Education – where are we headed?

Education - where are we headed?

Human society is currently going through a phase of rapid change, and if that change is to have a positive outcome for the future, one place to pour our energy and love is in the care and education of our children. ELIZABETH DENLEY explores why we are evaluating our current outdated educational paradigms and what is possible through the emerging paradigms of the 21st century. Also, what questions do we need to ask to move forward?

Today, everywhere in the world public education is changing. We are living in times of revolution, and there are many reasons for this revolution – the pace of social change, economic drivers, technology, the critical nature of our relationship with our planet, the shift in understanding the needs of our children and their place in society, and the expansion of consciousness that humanity is currently undergoing.

But most importantly, it is our children themselves who need something different. Many are bored at school, or worse unhappy, medicated or unmotivated. Why? It’s time to ask them. Are we catering to their needs? As Tagore once said, “Don’t limit a child to your own learning, for he was born in another time.” This is so pertinent today. Educators have been addressing this issue from many different angles, especially during the last 150 years, and here are just a handful of their thoughts. There are, of course, many more:

From Manufacturing To Growth-Oriented

Sir Kenneth Robinson, the British educator says, “Many of our institutions evolved in earlier times to meet different needs than those we face now. Many of them are failing the people they’re meant to serve and the energies of those who work in them. If we’re to have fulfilled lives as individuals and meet the challenges we face collectively, we have to create the conditions in our schools, communities and organizations for people to flourish.”

He encourages us to rethink the outdated model of education we currently have for public education. It was developed during The Age of Reason in 18th century Europe for the economies of The Industrial Revolution, and was based on a mass-manufacturing model, where children are processed in batches according to age, and evaluated against one common quality control standard – exams. At the time it was itself a revolutionary model, because it was a first attempt to bring education to everyone en mass, and we can be very grateful for that, otherwise formal education would have remained with the elite few.

While that model has been refined through continuous improvement, the fundamental assumptions have not changed. As well as the manufacturing approach, it also assumes that academic, intellectual reasoning is the foundation of education. And not all children fit that paradigm, nor should they.

At no time in human history has Robinson’s advice been more relevant than today, when children are routinely labeled with behavioral and learning disorders and prescribed medication to help them conform. Is it the children who are the problem, or is it the manufacturing model? And what are the alternatives?

Life Is Education

Back at the beginning of the 20th century, the Austrian mystic and philosopher, Rudolf Steiner, while developing his approach to education said, “Education is an art – it must speak to the child’s experience. To educate the whole child, his heart and his will must be reached, as well as the mind.” He also said, “We need to learn that each new day and each new year offers continual revelation.” In other words, life is education.

When Will Becomes Fruitful

At the same time, in India the great minds of the time were also vocal in sharing the need for our approach to change. Swami Vivekananda said, “What is education? Is it book-learning? No. Is it diverse knowledge? Not even that. The training by which the current and expression of will are brought under control and become fruitful is called education. Now consider, is that education as a result of which the will, being continuously choked by force through generations, is wellnigh killed out; is that education under whose sway even the old ideas, let alone the new ones, are disappearing one by one; is that education which is slowly making man a machine? It is more blessed, in my opinion, even to go wrong, impelled by one’s free will and intelligence than to be good as an automaton. Again, can that be called society which is formed by an aggregate of men who are like lumps of clay, like lifeless machines, like heaped up pebbles? How can such society fare well?”

Socratic and Gurukula Learning

If we go back further to ancient times, we can learn a lot from the great teachers of yore. Many of their learning styles are now back in vogue, such as the Socratic method of ancient Greece and the Gurukula system of the ancient Vedic traditions of India. In fact, modern-day facilitation styles of education reflect these traditions, including ‘inquiry-based learning’, which was developed in the 1960s and is currently now taking hold in mainstream public education worldwide.

Then there are the many religious-based schools and independent schools that have been using varied models of education, from both eastern and western traditions. Some have tried different approaches, but they usually conform to the government standard when it comes to final examinations so that students can be ranked and offered placement in higher education or employment. In fact, all the differences in approach to learning pale into insignificance compared with the elephant in the room. There is one more critical component of 21st century education that was not there in earlier times, and that is technology.

According to statistics presented by A.C. Nielsen, the number of hours children in the US spend at school these days is less than half the hours they spend being educated by media sources. In fact, the media is by far the leading educator of children today in many countries, television being the main source.

And what sort of education do children receive from television and the Internet? It can be as varied as the programs available, and there are many, many wonderful resources for children. But some of the statistics are worth taking seriously, and here are just a few:

By the time the average child has reached age 12 they will have watched over 8,000 murders on television, and by age 18 that number has risen to 16,000 murders and 200,000 acts of violence. So a major subject offered to children in ‘media school’ is violence.

A second subject high on the list for all in the curriculum is sex, as these days two out of three television shows include sexual content, and over half the surveyed teenagers between 14 and 17 had visited pornographic websites.

The third and fourth major subjects are material consumerism and alcohol. Statistically, between the ages of 3 and 18, the average child watches around 500,000 TV commercials, of which 20% promote alcohol.

Before television and the Internet, the number of children exposed to chronic consumerism, violence, drug abuse, murder and pornography was limited to those who encountered it personally in their families and neighborhoods. Now, it is normal for almost all children, irrespective of the values and lifestyle of their families.

So what values are we imparting to our children through ‘media education’? And why are we surprised that children are blasé about these things and disillusioned by what we offer them? What is our personal and societal vision for our children’s education? These are questions we can all ask.

What next?

We know that the manufacturing model of education of the 19th and 20th centuries is no longer adequate for 21st century education, yet we still need an approach that offers education for everyone. We also need to impart skills, knowledge and training, so there is room for training, both face-to-face and online. In fact that is what most of current-day education is all about – skills training for specific jobs and careers.

But we also know that there is a higher dimension to education, offering an ongoing holistic learning and evolution through life, a development of wisdom and guidance towards a fulfilling existence. For that we need to include child-centered and heart-centered approaches. Parthasarathi Rajagopalachari once  said, “Every child has an individual genius. The role of the teacher is to uncover that genius.”

The word ‘education’ comes from the Latin word educere meaning ‘to lead out’. So in the higher view of education we are not supposed to feed knowledge to students, but instead uncover their own genius and let it blossom, let their consciousness and the higher dimensions of their mind expand.

So the next steps must involve enabling teachers to help students uncover that genius. In fact, it is simple. To bring out what is inside, we only need to turn the attention inwards. That is what meditation is for. That is what Heartfulness is for. When teachers learn how to meditate themselves and share the basic practices of relaxation and meditation with students in schools, even in large classes, students will start to look inside and feel, they will listen to their hearts, and they will discover their own inner potential. Imagine such a world.

There are many other things that also need to change in our educational institutions, such as children having the opportunity to play on earth instead of concrete or asphalt, to eat simple vital food instead of processed packaged food, to sit in chairs designed for good postural support instead of rounded plastic chairs that lead to back problems in later life, to have class layouts that are flexible instead of always having rows of chairs facing one direction … and the list goes on, but this one step of looking inside will make a world of difference to our children and our future.

Finally, if we really want to create education that is relevant for our children, can we ask them what is their vision for their future education?



Elizabeth Denley

About Elizabeth Denley

Elizabeth is originally from Australia, and is the founding editor of Heartfulness Magazine. She loves meditating, writing, singing, playing the piano, gardening, thinking, spending time with her two grown up children, and life in general. She is active in researching and publishing the writings of the Heartfulness masters of the 20th and 21st centuries. She considers every moment of every day to be precious.

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