What is education for?

We have used the 'four pillars' of the UNESCO Delors report as a way to frame case studies of artists at work. The four pillars are learning to know, learning to do, learning to live together and learning to be. When we saw artists working, we saw that the four pillars captured the wholistic way in which they approached their work with students.

The four pillars address the purposes of education. They go beyond everyday discussions about test results, getting a job and helping the nation do well in the knowledge economy. They offer a way to think about the complex and interrelated tasks that educators and schools must achieve. They encompass more than the transmission of knowledge and extend to social values and behaviours that are important.

We have used the four pillars to tell stories of artists at work. Of course, each story encompasses more than one pillar, and someone else might interpret these stories differently. Our aim however is to show how artists work was not simply a matter of technique, but was also profoundly about purposes and values.

Learning to know

learning to know

In the Delors Report ‘learning to know’ is defined as ‘combining a sufficiently broad general knowledge with the opportunity to work in depth on a small number of subjects’ (p37); it involves learning to learn and it offers a ‘passport to lifelong education’ and ‘foundations’ on which to build (p21). It is therefore about both breadth and specialisation and has quite a strong orientation towards the future. It is more about the mastery of learning tools than the acquisition of bodies of knowledge; it is about stimulating intellectual curiosity, sharpening critical faculties and the capacity to reason, developing concentration and memory. Underpinning these capacities is ‘the pleasure that can be derived from understanding knowledge and discovery’.

Learning to do

learning to do

Learning to do’ relates to formal and informal, social and work experiences; it is defined broadly as acquiring ‘the competence to deal with many situations and work in teams’ (p37). The Delors Report considers it to be ‘closely associated with occupational training’ but the emphasis is also on developing competence, through personal commitment and individual initiative (http://www.unesco.org/delors). It is therefore fundamentally about the individual’s skills and dispositions and engagement with the social and economic.

Learning to live together

learning to live together

The Delors Report puts greater emphasis on learning to live together than the other three pillars of education, proposing that it is the ‘foundation of education’ (p21) upon which the three other pillars stand. The means of learning to live together are identified as ‘developing an understanding of others and their history, traditions and spiritual values’ and appreciating interdependence in order to create ‘a new spirit’ that leads to common projects and the peaceful and intelligent management of conflict (p37). It recommends that education should adopt a two-pronged approach: ‘From early childhood, it should focus on the discovery of other people... In the second stage of education and in lifelong education, it should encourage involvement in common projects’ (http://www.unesco.org/delors). The emphases in the first stage are on teaching about human diversity, respecting pluralism, recognising the rights of others, encouraging empathy, debate, curiosity and healthy criticism. The second, project, prong involves ‘unaccustomed forms of action’ that enable people to ‘transcend the routines of their personal lives and attach value to what they have in common’ and so build solidarity and friendship.

Learning to be

learning to be

The fourth pillar, ‘learning to be’, is about ‘every person's complete development - mind and body, intelligence, sensitivity, aesthetic appreciation and spirituality’ (http://www.unesco.org/delors/fourpil).  It is concerned with self-knowledge, independence, judgement, personal responsibility, developing personality and using talents. This means that education ‘must not disregard any aspect of a person’s potential: memory, reasoning, aesthetic sense, physical capacities and communication skills’ (p37).