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Everyone is pretty clear on what a school’s job is, right? Let’s see… It’s to educate children. Is that it? Um, okay, what about giving children opportunities to participate in extra-curricular activities like sport and drama? Of course, creating a space for children to make new friends and develop social skills. Anything else? Apart from keeping them safe and warm and (sometimes) happy while the other things are happening, I think that’s about it.

Let’s try again. What are schools for? You think that I’m asking you a rhetorical question. But I’m not. Answering that question is like trying to define a word that you use all the time but can’t quite put your finger on its meaning – like ‘but’ or ‘the’. Everyone knows what a school is, what it looks like, how it works, who goes to one. What are schools actually for?

In other words, can you get everything you get at school from somewhere else? The internet is, they say, the answer to lots of things. It means that you can connect with people faster, research information more easily, find new and increasingly more exciting ways to waste time. But can it ever replace schools in educating children?

Schools use bring your own devices, apps and software for sharing and collaborating on assignments, coding, blogs, online portfolios, even teachers are having students hand work in via things like Google Classroom. So much so that, as long as you’ve got an internet connection, you can be off school for a couple of weeks and still not miss anything.

So, why go to school? Here’s the bit where I try and answer my own question:

What are schools actually for? Schools are places where you can fail. And fail safely. If teachers are doing their jobs properly, they’ll let you get things wrong – they expect you to get things wrong, they want you to get things wrong. But they will also ensure you use that failure to help you get things right. Good schools are failure factories – but for all the right reasons. At school you can challenge concepts, test ideas, argue and be argued against, ask ‘what if?’ or ‘but?’ or ‘can I have a go?’. You’ll probably fail again, and again. But you fail better. Until you, with help from your teachers, find a way to figure out a better way to do things.

Schools are not places designed to get you a good job. They are there to help you understand yourself, help you understand the world around you, and help you to find your place in that world. To do that, schools need to look after you – and your hauora. They need to develop your physical wellbeing, mental and emotional health, help you socialise and make friends, and allow you to explore spiritual wellbeing and personal beliefs.

So, a successful school is one, in my opinion, where you fail. Lots. And good schools do all sorts of things to make sure that your wellbeing is looked after so that, when you do fail, you don’t feel like a failure. Instead, when you fail, you feel like picking yourself up so you can fail again…


Article written by Ben Egerton

This is an opinion-based article designed to provoke debate, discussion and further inquiry
amongst your students:

Critical Thinking Challenges:

  1. What are schools for?
  1. Schools are for failures. Do you agree with the author’s point of view?
  1. Some principals, teachers and students get particularly worried by exams and tests. How can schools better look after the wellbeing of their students and teachers when assessments take place?
  1. What does it mean to ‘fail better’?
  1. Would you want to be taught from home? If so much can be done online, what’s the point of having a real classroom? Why can’t you just log on from home and have your teacher teach over the internet?
  1. Schools need to keep their students safe. But how important is it to keep their students happy?
  1. When was the last time you learnt from failure?

Practical Tasks:

  1. Identify one thing in your school that’s needed to ensure that students’ wellbeing is better promoted – it could be an improvement in the playground, a better-equipped library, new bike racks, a quiet room for praying, more sport, and so on… Put together a proposal for your principal for how you think it could be improved.
  1. Do parents and principals agree that the best way to learn is to fail? Conduct interviews to find out other people’s opinions. Compare your answers with those of your classmates.
  1. Many students get worried at exam or test time. How could you make that time less stressful? What could you implement at your school to help ease students’ worries? Investigate ways that people relax. Could those techniques work at school?

Have Your Say:

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21 Responses

  1. well I like making mistakes at school because I know what I have done is wrong and I need to find a new way to solve it.

  2. I think that the key to making mistakes is to learn from them. I think that failing is confidence and you try again like Mojo “reflect on your mistakes” 🙂

  3. In Room G1 we agree that we always learn from our mistakes. It is ok to get things wrong as long as we can take a lesson from it. We enjoyed working on the questions in this article and it provided us with a chance to have some great discussions. Thanks 😀

  4. School isn’t for failures! Its for successful people to. You know what they say! “you learn all you’re life”.

  5. Yeah internees better. But school gives you more opportunities to prepare you for life.?

  6. I think we should stay at school not do it at home because I hate homework half the stuff they can teach us at school and it wastes my time >:0

  7. school is cool you learn stuff like 1+1= george washington its simple it is a learning place for learning so learning 4 days 4+4= ben franklin I learnt that in school

  8. no school I don’t need no school I can count up to 43 and no can ololololololololololololololololo

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