Thoughts on the Education Systems of the West

March 6, 2011 — 2 Comments

One of the biggest debates going on in most countries today is over the state of education. As Sir. Ken Robinson has stated in his RSA speech, we are operating in a new paradigm, in which old school practices will no longer suffice to prepare people for future demands, nor be cost effective.

A university degree today is at one level the key to success and on the other an over priced piece of paper costing both state and citizen immense qualities of money while also in England and North America taking away the freedom of future generations. While the generation after the the Second World War was busily focused on ensuring that communism did not find a foothold in the West the generation after set up a system ensuring the serfdom of their children. The cost of university at a public American university has increased by over 1500% since 1970 while wages have only increased by approximately 500%. So though a university degree may get a job, it will still take much longer to repay student loans.

Education must be a publicly funded venture. The wealth of a nation lies not in its soil but in the spirit and minds of its people. The questions we need to answer are: what defines the new paradigm in which we are operating and how do we adapt to it?

The new paradigm is based on performance. We live in a world that is both more connected and systematically challenged than any before. A failed crop in Australia will affect the cost of fuel in Zimbabwe. Education can no longer be a test and rote memorization based, but must see practical application of knowledge providing solutions to real world problems. Those who solve problems will be rewarded others forgotten.

While many countries are debating stricter teacher evaluations and standardized testing, the real solution would be to encourage teachers and students to tackle solving social and environmental problems using the access to information they all possess. While a degree of basic knowledge is still important and beneficial, computers and the Internet have eliminated a great deal of the need to learn statistics by heart or other trivial pieces of information. Students need to understand how to analyze and present this information if they wish to compete in the labour market.

The belief that there are single solutions to the challenges we face is a Western myth that ignores the natural complexity of the natural world, over credits human understanding, and shows the same ignorance that has wrongly or rightly been credited to Charles H. Duell, the commissioner of the U.S. Office of Patents, who supposedly said “Everything that can be invented has been invented.” Just like an erupting Volcano can affect the supply of wine to restaurants in another part of the world, a future discovery or invention could change the way we look at environmental problems or financial crises.

Leading nations will either produce or harbour or produce and harbour people who practice divergent thinking — that is seeing a multiplicity of answers — to solve problems and work collaboratively in achieving those end results. The most successful will not wish to cash out, but will be serial problem solvers. The education system that can produce these types of people will be the model.

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2 responses to Thoughts on the Education Systems of the West


    I was all nods until .. “Education can no longer be a test and rote memorization based, but must see practical application of knowledge providing solutions to real world problems.” I think this is the exact opposite of where we should be heading – namely, back to understanding that one goes to University to learn cognitive skills rather than a profession or skill set. Where has our reverence gone for creating centres of thought in which diversity is celebrated as a source of inspiration?


    Hi Drew,

    Thanks for your feedback. I agree that universities were not designed to be the professional training institutes that they have become today. However, that is a reality and one that it makes little sense to fight. That said, if one is at university and only looking to regurgitate facts and ideas of others, then one hasn’t understood the real purpose of the university.

    I studied German literature, but I also learned important research and critical thinking skills. University students are meant to learn what has been done in their field before them, but also to add to that dialogue by developing their own theories or providing other ways of looking at a situation, therefore they are not merely memorizing facts.

    Literature, like history and philosophy do have practical applications to the world. We need them as much as science and mathematics to be a constant evaluator and counterpart of the physical sciences, asking us why are we doing what we are doing and is it correct? Is there an alternative?

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