Skip to main content
The Daily Paradox

Education: a Rethink Part 3 for the 2060s

‘Education is the act of turning the necessary, selfish, individual instincts of humans to live into a rational pattern of collective thought and behaviour for the Survival, Development and Fulfilment of the human race.’ Of all the definitions of education, this is the one I prefer.

By 2060 the future of our planet will have been decided. Not forever but for a century or two. Life, if it still exists on earth, will be longer – potentially infinite. Energy will be widely and cheaply available. Robots will perform most heavy and menial tasks. AI will perform all routine thinking. ‘Quantity’, today’s mantra for happiness, will be changing to become ‘Quality’. Humankind may still be searching for a purpose for living. This requires philosophy and credible behaviour to produce happiness and fulfilment. How many people think that today?

Education will be the basis for this world of improved personal wellbeing. Wisdom will be the visible sign of its achievement. Of course the world won’t be perfect. As long as humankind has both a creative streak and a greedy desire – the drivers of much progress – there will be wicked behaviour. While people suffer, whether pain from sickness or empty stomachs from poor nutrition, there will be wrongs to right. However, we will all think more sensibly, behave more cooperatively and enjoy our time on earth more happily.

Why am I so certain of this? Because without it humans and other species will have been numerically greatly reduced, massively modified or extinguished. Sir David Attenborough said at COP26 in November 2021: “We are the greatest problem solvers to have ever existed on earth. If working apart we are a force powerful enough to destabilise our planet, surely working together we are powerful enough to save it.” Humanity will probably survive.

What we learn today determines tomorrow. And what we learn is significantly decided by how we learn it. When information was scarce and difficult to get hold of, education was mostly input. Even then, the best education – the successful schools, the sought after universities – gave us ‘output’ too. With information universally to hand, we now need to know its Source, understand how to assess its Value and produce enough Creativity to improve on it.

Nearly three hundred years ago Lord Chesterfield, statesman, said “Learning is acquired by reading books; but the much more necessary learning, the knowledge of the world, is only to be acquired by reading people, and studying all the various editions of them.” William Butler Yeats, Nobel laureate, put it like this in the 1930s, “Education is not filling a pail, but lighting a fire”. And William Arthur Ward summed it up even more succinctly in the 20th Century: “The purpose of life is to grow. Curiosity is the wick in the candle of learning”.

All these writers saw the way education needed to develop. How well did we heed them?

Most people fared better than my question might suggest. We have learnt enough about physics to be able to make gargantuan leaps forward today. Our lessons about chemistry have been equally fast but perhaps less disciplined and so have given rise to problems it will take time to repair. But our whole system of measurement – some would say still at a relatively early stage – has changed the way we behave.

Our concern for the truth has not, unfortunately, met the test of ‘persuasion for good’. Much of what is measured is misreported, misinterpreted and misunderstood. Which leads us to the missing piece that current education has allowed – a lack of good leadership. It won’t be only cynics who say that was intentional. So desperate has been our anxiety to ‘win’ control that suppressing followers has become an art, enhanced by a failure to realise that discipline, the basis of all good societies, has become something for others rather than for ourselves. The best teachers are measured not by what they have taught but by what they have learnt.

However good the education, however disciplined the society, whatever the number of people on earth, good leaders will be essential for the world of the 2060s. Education of all sorts and at all levels should now be about leadership. The demand to achieve this will come not from voters in an election, not from clergy encouraging good behaviour, nor from competition to control. It will come from the common sense of averagely intelligent people who care about the future. Put another way, from you and me.

The only productive way to answer the question “What should we do now?” is to first tackle the more important question “Who should we become?” When we decide that, John Ruskin’s famous 19th Century edict will come true. He said “When love and skill work together, expect a masterpiece”.

My conclusion is that society grows great when people plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in.

May we all become tree planters.

Good morning
John Bittleston

How will you plant your tree? Please tell us at [email protected].

14 February 2024