Thursday, 20 October 2011

What is the purpose of education?

My name is Katie O’Reilly and I am studying primary education (BEd) specialising in early childhood studies at Plymouth University. I am very passionate about the education of children of all abilities, not just the children who are gifted and talented or have special educational needs.
I love learning (even if I am not very good at it) but I just love it. In school I was always sat at the front of the class in awe of what I was learning; I was not a particularly gifted or an academic person but I was very hard working. Unfortunately this was not enough when I reached in secondary education, I wasn’t very charismatic and was very shy which meant that I eventually disappeared to back of the classroom. Out of sight, out of mind.

Then there was that one moment in education that changed my life forever. I was pulled aside by my religious education teacher in year 11 and was told that I was not allowed to take my RE GCSE as I was not deemed ‘capable’. My face must have been a picture because my teacher said, “You’re acting like this is a surprise to you. Give me one reason why I should even consider entering you into the exam?” My reply: “I love RE.” My teacher gave me that this-does-not-wash-with-me look. This ‘look’ provoked my angry parents to book a meeting with my teacher. When we entered the room for this meeting the teacher stood up from his desk and strode straight over to my father and shook his hand and said, “Hello Mr O’Reilly, I’m Mr TG and used to be a barrister.” What more should I add? This meeting consisted of a discussion about my evident interest in religious education, apparently I used to clock watch in the RE lessons and I never used to put up my hand to contribute in the lessons. Little did this man know that in my own time I was very passionate about woman’s Islamic rights in Saudi Arabia and that I was reading all the literature that I could get my hands on about the subject. In my eyes I could not see how memorising the definitions of words such as ‘omnipotent’ and ‘omniscience’ as relevant to the religion in the world. It was no wonder I was bored in the lessons!

My mother eventually convinced my RE teacher to enter me into the year 10 mock test. When I received my results, I was told by my RE teacher (with his eyes to the floor) that I had received the highest score in the year and had earned myself an A*! My teacher then told me he had entered me into my GCSE exam and then turned on his heel and left the room. No apology or even an offer of congratulations was made! At that moment I knew that the education system needed to change.
A painting of my Dad painted by my sister.
People like me are not academically bright and really struggle to prove ourselves. Take my sister for example, she is severely dyslexic (it took years to diagnose) and struggles to get her b’s and d’s the right way round but she can paint a canvas so lifelike that it takes your breath away. My father, also dyslexic and can barely read and write, has just designed and built a house that is truly unique (he built it on top of a river in which the river runs underneath the structure). 

We should be encouraging children to be themselves and enhance the gifts that they have already been given. During my education I felt that a lot of what I learnt was irrelevant and uninspiring and did not prepare me for the world outside. However this RE teacher inspired me to make schools a better place for those pupils deemed average. I may have additional needs when it comes to comprehending information and writing but I do make up for it by having enough ambition and motivation to improve and reflect on my own practice.  

So then, what is the current purpose of Education?
To be continued...


  1. Just a quick note to let you know your blog has been added to

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  2. A really interesting read, thanks for sharing. I find it interesting that this RE teacher, who was in many ways a negative aspect in your past, has 'inspired' you to do what you do now with passion.

    So do you think children need teachers who are traditionally inspiring and overtly positive, or can it be useful and important for them to get some negative experiences as you describe?

  3. Thank you for sharing your learning journey Katie. It is clear your RE teacher had an impact on you that has shaped your passion for teaching. Enjoy your BEd and I hope you enjoy the future enabling children to learn.

  4. Thanks for sharing this Katie, really great story. I love the picture by the way. Good luck in your studies. Ben PGCE plymouth

  5. Thank you all for your comments. I believe that a learning experience does not necessarily need to be negative for it to truly impact someone. I think that my negative experience allowed me to reflect on how education is taught, which has taught me to observe and evaluate teaching whenever I see it being taught. Which meant I turned that negative experience into a positive one, I should almost thank that teacher for opening my eyes that teachers are not always right!

  6. Thank you for sharing your experience of education and how it has actually lead you in to educating. I think through your journey you will find a large number of teachers who were inspired to teach through their own negative experiences of education, I know I am one :)

  7. Wow! This bring back lots of memories. So many connections here. I was told in ninth grade that my IQ was 72 and that I should forget ever going to college. Yes, I went college and struggled. Today I work for the division of academic services for a large school district in South Carolina and an adjunct instructor for twouniversities in SC. And I am still learning! When I finished college, I was able to per sue by life long learning- teaching and learning.

    I ended up sucessful in high school and college because I could play the game well. After graduating from undergrad school, I taught myself to read for understanding and comprehension. Then I went on to grad school. My GPA was so low, grad school turned me down. I went to the Dean of Education and made a deal. I bargained with her and made a deal.

    The Dean agreed to my deal. If I made less than an A in my first four courses, I would leave the university. I went on to earn a 4.0 and my teaching career began.

    Thanks for bringing back old memories of SChool.

    Yes something is wrong with school.

  8. What a great read! I'm hoping to complete a PGCE soon and I am so open and optimistic towards a child's behaviour and reasons for acting a certain way that I hope I never come across a person like your old RE teacher when I begin my journey as a teacher.
    I have had lost of experience with an inclusive theatre (experienced with all disabilities and backgrounds) and I'm experienced within a classroom. So I do think that it's not necessarily the school or education side of things that's bad instead it's down the the 'unexperienced' teachers or should we say small minded!