My answer to the question what for

For nights I brooded on answers. And broken nights with three young children fits in perfectly… The question “What is the purpose of education?” keeps me busy for three years now. Over and over again I think “Yeah, I got it!” when I’m catching words to interpret what I deeply feel inside for so long. I am a mother too, my husband and I have to make choices too regarding the education, upbringing and development of our children. Therefore, we must formulate a clear answer based on which we can take decisions.

My answers immerse themselves again and again and they are strengthened thanks to the many grinding stones inside and outside the field of education which provided me with reply and constructive or critical notes.

To ask the question is to answer it. Therefore, at this final part of the trilogy on the purpose of education, in which I wrote earlier about the importance of new answers and considerations on formulating answers, I give you my answers to the question ‘What is the purpose of education?’

I see four main purposes of education:



my answer to the question why

Significant potential now remains unused, simply because current curricula and methods are not yet able to address this full potential. Imagine the benefits of an education system which helps any learner to unleash their own full potential? What impact would it have on our society? The valuable use of this potential goes beyond the post-war “being prepared for a job” or “do what you like to do” (now) – it’s about combining those two and to learn how to make a valuable difference.

For example, take a look at people who are good at drawing, at visualizing thoughts. Right now, the ability to draw is not widely stimulated, assessed and valued in today’s education systems – but in working life, visualizers, designers and moviemakers are highly valued – as one image can often express more than 1000 words. What if such talents could already be developed right away?

I truly believe that everybody has at least some kind of genius from the inside. Something that is unique to this person and worthwhile. Whether you are a dyslexic pain in the ass street kid from Rotterdam Zuid who happens to be the best hip hop teacher around, learning other street kids to develop their own dignity or whether you are a supersmart physician with an IQ of above 150 who just simply loves and prefers to make stuff – with your hands.

I feel that if we manage to unleash this potential in everyone and learn how to make it valuable and meaningful for others, we can enter a whole new era. What if we could, with this, give everybody a sense of dignity, of value, of feeling you matter simply by who you are.


my answer to the question why

Hoe kom je tot een origineel idee, een ontwerp, een plan. Hoe communiceer je dit, hoe maak je een prototype, hoe breng je het aan de man, hoe programmeer je een computer of robot. Dit gaat veel verder dan ‘voorbereiding’ op de toekomst, dat nogal passief is en misschien zelfs wel onmogelijk omdat we niet weten hoe de geschiedenis zich zal ontwikkelen. In plaats daarvan zouden we kunnen leren hoe we invloed kunnen uitoefenen op de samenleving; hoe we dingen en ideeën kunnen vormgeven, ontwerpen, ontwikkelen, verwoorden en verbeelden, hoe we dingen kunnen maken en programmeren.

How do you find an original idea, a design, a plan. How do you design a computer or robot. How do you build a prototype, how do you communicate about it, how do you promote it. This goes way beyond ‘preparing’ students for the future. Rather than preparing them for the future – which is rather passive and arguably impossible to do, as we don’t know how history will develop – we might teach students how they may have an influence on society; how they may shape, design, develop, articulate, make and programme ideas and things.

Shaping the new world starts with being able to shape your own.


my answer to the question why

We all live on the same planet, we all breathe the same air, are mining the world’s resources, fighting each others wars, being confronted with each other’s problems. We try to put borders around our countries, but we cannot deny the fact that we do need to deal with each other on this planet, as a society. Conflict resolution, clear interpersonal communication, empathy and intercultural understanding are probably crucial properties to keep society livable. Seen from the growing diversity of cultures in society, but also seen from the daily school and work environment. We’d better be brought up with this understanding.


my answer to the question why

What makes a healthy lifestyle? What do we need to discover what contributes to a person’s overall well-being? There is so much knowledge nowadays about the importance of appropriate education in early childhood which have lifelong positive effects. Ensuring a healthy body and a healthy mind will be essential skills to succeed in life. Schools can help students to apply it, to find a good balance between work and relaxation, and to determine in the lives of their personal priorities.

What about knowledge?

Then of course the question is: what about knowledge? If we talk about change in education, this question pops up consistently. What is the purpose of knowledge, of having knowledge, of acquiring knowledge, of testing knowledge? This is how I feel about the role of knowledge:

my answer to the question why

On top you find the self, who you are, on the bottom the world around you: the people, the planet, universe, technology.


On the left side you find the notion of getting insight. To really understand how things are.

With respect to the self, it is extremely important to understand who you are as a human being, to develop your self-awareness, to understand what makes you unique in terms of talents, interests, motivations, values and skills. To acknowledge who you are and not try to be somebody else.

With respect to your surroundings: to be totally amazed by the wonders of nature, to truly understand how things work. When I think of this part, I see kids in front of me with sparkles in their eyes when they have finally figured out how a plane can fly, be totally astonished that the universe still expands, and to have total respect for our ecosystems.


On the right side you find influence. Positive influence, obviously: how to make things better.

With respect to the self: simply saying ‘this is who I am’ displays a fixed mindset, in contrast to a growth mindset. It is all about how you can continuously evolve, discover new layers within yourself, develop new skills.

With respect to the surroundings: this is about pushing the boundaries of what is known, to advance technology and mankind, to make things better, to find new solutions.


Knowledge lies underneath all of this, is important to acquire in order to do this. In my opinion knowledge is a means which can lead to insight and influence, never an end – or a purpose on itself. Undoubtedly we will hold many debates on this – I’d love to deepen my thoughts about this by other opinions.


So now you know how I feel about the purpose of education. Some people already said that these are things you cannot be against. So if we cannot be against it, maybe we can be in favor of it?

I described higher goals. Of course they need to be substantiated and made more specific when it comes to the organization of a school. But they are now my guiding principles which I would love to further sharpen and discuss.

I also do think that such a set of higher purposes nobody can be against could serve as something that unites us all, as people trying to make education better. It could be used as a set of criteria to define what is ‘good’ and what is not.

Anyhow, let’s discuss.

And please do formulate your own answers, ask yourself why you do the things the way you do, re-imagine education and it’s purpose – and do act on it. Because I truly believe that each and every single one of us is capable to create movement into our education system. Just by being aware, and acting on what we truly believe in ourselves. And yes, these transformations will be painful – but I have learned time and again that once you get through the transformation, everything is beautiful.