There are many assumptions of compulsory education. One is that young people need to know, understand, and do certain things that will help them grow intellectually. Another view is that education that helps young people grow is not enough. Intelligence plus character—that is the goal of proper education.
So, what does it mean to be educated today? As our world changes, we know education should expand our consciousness, capabilities and understanding, and it should enlarge our worldview. We all live in two worlds—the world within, that exists only because we do, and the world around us. The core purpose of education should be to enable our young people to understand both worlds.
If we redefine education according to what our world needs today, then the purpose of education can be divided into these four categories:
Our education today should enable young people to engage with the world within them and the world around them. There is a deep correlation between our experience of the world around us and our feelings. Students do not come in standard physical shapes or their abilities and personalities, and they all have their aptitudes and dispositions and different ways of understanding things. Education is, therefore, deeply personal. It is about cultivating the minds and hearts of living people. Engaging students as individuals is at the heart of raising achievement. Therefore, education should be directed to the full development of the human personality and respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms.
As the world becomes more crowded and connected, it becomes more complex culturally. Living respectfully with diversity is not just an ethical choice; it is imperative. Education today should enable our students to understand their own cultures and to respect the diversity of others. Education is one of the ways that communities pass on their values from one generation to the next. There should be three cultural priorities for schools: to help students understand their own cultures, understand other cultures, and promote a sense of cultural tolerance and coexistence.
Education should enable students to become economically responsible and independent. How do we prepare our students for the coming future as we see the economic landscape changing? Through education today, our students must connect their unique talents and interests by dissolving the division between academic and vocational programs. Fostering beneficial partnerships between schools and the world of work is essential today so that young people can experience working environments as part of their education.
We are not just socially connected but rather interconnected to everything around us. Education should enable our young people to become active and compassionate citizens. We live in densely woven interconnected systems, and the benefits we derive from them depend on our working together to sustain them. The empowerment of individuals must be balanced by practicing the values and responsibilities of collective life and interbeing. The purpose of education today is to teach our young people our interconnection — through our actions, feelings, thoughts, and everything else. These lessons should be interwoven from the beginning of a student’s educational journey and nurtured throughout. We need to provide them with forms of education that engage them with the global-economic issues of environmental well-being.
When properly integrated into education, our redefining the purpose of education will equip students who leave school to engage in the economic, cultural, social, and personal challenges they will inevitably face in their lives. It will enable them to have curiosity, creativity, communication, collaboration, compassion, composure, and citizenship, which is the true purpose of education.