What is the purpose of education?

Is the role of a school to teach or to educate? Perhaps it depends on your understanding of what the term ‘education’ truly means.

Elsewhere in this edition of Grammar News you’ll read that Eric Wang (OM 2020) believes that education is about building character and fully understanding who you are. Eric was one of our students who achieved the highest possible ATAR of 99.95 last year.

In a separate article, our 2021 Captain of School, William Flintoft, explores the importance of the human experience in education beyond the expected.

Their ideas are of tremendous merit and reflective of both students’ capability for deep thinking and intellectual endeavour, attributes we aim to develop in each student at Melbourne Grammar School.

For me, education is about improving our society. There is a commonly held view that schools exist to help each student “reach their full potential”, and this is true. It is important that students learn and develop in multidimensional ways – but to what end? Surely we want our girls and boys to grow into people who can shape the world around them in positive ways.

You’ll hear people talk about the importance of today’s students developing 21st century skills like creativity, resilience and a capacity for problem solving – all laudable and necessary. But what about courage, confidence and a willingness to embrace change? What about the capacity to recognise new opportunities, and the appetite to seize them with both hands and influence the change agenda? These are the sorts of capabilities I want our students to develop in addition to the norm.

We have an obligation to make our students aware that their wider world is one of increasing challenge, complexity and ambiguity. In age and stage appropriate ways, our students need to become cognisant of the possible enormous political, environmental and social upheavals we all may face in the future, but not be despondent about them. We must help them understand how they can not only operate, but flourish and help others flourish, in such a world.

They too should quickly appreciate their good fortune to live in Australia and be part of an exceptional school that has stability, fosters a strong School community, and lives by ethical values. We will continue to ask them to recognise the privilege and responsibilities of a Melbourne Grammar School education. We will educate and inspire our students to embrace the benefits of giving and philanthropy to develop an empathetic and empowering culture, as well as social justice and service programs at local, national and global levels.

Whether it be at the local, national or international level, a critical ingredient will be the respect, understanding, and appreciation of a diverse society. Those who embrace respectful relationships, irrespective of gender, sexual preference, religion or nationality will thrive. Those who don’t, won’t. 

Thanks to the generosity of current and previous generations of families, Melbourne Grammar School provides means tested scholarships and bursaries to attract a broad cross of students from different backgrounds – Indigenous, socio-economic and religious. The recipients of these awards are incredibly grateful and know that the great gift of a Melbourne Grammar education will provide them, and subsequent generations of their families, with wonderful opportunities. In the short term they give back to the School more than they get, by enriching our culture, learning environment and perspectives.

The educational experience we deliver provides meaningful preparation for the journey ‘beyond the gates’ in our students and, I hope, the capacity to influence, adapt and initiate change for the betterment of us all.

Philip Grutzner