Education, politicians in many lands are quick to claim, is at the top of the political agenda – the “number one” item. Business people concur. So do community leaders. So do parents. It is easy to say we are looking for higher standards but what standards? What kind of society are we anticipating, or do we desire? How are “standards” to be achieved? What does being “number one” on the agenda actually mean?
There is a paradox here because for most people education seems a strangely boring topic. Like religion some people sense that it’s important, but prefer to leave it to others to practice or think about. Search a bookstore and you are most likely to find the education section in some dark, out-of-the–way, corner, and most of the books on the shelves will be about specialised topics of little general interest. Few education books make it to the front of the store, and even fewer are promoted as best sellers.
This is strange for there is more material now about the nature of human learning and its importance to individuals, to society at large and to the economy than at any previous time. It’s found in books all over the store – in many different sections. In fact there is so much about the nature and importance of learning that it is virtually impossible to keep up with all the ideas. It is learning, which will drive our future economies, and determine what kind of people we become. Yet the education section in the bookstore remains dusty and remote and to search here for a clue as to why education is now the “number one agenda item” is to become even more confused.
What is happening? Is it that education, as previously understood to mean schools, is simply being sidelined, and for some reason is unable to keep up with these new discoveries? Has education ceased to be about learning? Have we become “an over-schooled but undereducated” society? In a world where the average income of citizens in the richest countries is fifty times higher than it is in the poorest countries, is education leading to a more equitable distribution of resources? And, if not, how long will it be before world society implodes?
In such a world as we may envisage, do we want our children to grow up as battery hens, or free range chickens?