8 common education myths debunked

education myths

We all know the transformative impact of education when we get it right – it changes lives for the better and unlocks opportunities which would otherwise be impossible. But for that to happen we need to make the right education choices and decisions – as we go about our busy lives in a complex world that is easier said than done. Especially when we are surrounded by education myths.

Education is full of examples of ideas and beliefs which make intuitive sense, but actually do not stand up when we look at the evidence or what works in practice. Decades of research demonstrate that some of our most fundamental views are in fact not quite right – really they are education myths that we need to overcome.

The Educated Guess is a new book that explores eight of these myths and how we can tackle them. Taking them in turn now to give a flavour of each one…

Myth #1: The world is a dangerous place

Despite the many advances which have in lots of ways made the world a safer place than ever, including for children, media coverage can give us the opposite impression. Recalling the shocking stories from the news can make us much more risk averse to the point where latest trends suggest we are limiting vital opportunities for children and young people to get the exposure they need to confidently navigate the modern world.

Myth #2: Small class sizes are better

We all know the transformative impact of education when we get it right – it changes lives for the better and unlocks opportunities which would otherwise be impossible. But for that to happen we need to make the right education choices and decisions – as we go about our busy lives in a complex world that is easier said than done.

Myth #3: Science and maths are important at all costs

Subjects like maths or science are easy to describe and measure, and the clearer those descriptions and measurements are, the more likely we are to focus on them and think those subjects are important. Of course, that is a good thing, but the flipside is that other areas of education that are harder to describe and measure get a lot less attention, even if they are important too. Character education falls into that category and is worth a deeper look.

Myth #4: University is the best option for everybody

We pay a lot of attention to what other people do and it can come naturally to us to take a similar path – going to university can fall into this category as it can seem like the obvious path for a young person. To be clear, it can be a fantastic choice and absolutely the right one for very many, but so can the best technical education options which we can too easily overlook, there can be a snobbery around those paths which is misplaced and unfounded.

Myth #5: Extreme success stories are brilliant for setting career aspirations

When we decide on our career aspirations, we are influenced by extreme success stories because the people who have made it to the tops of their fields are the most visible and the temptation is to copy what they did and believe we can do it too. Dreaming big is valuable,  but so is opening up a wide range of options and learning from as many people as possible who can give more representative advice.

Myth #6: It if ain’t broke, don’t fix it

We are drawn to the status quo as we become comfortable with how things work at the moment and change can seem so fast and hard. That is true in various ways and applies as well to our own careers as well as education – we can be slow to adapt to changing circumstances and skills needs and can be surprisingly resistant to retraining and upskilling even when the benefits are direct and substantial.

Myth #7: “People like us”

People have always been attracted to people like them, indeed for that to happen we only need one thing in common with someone else. We see that happening in how we make education choices including picking schools and other education institutions, even though diversity and inclusion benefits us all in a whole variety of ways, whereas the costs of segregation and less social cohesion can be severe.

Myth #8: Somebody else will solve the problem

Finally, we are all less likely to intervene and help when other people are around, with severe consequences when no one steps in until too late even when things are going wrong. It is shocking the extent to which this happens and how it can apply to situations like bullying or even serious forms of abuse. We tell ourselves that someone else will deal with them, but further examination shows that often isn’t the case.

Which of these education myths have you previously believed? So share in a comment below.

To find out more about these education myths, the Educated Guess is available to buy now at Amazon

Author bio

Warwick Sharp has a decade of experience in education policy and has also been a secondary school teacher and a school and college governor. 

9 comments

  1. This is really interesting. As a former secondary school teacher myself, I totally agree with a lot of these, though I’d disagree that smaller class size advantage is a myth. My classes were all extremely mixed ability and background, and were never less than 30 to a class. With a smaller class size, I could definitely have given each student much more attention and targeted help than I was able to do with the time and resources I had. But obviously it’s far from the only factor in what makes a good education. I think it’s important as parents that we take equal responsibility of our children’s education, rather than relying on schools to do it all, so it’s really helpful to think about common misconceptions like the others in your list.

  2. The education system is forever changing and adapting and I think that there are many positive changes for those children who are less academic and more practical learners. Teachers have such a hard job these days to meet the needs of each individual pupil, but they always try their hardest for progress 🙂

  3. I don’t always believe now Uni is the best option. I know people who have gone straight into work and built themselves up and climbed the ladder. They are doing really well, moved out and are very happy!

  4. I think class numbers can affect the level of teaching. That said it is also affected by the teacher as in my experience with my children some teachers are far better than others.

  5. Interesting post. My parents were both teachers and would say that small sized classes were better. At the point of my Mum retiring from teaching middle school her class was nearly 35 strong!

  6. This was an interesting read and I didn’t expect to actually agree with it as much as I did. I definitely agree with the extreme success stories!

  7. My sister was good at things that school didn’t necessarily measure, and school almost failed her, so I’d definitely agree with that. Not sure about the class sizes though, I guess it’s relative. My P1 is in a team-teaching class of 40 kids. They do have two teachers, so the ratio is actually better than in a ‘regular’ class, but the sensory overload of 40 kids in one room is still there, so in his case smaller would definitely be better.

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