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For many students, particularly those from developing countries, education is a means to an end – usually a good job. Students will often fail to consider that education is more than what is learned at school or a certificate and different people will have different definitions of what educations consists of. For this reason, a definition is sometimes worth including in an essay on education.
Education is not just a piece of paper – the piece of paper is the representation of skills and quality of a person. It is the skills that are obtained that are much more important than marks or the actual qualification. People are ultimately judged on what they can do, not their qualifications.
Education improves quality of life. People who are better educated have a better life. This is not because they tend to have more material things, but because they have a greater level of understanding and therefore they have a broader vision and a better ability to appreciate the world. It should be remembered that happiness is mostly related to achievement, which is closely related to education, not material possessions.
Learning is done in many places, not just school. Many of the world’s greatest thinkers and leaders did not have very good educational backgrounds, but all are highly educated because they learned in other ways.
It is also often assumed that pre-school age children do little learning; this is not accurate. Very young children are born understanding virtually nothing about the world but have mastered many skills by the time they have reached school age. Important steps for the early development of children include learning to smile, bringing their hands together, focusing their eyes, putting objects in their mouth, sitting up, holding a spoon, crawling, understanding basic instructions, making different sounds, walking, speaking, interacting with other children, etc.
Students often think that getting education is the process of gaining knowledge. Knowledge is the lowest form of learning and is not the focus of Western education. Education is the process of learning to solve problems. Many educated people work in fields other than which they are qualified – they know how to solve problems, including the problem of lack of knowledge.
Essays should focus on learning, skills development and creativity, not knowledge. Consider this book – it contains a great deal of knowledge but there is also high focus on thinking. The book explains the reason for choices and good students will take the broad principles from this book and apply them in many different situations. Education is much more about learning to think well than having knowledge.
IELTS questions focus on many different areas of education, including that of very young children. The roles of parents versus teachers in education are common topics. Key ideas in these questions include that children spend their earliest years with parents and that parents set standards for children’s behaviour and education. Parents also spend more time with their children and that time is often on a one-to-one basis. It is families that have the most significant effect on children. They provide children’s genes and control their environment in their earliest and most formative years.
The role of teachers in children’s moral and behavioural upbringing is limited. Teachers have a limited ability to discipline children and their major role in this area is to ensure that the classroom environment is free from disruption and is safe. Teachers can spend little time with students on a one-to-one basis and therefore are restricted in their ability to teach students how to behave well. They also do not have the right to discipline children in the same way that parents do. Teachers’ primary role is to educate students in a variety of subjects.
The key areas of learning are students’ first language (literacy) and mathematics (numeracy) as all other academic disciplines require a solid foundation in one or both of these areas. Governments focus of literacy and numeracy in most testing because it is the foundation of all learning.
Success for students does not just depend on students’ learning in academic subjects but also in many other areas. Students need to understand about the world and relationships and have a wide variety of other skills to be successful. Learning is closely related to experience and having wide experiences are important for becoming highly educated. This means that extra-curricular activities such as participating in sports and joining clubs are important for building skills in non-academic, but equally important areas, such as team work, people management, project management and financial skills.
Occasionally, questions on funding for education arise. In these cases, it is worth remembering that both society and the individual benefit from education and therefore it is not unreasonable to expect both students and the government to make a contribution to education costs. Society gains benefits by having more skilled people in important areas (doctors, nurses, teachers, etc.) and people who are tolerant and respectful of others, while students often (but not always) benefit through higher incomes, a greater understanding of the world, better skills and a richer life.
If questions on quotas for access to education arise, equality and fairness should be a key consideration.
There are some questions around the best starting age for school. Typically, the starting age for school age children is between 5 and 7 years old. Younger starting ages mean that students can get more years of schooling, and can start learning key skills such as reading earlier in the brain development process, which often allows them to reach higher levels of skills later in life. It also frees their parents/carers to re-join the workforce. The advantages of starting later are students are more mature and there is less funding required for schools.
There are questions on whether schools should focus on just academic subjects or other skills as well. A very wide range of skills is necessary for being successful in life. Classes such as cooking (sometimes called home economics), sewing, driving, woodwork, financial management, physical education, etc. are valuable life skills. However, schools primary function is to provide an academic education. Therefore, it is essential that schools main focus is academic learning, but this can be supplemented with useful non-core subjects that are of interest to students and provide them with a varied and balanced school life. Studying non-academic subjects also provide a useful break for students and allow them to concentrate better in class.
Answers to questions on team sports should primarily focus on students’ ability to help people learn cooperation and teamwork. Team sports are also useful for developing strategy based skills, physical coordination and appropriate risk taking. Further benefits are for health, fitness and achieving a balanced life.
There are occasionally IELTS questions on the role of memory in education. Memorisation is a fundamental part of learning as it is necessary to be able to retain information in order to learn all skills, including languages and mathematics. However, memorisation is only a base skill and does not by itself lead to people becoming highly educated because learning by memory only allows students to draw on what they have previously experienced. A key part of learning is thinking as this allows students to take what they have remembered and use it in a wide range of contexts, a much wider range than they have previously experienced.
Questions on the role of lectures also occasionally appear. Lectures are an important way of delivering education in a cost effective way as they allow many people to be taught at once. If exactly the same material needs to be delivered to many people lectures are highly effective. However, they fail to be effective when individual attention is required, such as when students have individual problems. For this reason, it is often best to deliver lectures that teach principles and support students with small class tutorials or one-to-one sessions where their individual problems can be addressed.

