Compliance, Engagement, Empowerment.

When we are thinking about the concept of change in Education it is natural to ask the question ‘why’?

After all the ‘traditional’ system has been around for a while now and we seem to have survived it OK so why change?

The three words that make up the title of this blog may help explain the ‘why.’


The basis for learning in our schools has remained largely unchanged for over a hundred years. It was developed in the industrial and post industrial era to meet the demands of that time.

It was primarily concerned with producing adults who could work effectively and efficiently in completing largely repetitive tasks. The world at that time needed civil servants, typists, tradespeople etc. who could work at repetitive tasks productively and with accuracy. It was a time of rapid industrial growth and, as a result, needed workers with specific skills, the same skills that in our modern world are able to be done by computers or machines.

This is not a value judgement but merely a statement that the education ‘industry’ at that time was developed to cater for a need and in doing so the concept of compliance and the ability to work in a compliant and largely unquestioning manner was important.


As we moved through the post industrial age the world changed and the machine and the computer were increasingly able to perform the repetitive tasks, often with a higher degree of speed and accuracy than human workers.

When most of us were going through school the concept of engagement was replacing the strict adherence to compliance. Education started to focus on learners who saw value in what they were learning. The concept of personal choice and involvement became more common place. There was a movement towards providing learning in a more authentic context, new subjects emerged that encouraged engagement [such as Drama], the opinion of the learner became more important in curriculum areas such as creative writing.

It was accepted by educators that young people had to be interested and motivated in the learning process if they were going to engage with it. They had to be involved.

The end result though remained largely unchanged, that is the learning of content to repeat in examination and assessment situations to evidence that certain facts and formula had been understood.




What we need to do now is to move from,

‘Learning because I have to’ [compliance]


‘Learning because I am interested’ [engagement]


‘Learning because I want to and see value in creating a difference for myself and others’ [empowerment].

What the world is demanding is young people with transferable skills such as creativity, critical analysis, digital literacy etc. Young people who know what questions to ask and not just have an ability to produce the accepted and expected learnt answers.

It is not so much of thinking outside of the box but more a case of thinking differently within the box.

It is a case of educating our children so that they know how to use the knowledge they have and that they know what questions to ask. No longer will it be enough us to concentrate on training our students to just receive knowledge, we must move to the point where they know how to access and analyse that knowledge and then know what to do with it in new, demanding and often creative ways.

This is not to say that compliance and engagement do not have a vital role to play in education today. They are still relevant but only truly relevant if they eventually enable empowerment. They are no longer an end in themselves but part of a process that aims to eventually empower a young adult to know that they have the skills and dispositions to make a difference in the world.





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