The deeper purpose of education

The 2020 Annual National Convention of TESOL-SPAIN took place last week at the University of Salamanca.


Image: Fernando Vázquez Yáñez/Creative Commons

My personal highlight was a talk on “Positive Language Education” by Sarah Mercer, head of English Language Teaching at the University of Graz in Austria. She began by posing two questions that formed part of a study led by Martin Seligman at the University of Pennsylvania:

  • In two words or less, what do you want for (your) children in life?
  • In two words or less, what do schools teach?

When Seligman’s team compared the answers they obtained to these questions, they found “there is almost no overlap between the two lists”. In Salamanca, Sarah followed this up with a quote from the British education researcher Guy Claxton:

“In the thrall to content and qualifications, we have forgotten the deeper purpose of education. In the rush to make young people into successful exam passers, we have overlooked their deeper need to become successful people…”

Overall, it was an exciting fit with the research we’re doing in Japan into personal goal-setting and, in particular, the idea of connecting language-learning goals with life goals. (Sarah kindly let me borrow a couple of her slides for my presentation the following day — so, thank you Sarah!)


Our research is supported by a grant from the Japanese government, reference number 18K00874.

Published by Graham Jones

Astrophysicist and language teacher