchy holding onto the last vestiges of power. But do we want to save it in this form? Or is it time to usher in a new era that aligns with the evolving dynamics of our world? Education, as we move forward keeping students at the center, requires a paradigm shift and a community focus.

Emergence of Feminine Energy

A paradigm shift beckons—an emergence of feminine energy. Not confined to gender, it embodies a collective spirit, a weaving of indigenous or ancient wisdom with contemporary knowledge. Nature, the ultimate teacher, signals new pathways, inviting us to explore alternative approaches.

Community-Centric Future

The future of education lies in community. No longer confined to the rigid walls of institutions, learning becomes a communal endeavour. It’s about finding your tribe, connecting with diverse minds, and fostering an ecosystem where knowledge flows freely.

As we stand at the crossroads of educational evolution, the call is not just for change but for a radical transformation. Let’s challenge the status quo, question the foundations, and pave the way for an education that nurtures individuality, embraces diverse wisdom, and confronts the inherent inequities. The future beckons—a future where finding your tribe isn’t just a trend but a cornerstone of holistic, equitable education.

  1. “Taniwha,” Te Ara – The Encyclopedia of New Zealand, accessed December 13, 2023, https://teara.govt.nz/en/taniwha. ↩︎