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So, what is education for?

David Bell Chief Inspector of Schools

First and foremost, it is an end in itself. It is part of what makes us human. Every young person should know about our past and present; they should appreciate great works of art and music, understand science and technology and they should learn to read for pleasure as well as for a purpose.

But education is also about preparation for adult life. It should prepare young people for the world of work, ensuring that they have the skills and knowledge to enter employment. But preparation for adult life also includes preparation for citizenship. And in an increasingly fractured and uncertain world, the role of education in this respect has never been more important.

Anna House Headteacher, Ridgeway primary school, South Croydon, Surrey

It's about learning! About yourself and your humanity, intelligences, gifts and talents and how to make the most of them for your benefit and that of the community. It's about learning how to learn; asking searching questions and seeking answers; finding out about the world, sharing your knowledge, understanding and ideas with others, both at home and in school; learning, practising and refining skills in an environment of high expectations.

Education should help you form values to develop empathy and tolerance, encourage passions and enthusiasms, experience the joy of making music with others, create works of art, dance and drama, the fun of playing in a team, designing and making, being a philosopher, a photographer or film-maker a naturalist or gardener. It's about becoming inspired by the power of the written and the spoken word, solving mathematical problems or marvelling at an insect under a microscope.

Much of what is essential to nourish young hearts and minds has been neglected. We need to talk more in terms of lifelong learning and achievement and less of utilitarian "driving up standards" in national tests.

Phil Willis MP Liberal Democrat spokesman on education

Education is a way of developing people's characters and firing their imaginations. It can be seen merely as an economic tool, which prepares people for the job market and enables them to be good employees.

Realistically, a mass education system has to encompass both. It has to respond to the needs of all and to recognise that every human being is different.

It is also a vehicle to convey thoughts, skills and attitudes.

Individuals live within society and should be encouraged to develop a sense of community and an ability to respond thoughtfully to wider events.

Finally education should help develop well rounded individuals who want to continue learning throughout their lives.

Robin Harper MSP and Green Party speaker on education

Our system values and rewards, in the main, just two competencies: numeracy and literacy. Children's potential in music, art, drama, movement and sport, social skills, empathy, logic, self confidence and communication need to be valued at the same level as numeracy and literacy.

We should not patronise our young people by dumbing down the levels of experience offered. The aim should be closer to the Greek ideals - developing abilities to think, challenge and act - as well as elements of the Roman concentration on rhetoric and discipline.

Interviews Philippa White

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