The other day I watched the American debate between the two major candidates for President. Both of them are very wealthy, with one boasting of his wealth to prove how successful he is in life, the currently accepted measure. The picture would be very different if people in so-called developed countries worshipped different goals, one in which everyone was equal, with some having more appropriate talents than others, a group of succeeders who felt obliged to help those less well-endowed. This of course would be a very different world in which war, misery and suffering were greatly reduced  and we could take a common pride in our world, our planet and our achievements. We would go a long way towards this if we stopped applying the word ‘wealthy’ to people who are actually money addicts whose craving for the substance is never satisfied. The problem is that the object of their desire can’t be grown, it has to be taken from other people. Yet these are the people we look up to as potential leaders.

Another word which is frequently abused is the word ‘education’. I think most people would define it as an opportunity to gain knowledge. Unfortunately our definition stops there, particularly when we try to define how such a desirable situation is to be achieved. If we do try, we continue we use words like schools and books, with today adding more sophisticated equipment, such as computers.

These thoughts arose when I took my granddaughters to a school holiday program run by the National Museum of Australia. The theme for every program is based on whatever exhibition the museum currently has running, in this case medieval life. The children were firstly given some knowledge about the topic and then they were asked to make something appropriate, in this case their own crown and shield, which they take home, and they also help to build a castle which successive groups of children will add to. The magic in this program is the talent and imagination the teachers (and helpers) have put into it. It is a non-competitive environment and the children automatically strive to produce their best efforts simply because they are interested and want to. The fact that the teaching staff are also really enjoying what they are doing is the magic ingredient which makes this work.

Our problem is that when we think about education we rarely think in terms of creating a non-competitive environment in which all concerned, from classroom teachers, to school principals, to education departments of universities, to ministries of education can encourage students to be imaginative, to think differently, and to come up with new ideas. Yet these are the talents people living and working in the 21st century need. The problem is that those involved in education are either innovative young teachers who frequently end up toeing the line, or older people whose goal is the next promotion. We then test the success of the current system by using past methods which are no longer relevant in the 21st century, national testing which really measures little yet takes up a lot of time and money.

If we really want a world in which most people can be successful and achieve then we need to rethink our values and the words we use to define them. We need to work out what the world and its populations need and work towards it. We all need to move into the 21st century with more appropriate definitions and goals. Otherwise the planet will become  unlivable and our descendants will die out.