DEMAND AN END TO POVERTY THIS GENERAL ELECTION
TAKE ACTION
Opinion

Opinion: We do not need schools, colleges or universities for education

As The Big Issue looks at the past, present and future of learning in the UK, expert in alternative approaches to education, Helen E Lees, says we must learn to separate the concept of education from institutions

Enthusiastic college student graduates in caps and gowns celebrating

Have you ever wondered if you are alone in quietly thinking ‘education’ has problems? Have you voiced a negative opinion about schooling, college or university? No one ‘in education’ is listening – they are lost in wonderland, having fallen down a rabbit hole of rhetoric about how much we all need school, college and university experience. That is, quite frankly, not what relevant research tells us. We do not need schools, colleges or universities for education.

You are not alone if you are dismayed. The majority of the world’s population seem to have a mixed opinion of schooling, college or university experience. Many people have opinions that are far from effusive. Education as salvation? Yes. Schooling, colleges and universities as salvation? Pull the other one.

Schooling is not education. College is not education. University is not education. Educating oneself and others is education.

The problem starts with conflating the word education for schooling, quickly followed by the idea its myriad institutions are compulsory or ‘must do’. We have to go to school…we need to go to college, we ought to go to university. What rubbish. We do not have to go to school by law in the UK and there are other ways to get ahead in life than produce a certificate. It’s important to develop oneself I agree. We can gain higher level knowledge through reading, researching, and conversations in relevant circles of practitioners.

To be clear: Education is a fantastic, interesting, developmental and hopefully fun situation. Schooling is not education. College is not education. University is not education. Educating oneself and others is education.

The biggest problem with the mainstream school (and further/higher) education system is it believes it is right and righteous and advertises itself as such. It is not morally safe. It is violent to the soul and the self; especially to one’s self esteem. We do violence to each other in such a system. The binaries of success and failure are one form of harm but there are many others, often depending on where you live in the world or the luck you have or lack. The system takes away our sense of self. It sets us in a lowly position where our power is devolved to the knowing ones, or the so-called clever ones, or the popular or the straight looking white ones. Since when is such a system a good idea? Whilst humility to learn something new is necessary, a system that demands you lose your power is suspect.

To believe in schools, colleges or universities as education is to do harm. These institutions exclude whilst not meaning to because systematised education is heteronormative, patriarchal, misogynistic, narrow minded, conservative, racist. It is a blunt machinery.

We need a new model of education that starts with the idea that education is human. The internet has become extremely useful in this regard. Community is helpful, apprenticing oneself, observing someone who knows, asking questions. Education does not have walls. Go online, pick up a book. Get into it. Meet people. The journey is yours to design. It takes effort, that’s all. You will own it.

Helen E. Lees is Visiting Research Fellow at York St John University

Image: iStock

Support the Big Issue

For over 30 years, the Big Issue has been committed to ending poverty in the UK. In 2024, our work is needed more than ever. Find out how you can support the Big Issue today.
Vendor martin Hawes

Recommended for you

View all
Why I'm silenced by the fear of being called a bigot
Robin Ince

Why I'm silenced by the fear of being called a bigot

Scotland's promise to care experienced children shows how politics can give us hope
a young child is hugged from behind by a parental figure
Susan Loughlin

Scotland's promise to care experienced children shows how politics can give us hope

The urgent need for social investment to end poverty in the UK
Big Issue Invest

The urgent need for social investment to end poverty in the UK

Poor pay makes care workers feel like second class citizens – the next government must fix this
social care crisis sees care workers experiencing low pay
Katherine Chapman

Poor pay makes care workers feel like second class citizens – the next government must fix this

Most Popular

Read All
Renters pay their landlords' buy-to-let mortgages, so they should get a share of the profits
Renters: A mortgage lender's window advertising buy-to-let products
1.

Renters pay their landlords' buy-to-let mortgages, so they should get a share of the profits

Exclusive: Disabled people are 'set up to fail' by the DWP in target-driven disability benefits system, whistleblowers reveal
Pound coins on a piece of paper with disability living allowancve
2.

Exclusive: Disabled people are 'set up to fail' by the DWP in target-driven disability benefits system, whistleblowers reveal

Cost of living payment 2024: Where to get help now the scheme is over
next dwp cost of living payment 2023
3.

Cost of living payment 2024: Where to get help now the scheme is over

Strike dates 2023: From train drivers to NHS doctors, here are the dates to know
4.

Strike dates 2023: From train drivers to NHS doctors, here are the dates to know