Defining Public Education: Its Biggest Challenge

Citizenship Tag Cloud: Defining Public EducationIn the twenty-first century defining public education is the first and most important step in assuring its relevance and effectiveness.

In some places schools use standard tests to measure their success. These tests only measure knowledge acquisition. By not defining other learning objectives schools may under- or over-rate their success. They may also fail to see ways to improve their results.

Debate about the goals of public education, in North America at least, focuses only on knowledge acquisition. This is the core goal of almost any such system. All public educators hope that students have learned  something they were intended to learn. This is usually in the well known disciplines (Science, Math, Social Studies, Literature, for example). In defining public education more accurately educators must at least include goals in employability and in social stability.


Public education always has additional key aims. Graduates are expected to be employable. Many countries see a key role for education in ensuring that their citizens can participate in the global economy. A growing call for more STEM ((Science, Technology, Engineering, Math)) education across the world reflects this drive.

The fees for educational programs are normally only paid by governments when there is a clear employment destination.

Social Stability

The trouble with the world is not that people know too little; its’ that they know so many things that just aren’t so. —Mark Twain

Social stability is another goal of most education systems. Developing countries often face social or political upheaval. At this date Argentina struggles with corruption, electoral fraud, inflation, default on international debt, and recession. Venezuela adds food shortages, inflation (as high as 700% in 2016), dictatorship, and a large-scale exodus from the country. Social and political unrest in the Middle East and Africa yield tragic levels of violence and destruction.

The root causes of these problems are complex. Political reform requires citizens who can apply critical thinking in order to see through misleading rhetoric and outright deception.

Until the nineteenth century, women everywhere were denied schooling . In underdeveloped countries millions of women are still denied access to education. Defining education as a basic right is part of any modern reformer’s platform.

Education, Economic Growth, and Social Stability: Why the Three Are Inseparable

Further Defining Public Education

Educators in developed countries now view education as a lifelong process. It does not stop at adulthood.

Changing economies, politics, and technologies require new literacies. Many public education systems  add more specific skills to their list of learning goals. These include problem-solving, creative thinking, local and long-distance collaboration, and effective communication. Physical and psychological fitness and the ability to create and maintain a healthy lifestyle are often goals as well.

Full Disclosure

Unfortunately many attempts to design and assess public education systems are short-sighted. They do not recognize the full range of learning needs to be met.

Identifying all the desired outcomes would be a useful exercise for all public educators. Measuring only knowledge acquisition may unfairly condemn a system which succeeds in other areas, or praise it for its only success.