The time has come for a wiser structure of education

Photo: David Ragusa on

A good education system equips our children for their future. One of its two equally important components currently overshadows the other. I would give the way we educate our children a mark of C-. The problem is systemic. This article outlines how the system needs to be changed to become an A+.

The over-dominant side of education is instruction. Instruction teaches children how to add numbers, how to compute fractions, how to differentiate equations. It teaches facts and consequences of history. It teachers cell biology and medicine. Instruction lends itself to measurement. We can load the system with facts to instruct and measure how many of those facts each child retains. Instruction is arbitrary because someone has to choose what to teach. It is designed without reference to the individual child being taught.

The under-developed side is nurture. Nurture empowers children to develop the skills to swim or ride a bike. It empowers them to develop the capacity to evaluate conflicting arguments. It empowers them to develop emotional, ethical and relational intelligence to understand themselves and each other. Nurturing is the way children develop the capacity for critical thinking once they enter adulthood. It is a part of developing the capacities to lead others, to work effectively with others and to form positive personal and socially cohesive relationships. We can never measure nurturing because its outcomes are entirely dependent on the child’s innate and developed skills and understandings. The relative rate of development of children skills against each other tells us more about the child’s background than the quality of education or the child’s capacity to learn.

We will never create a thriving society without supporting both sides of our children’s development. Yes, we need to pass down our incredible technical and social understanding. We also need to nurture our children’s capacities like swimming and riding a bike. But there is one capacity above all that we need to nurture. It is critical to the success of the next generation. We need to develop our children’s capacity to relate to ourselves and each other to be nurtured. Is it the foundation of dignity, trust, social cohesion and ultimately, universal social justice.

In the UK as in other countries, school league tables are overwhelmingly biased by the measurement of acquired knowledge. It has negligible regard to how relevant that knowledge will be to the child’s future. This is an inappropriate way to direct education towards a balanced approach to our children’s development.

Wisdom, like ethics, is a capacity. It is the capacity to process decisions in a balanced and unbiased way taking everything into account. It is the ability to hear other opinions and to judge their relevance to the decision. Wisdom is nurtured, by giving children the opportunity to experience life in their own context, not in the context of a pre-defined curriculum which is developed without reference to each child’s individual needs.

Educating children without nurture is like a developing rocket ship without a navigation system. It is like developing a super-computer that is programmed to count sheep. It is like developing a robot that can not think for itself. Knowledge empowers us to build a bomb. Wisdom helps us decide whether to use it.

Photos: Mabel Amber and Arek Socha on

We spend a vast fortune on education. If we want to use that money for a better future, we need to reduce our superficial dependence on measurement. We need to have more trust in our qualified teachers. We need to rebalance the education system towards one which teaches AND nurtures our children to become well-rounded and thriving adults, fully equipped to make a positive contribution to the sustainable wellbeing of society and our planet.

Our system of education needs mending. It needs a more even balance between instruction and nurturing. We need to re-prioritise the system from one that celebrates knowledge to one that celebrates the marriage of knowledge and wisdom. We need a better system of education for a better future for our children.

These are the principles behind the promotion by Values-based Education and the IVET Foundation for a movement to change the nature of education. If you want your children to have the wisdom they need to flourish, join or support our movement to help this change become reality.