What’s the point of going to school, sir?

As Formal Education is compulsory for children up to 16 years old (in the UK), students of this age have no choice but to attend school. This often leads them to ask their family, teachers and peers for opinions about the importance of school and whether or not education is really needed in life. This entry outlines some possible responses to the question posted above.


Common sense would immediately lead us to think that the reason why people go to school is to acquire knowledge. After all, basic numeric, literacy and (nowadays) ICT skills are some of the first lessons taught in school, and these are the basic requirements needed to get almost any job. But doesn’t a child first learn how to speak, read, write and count at home? Yes they do, however, it is in school where they hone their grammar skills and complex math skills.

Schools however cannot and do not teach students everything there is to know (I cannot remember a single Philosophy lesson in school during my 20+ years of education). Some argue that students will never use half of what they learn at school other than to pass their assessments. On the other hand, the varieties of lessons taught in school (I believe) are aimed to spark students’ interest in a specific subject and hope that students carry on studying it through college.

Education leads to Individual Economic Achievement

Another popular answer to the question above is that better education (often a degree level education) leads to better-paid jobs. Most parents find that education is the only way for their children to go up the socio-economic ladder. A recent study found that four years of college increases an individual’s earning by 65% (Topel, 2004). In addition, Dr. Roger W. Ferguson, the former Vice-Chairman of the Bureau of the Governors of the Federal Reserve System (USA) stated that college education was indeed one of the factors that narrow the employment gap between African-Americans and White Americans. According to him, in 2005 “the jobless rate for black adults (25 years and older) with a bachelor’s degree or higher was 3.5 percent; for white adults, the jobless rate was 2 percent”.

One might argue that having a degree does not guarantee someone a well-paid job and that not having a degree does not automatically mean low-paid job. Well-publicised examples of the second point are Sir Richard Branson and NBA superstar Lebron James, who both have no university degrees but are both earning more than the average degree-educated person. Nevertheless, not everyone has the smarts and guts of Mr. Branson, and the physique and raw talent of King James. It is a fact that a university degree does not guarantee big bucks but it almost certainly can give one a chance of earning it.

The Confucian Argument

‘Education can make you a better person by teaching you proper social skills’. This belief can be traced back to the Chinese philosopher Confucius (551-479 B.C.) who argued that education leads to moral development. Indeed schools teach students about respect, safe sex, negative effects of drugs and alcohol, amongst other things.

The flip side of this argument is that moral development starts and can be maintained at home. If a child’s parents taught him manners that are socially acceptable and maintained this teaching throughout his childhood, chances are, however hard his teacher reverses this, he will carry on doing so because he sees his parents doing it.

In addition, bullying in school can torment one’s life for a very long time. Nansel et al. (2004) surveyed school bullies, victims and bully-victims in 25 countries and found that bullying can lead to poor emotional and social adjustment and health problems, compared to those who did not experience bullying. Further, Brunstein-Klomek et al. (2007) found that bullying leads to high risk of depression and suicide attempts and ideation. After reading these findings, one cannot help but question whether the Confucian Argument still hold true.

What’s the verdict?

Arguments are still going on whenever this question is asked. Personally, I believe that formal education is essential but is not for everyone (specifically, further education). I am also convinced that formal education will only yield positive results if delivered properly. What do you think?

Useful links and references:

Brunstein-Klomek, A., Marrocco, F., Kleinman, M.S., Schonfeld, I.S., and Gould, M. (2007) Bullying, Depression, and Suicidality in Adolescents. Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry. 46(1):40-49.

Nansel, T. R., Craig, W., Overpeck, M. D., Saluja, G.; Ruan, W. J., and the Health Behaviour in School-aged Children Bullying Analyses Working Group (2004) Cross-national Consistency in the Relationship Between Bullying Behaviors and Psychosocial Adjustment. Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine. 158(8):730-736.


The Private and Social Values of Education (891 KB PDF),



One thought on “What’s the point of going to school, sir?”

  1. Some interesting topics touched upon here. I would find it even more useful if further research was conducted into this. I conducted a dissertation into the study of moral development in Church in Wales primary schools taking a survey of 3 schools across Cardiff and moral development was vital – education plays a massive part in this – although discounting the influence of home life would not be advisable and also plays its part the influence of education and the teacher in a young person’s life shapes their dreams and vision for what they aspire to become.

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