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Education is the answer for society to flourish — and our survival

Without education, people would recommence burning witches at the stake.

In the past, proponents of that practice were no less intelligent than the average person living today. The difference is all to do with education. They were afraid of what they did not understand. Cultures which discount the value of a good education eventually self-destruct.

A balanced education introduces individuals to the value of wisdom, leaving them comfortable with the idea that to work for the common good is simply to pay for one’s keep. Should that logic fail to resonate, individuals may view access to communal assets as their birthright, thus fueling social discord. Education also serves to translate the relevant aspects of the community’s intellectual property for its members.

To be effective, an education requires a balance between the integrity of content, spiritual robustness and technological merit. The rewards that stem from a balanced education, feature civilized group behavior, a high degree of trust between individuals and a willingness to share.

Ideally, every member of a community should have unfettered access to a training program tailored to nurture their individual potential. Considering the dire circumstances that our materialistic community now faces, only universal access to an education that reinforces the will to get things back on course will suffice. We need to become enlightened as a species, committed to supporting the evolution of life on this planet.

During early childhood, a child’s ability to assimilate new concepts is peaking. At this time the foundation is laid for the quality of the relationship the individual will have with the wider community. This period is essential for developing a child’s basic communication skills, ethical standards and self-control.

Traditional village cultures saw responsibility for the well-being and early training of children being shared by the community, with its viewpoint, or agenda, automatically included as a component of a child’s upbringing. The modern nuclear family lacks that refinement. A child in a nuclear family is inclined to emulate their parents, including their ethics.

Primary education is all about developing a child’s communication skills. Intermediate-level education should be introducing the student to a wide range of “electives” that encompass community priorities to reveal a spectrum of career possibilities. Up to this point, all education curriculum content should remain a public sector responsibility. Unless it is genuinely a philanthropic gesture, private sector funding for education should be restricted to the support of career paths.

A sound education will balance ethics with academic ability. It will include processes that acknowledge the range of individual personalities, from creative artisan to multi-disciplinary to specialist, and it will approach formal training of an individual based on an assessment of their potential to contribute to the community in any of those categories.

There is little point in expending valuable natural resources to grow and educate an individual if that individual does not have adequate opportunity to contribute to the well-being of the society they are born into. That pre-supposes a balance between population size and availability of satisfying occupations.

In a community that identifies and mentors the potential of every individual to be creative, the boundary between student and teacher would blur, with much of the responsibility for an individual’s tertiary education falling back on the individual. The role of the institution in tertiary education would be to facilitate interaction between the like-minded and to make available relevant specialized equipment.

New technology promises to improve access and quality of education

At the tertiary level, lecturers are now struggling to keep abreast of the multi-faceted advances that are being made in most disciplines. Lecturing at that level is better served using mentoring and tutorial approaches. Inter-institutional courses need to become the norm.

Traditionally, the effectiveness of formal education has been limited to the relatively narrow horizon of the institution, with teachers and lecturers frequently employed because of their receptiveness to delivering institutional perspectives. Consequently, a national curriculum is counterproductive. By all means establish national standards of education, but to realize a population’s innovative potential, education curricula must be flexible enough to accommodate spatial and cultural variations.

The future of education, and indeed the ability of life on Earth to sustain itself, may well rely heavily on free-running internet services. Climate destabilization and related issues demand a global response. That might best be achieved by setting up an open source knowledge repository to which every member of the human race has effective access to. Current examples of open-source communication include Wikipedia and Linux networks. That model could be applied to catalyze an aggregation of knowledge and ideas globally.

For that to work, it would involve a framework for various disciplines to contribute information relevant to their field, including a competent screening, or quality control process such as that being used by the creators of Linux. The resulting knowledge bank would provide an opportunity for anyone with access to the internet to research their field of interest, contrasting with the current static model, which tends to link the quality of education with the ability to pay. Coincidentally, that approach would reinforce the benefits of sharing.

Keith Presnell, now retired, was director of renewable energy research at Charles Darwin University and Australia’s representative on the International Energy Agency’s (IEA’s) photovoltaic subcommittee.

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