Topic Vocabulary
Formal education – Formal education refers to learning that has been undertaken in schools, universities, and other educational institutions.
Primary, secondary (schools, education) – Secondary school is much more formal than “high school” and is the correct language in writing. It should also be noted that Junior High School and Senior High School should generally be avoided because this distinction is not made in English speaking countries that use IELTS (the UK, Australia, New Zealand etc.) and is an American term.
Tertiary (Institutions, Education) – Tertiary Institutions include any type of post-school education, including universities, institutes and technical colleges.
Diploma/qualification/certificate – Diploma is often misused as a general term covering all types of tertiary education. It is the name of a qualification that is below the level of a degree. A certificate is the physical piece of paper that is given by the institution while the qualification is the recognition by an institute that the conditions for a particular level of achievement have been met.
Punishment/discipline – Punishment is designed to make people suffer, discipline is designed to teach. Always use discipline when referring to education and children.
Extra-curricular activities – Extra-curricular activities are activities undertaken outside school and include music lessons, sport and attending hobbies based events.
University places/entry – University places refer to the number of students a university will accept. University entry is the process by which students enter university.
Quotas (women, minority groups) – Quotas refers to placing limits (maximums or minimums) on the number of people who may be involved in a particular group or activity. Arguing for or against quotas should be done on the basis of equality and justice.
Core subjects/electives – Core subjects are those that students must complete in order to receive a qualification. Electives are subjects that are optional, although often students will need to complete a minimum number of electives to receive the qualification they are attempting.
Life skills – Life skills are non-academic skills that people learn to function well in society but are not necessarily taught at school and include, social skills, driving a car, cooking, managing personal finances, etc.
Learning/skills/knowledge/creativity – Most native English speakers will refer to their education as giving them learning, understanding, skills and creativity. Only rarely will they refer to knowledge.
Learning by rote/memorising – Learning by rote is often used in a negative context and implies a lack of thinking. Memorising is neutral and refers to the process of memory and does not imply judgement.
On-line learning/distance learning – On-line learning refers to learning over the Internet. Distance learning refers to learning at a different location from the educational institution and in the past was often referred to as learning by correspondence.
Co-educational – Co-educational refers to schools that accept students of both sexes. Schools that only accept students of one gender are referred to as single-sex schools.
Curriculum – The curriculum is the overall course provided by educational institutions and typically includes many subjects.

Sample Essay – Higher Education Costs
Higher education could be funded in three ways. All costs paid by government, all costs paid by students or students paying all costs through a government loan. What are the advantages of these choices?
Since university funding benefits both university students and society as a whole, both parties should bear some of the cost of university educations. University students gain both personal and economic benefits by attending university; however, society also benefits by having a more educated population. In addition, it is important that all members of society have the opportunity to attend university regardless of wealth. In this essay the various models of funding for university places will be discussed.
There is little doubt that people who attend university usually benefit through higher salaries and greater opportunities. It is therefore reasonable that society expects students to make some contribution to the cost of their education. However, expecting students to fully fund their own education may cause students to avoid courses that lead to less well-paying jobs such as the sciences, nursing and teaching.
Society as a whole also benefits from having a more educated community and should support people who make an effort to become educated. It is therefore reasonable that governments also provide money for university places, particularly when the cost of doing a course or the return for students discourages them from completing a course that is needed by society.
The funding model that is used for university placements is also very important as governments have a responsibility to provide an opportunity for all members of society to attend university. Deferred repayment of fees through low cost loans and the partial subsidising of university courses by government are effective methods of ensuring fairer access to university education since they allow people to pay for their education when they are best able to afford to.
In summary, university education benefits both individuals and society and both governments and individuals who receive a university education should make a contribution to the costs of tertiary education. In addition, it is important that appropriate loan schemes are in place to ensure that access to university is available to all members of society.

Essay Notes
This question invites students to choose an extreme position where the entire cost of funding is paid either by the government or by individuals but this does not mean that the writer must choose either of these positions. The question seems to offer the reader one of three choices of funding however careful analysis of the question should reveal that this is really a question with two parts. Who should pay for university education? If it is the student, is it appropriate to use loans? The question does not present any particular difficulty from a cultural point of view.
The introduction contains four sentences. The opening sentence tells the reader the topic and the reason why both society and students should make a contribution to the costs of education. The second sentence explains the key reason why students should make a contribution to the costs of their education and why government should also commit funds. The third sentence describes the importance of low cost loans in ensuring that access to university is available to all members of society. The second and third sentences logically divide the essay into two parts and contain the three main ideas, which are presented in the same order that they appear in the essay and define the high level structure of the essay. The fourth sentence is a thesis statement and outlines the aim of the essay. It should be noted that all key elements of the essay are presented in the introduction in order to prepare the reader for the content in the body. By providing a clear position in the introduction the reader is not likely to become confused about the direction of the essay.
The three key ideas in the introduction are developed in the body paragraphs in the order in which they first appear. In the first sentence of each body paragraph the key point in the introduction is restated to provide the subject for the paragraph. The following sentences are used to provide reasons and explanations. In this essay there are no examples, and the essay is ideas focused.
A simple two-sentence conclusion is used and each sentence explains the key ideas of the essay. The first covers the idea that both governments and students should make a contribution to students’ education and the second underlines the importance of having a university system that is accessible to all students.
Essay Vocabulary
Salaries – There are a number of words to describe the money that people earn from an employer. The most formal word is salaries and this should generally be used. If the money received is from other sources such as investments or a business, the most formal word is income.
Deferred – The word deferred means delayed but is more formal than delayed. Both words are sufficiently formal to use in written language.
Funding model – Funding model is a phrase that is very formal and typically used to describe the way in which projects are paid for by government or business.
Effective – Many students use the word efficient rather than effective in their essays. Usually effective is a better word to use as it refers to the result being positive. Efficient indicates that a process happens smoothly or quickly, but this does not imply that the result is positive.

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