Education in the Twenty-First Century

Katarzyna Gozdek-Michaelis, MA

'The imminent tragedy of the contemporary world is written in the fact that positivistic modern culture
has magnified science and almost completely emancipated itself from wisdom'.

Mortimer J. Adler

Each parent wants his child to do well at school. Each parent will spend any available money to make sure that his child succeeds and gets the best education possible. We all want our kids to flourish we want to prepare and equip them for what's awaiting them in the future. This future, however, concerns predominantly the world of employment and earning their daily bread. In our haste to still our anxieties about the future opportunities for our children we increase the expectations we place on them, lengthen their work load, add extra-curricular activities in an ever accelerating speed of belief that more is better, and that more will get them further and faster to their final goal.

Yet today's education is still based on principles set out centuries ago and founded on the premise that a young person needs to be 'drip fed' information by his teacher. Teachers were the ultimate experts in their respective field of knowledge and they were highly regarded in society. They were the stewards of young minds and they happily passed their knowledge on to their pupils. Pupils, in turn were expected to memorise the knowledge and pass it on to others down in the next generation. This system of transmitting knowledge was supposed to work in that clockwork fashion forever. And it has done so up to this time. This model worked really well in an illiterate or semi-illiterate society. It has served its purpose well as a means to bring the overall standard of education of society to a higher level and enlighten the minds of the masses. And it did. Remarkably well. So remarkably, in fact, that in present times we are faced with an unprecedented acceleration and release of information, knowledge, technology and creativity.

But guess what. This acceleration has changed our world. Quite radically too. We no longer need 'mediators' to 'drip feed' information to ignorant masses. Instead, now we can 'google' and instantaneously acquire information that's of interest to us. Another words, it's time to realise that the goal of that old paradigm education has been well accomplished and a new model needs to be worked out and implemented. The new model will have to reflect and address the educational needs of the contemporary society of the 21st century. This global society has unprecedented opportunities in accessing any information and knowledge available on this earth at the touch of a button through technology beyond our wildest imagination. If passing on information is no longer a valid goal of education what could and should be the goal of the educational system in our contemporary world?

To answer this question let's go back to the roots of the word 'education'. 'Education' derives its meaning from the Latin word 'educare', meaning 'to nourish' , 'to raise', 'to rear', 'to bring up'. Educare itself can be traced to the Latin root words, "e" and "ducere". Together, "e-ducere" means to "pull out" or "to lead or draw forth". Education thus has two aspects; the first is related to external and worldly education, which is nothing but acquiring bookish or academic knowledge. In the modern world, we find many well versed and highly qualified individuals who fall into this category.

Education in an 'educare' sense of the word refers to any act or experience that has a formative effect on the mind, character, or physical ability of an individual. It also implies such a way of teaching through which children and adults are encouraged to "think" and "draw out" that which is within. Educare means to bring out human values which are inherent in a human being, rather than impose anything from outside. To 'bring out' also means to translate them into action. Human Values are latent in every human being; one cannot acquire them from outside. They have to be elicited from within.

Education as we know it does exactly the opposite. It crams in facts, information, trains kids how to pass tests in order to get on to the next level. We don't educate our kids, we train them. We don't ask our kids what they want to learn, what they would like to find out and get excited about. We shove them pre-chewed and often obsolete notions and ideas that have little to do with the world they live in and experience on a daily basis. We don't help them make sense out of life, we confuse their minds even more with subjects divided into compartments and separate fields, as if they had nothing to do with each other. We teach them how to split, divide and analyse, but we don't show them how it all fits together in a one coherent whole.

Contemporary education is a very mechanistic and simplistic system which provides kids with means to earn their living. It is also a system that has turned economic growth and material acquisition into an ultimate goal in life. There is a quote in circulation that summarises the workings of the contemporary education quite succinctly: "A lecture is a process where the notes of the professor are transferred to the notes of the student without passing through the brains of either one."

Educare, on the other hand, is a new paradigm educational path that leads to the development and discovery of higher level values and goals in life and result in an altogether different quality of life. Educare recognises that life is interdependent and that we share the same building blocks with everything that surrounds us. Educare refers to a whole system of education which provides practical knowledge for educating for life, and not just for earning a living. Educare is the new paradigm education system that should take over where the old system has come to its fulfilment.

Under the new system we need to recognise that we are preparing youngsters for living a rewarding and purposeful life. Educare recognises that unity in multiplicity is the ultimate goal of education, resulting in a world which is a better place to live in, for people today, and for future generations. There are a number of factors that contribute to the attainment of that end result. They don't just narrow down to gaining skills for future employment, but embrace and fulfil the whole spectrum of human needs of a higher order which include moral and spiritual values.

In view of this enlarged perspective on human educational needs we should recognise that in order to be satisfied, happy and fulfilled in life a person needs:

  • a sound education, bearing in mind talents and inherent potential
  • to learn how to learn
  • how to discern truth from trash
  • how to recognise values that are of importance
  • recognise the role of belief systems and how they influence all individual and group actions
  • to be open and connected with one's unconscious and develop intuition
  • to be able to view the world from the point of view of someone else, to have empathy
  • to be able to communicate on all levels
  • have the ability to build rewarding relationships with others
  • to understand the process of one's own subjective experience,which includes thinking, feeling and the various forces influencing that process
  • how to replace fear with confidence
  • how to ask right questions
  • how to become insatiably curious
  • how to be and stay motivated
  • how to develop creativity
  • to overcome areas of weakness in character and recognise an ability to act out of and express inherent goodness
  • have an understanding of deeper dimensions of life, including spiritual values and traditions
  • how to face life challenges with courage

Education in the new millennium should be transformed into a holistic system for imparting knowledge instead of information, of developing wisdom instead of fostering cleverness, for teaching sound values instead of creating unlimited choices for amusement and self-gratification, for fostering simplicity rather than multiplying already rampant complexity. It ought to be a system that is re-formed at its very roots. It has to be done or else we will plunge into problems beyond those we can imagine today. Mortimer J. Adler, a 20th century American educator, philosopher, and popular author is putting this thought into a political context:

'Our schools are not turning out young people prepared for the high office and the duties of citizenship in a democratic republic. Our political institutions cannot thrive, they may not even survive, if we do not produce a greater number of thinking citizens, from whom some statesmen of the type we had in the eighteenth century might eventually emerge. We are, indeed, a nation at risk, and nothing but radical re-form of our schools can save us from impending disaster. Whatever the price we must pay in money and effort to do this, the price we will pay for not doing it will be much greater'.

But in whichever context we wish to place it, one thing is certain. The world we live in is a rapidly changing place. In order to stay abreast with all the changes we have to equip ourselves and the future generations with the tools that will re-create our world into a much better place to inhabit and thrive in. We can do it only through re-educating ourselves in the way we think and act. We owe it to ourselves and to our children.

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