On Innovation and Conservatism in the Education System

Dec. 16, 2015

Professor (emeritus) Anat Keinan is a researcher at the MOFET Institute, Israel. Her main research subjects are qualitative and narrative research of teachers and teacher education.   

The education system suffers from a tendency to be pulled in two opposing directions. On the one hand, the 21st century demands constant innovation and change as a way of life. On the other, the education system tends to eschew changes that are liable to trigger crises in its smooth organization.


Today's world is based on the ideology of constant change and on the idea that change is a positive thing and that we have to invent new things all the time in order to move forward.
Like any other system, the education system has to present the public with constant invention and change. Every Minister of Education regards himself as a reformer, and all educational administrators and educators are obliged to continually present their latest innovations.
Conversely, public education is the most successful revolution to have occurred in the last 300 years. Like any other successful revolution, it tends to conserve the existing situation and not rock the boat. The revolution, which began in the 17th century, is still going strong.
It can be described as public education gaining control of the world.
This revolution has an underlying ideology based on the assumption that education is an indispensable necessity for every child in the world.

Another part of this ideology states that the way to succeed in the world is by acquiring an education that will enable the individual to get a better job, a higher salary, and a more comfortable way of life.
We can also measure the power of the educational revolution in terms of the number of students. In the 18th and 19th centuries, most children did not study. At the end of the 19th century and in the 20th century, only some children went to school.
Today, in most countries worldwide, almost all children go to school.

A further measurement of the power of the educational revolution involves the number of years spent in school. Public education commenced with the requirement that children spend four years in school.
In 1783, the first public education law mandating eight years of schooling was promulgated in Prussia and was subsequently adopted by many other countries throughout the world.
In the 20th century, many countries increased the number of years that students had to spend at school to 12, and nowadays more than half of the population in Israel and many other countries acquire higher education as well.
Today, too, there is a philosophy of lifelong learning whereby workers are sent to study in a variety of continuing education programs, and senior citizens can undertake university studies.

A further change that occurred is the transition from private education to public education.
Until the Industrial Revolution in the 18th and 19th centuries, education was a private matter that was the purview of various elite groups or private individuals.
It then became public and was controlled by the state, which assumed the responsibility for children’s education.
Since the state finances this education, it has the prerogative not only of deciding what will be taught, but also of inspecting and controlling it.


To sum up, the public education revolution is a successful one. The ideology of the education system, which deems education to be a basic right for every child, has taken over our lives. The word "education" has only positive connotations, and we believe in education.
Over the years, the amount of time young people spend in the education system has gradually increased, as has the number of students.
Similar to any other successful revolution, the public education revolution prefers to maintain the status quo and continue moving in the same direction.
However, the fact that it is a public system renders it susceptible to a great deal of pressure from various groups.
It is part of the public domain and as such has to adapt itself to the demands of society.
Since contemporary society worships innovation and change, the education system also has to keep up with these trends. On the one hand, it has to demonstrate change; on the other, it has to preserve peace and quiet.
The latter is accomplished by minimizing the shocks generated by change and by giving certain groups the option to effect a controlled change but nevertheless constantly ensuring that the extent of the change is not so far-reaching that it runs the risk of creating waves.

Updated: Dec. 16, 2015