It was the season of graduations. As I looked at the beaming faces of proud parents, scholarship winners, and graduates of university programmes all I saw was hope reflecting in their eyes. Hope that our investment in ourselves and our children would lead to a better future for us, for our community and for this planet. Hope that this achievement would somehow create what it has not managed to do to date — a just, peaceful and sustainable future.
All around us we see the evidence of systems failure. Trust in public institutions is at record lows in representative democracies across the globe. Businesses are rapidly populating the planet with “take, make and throw away” products wreaking havoc on the planet’s ecosystem and with global sea rises threatening the lives of over 1.4 billion people by 2060. Deregulated capital and foreign investment flows within the international system are producing gargantuan inequality with eight men reportedly now owning more than the bottom half of the population on the planet. In 2012 some 200 million people including 75 million under the age of 25 were unemployed, with estimates that the figure will rise to over 600 million over the next 15 years (World Bank 2012). Not unsurprisingly, public anger and push back, particularly among Western countries has reached unprecedented levels evidenced by growing societal polarization and the rise of identity politics, rising national and anti-establishment populism and the inward orientation of countries. Marry this to the growing uncertainty due to increasing technological advancement and AI and the picture of hope for our graduates becomes somber.
This quagmire stems from a “crisis of perception” that we are all disconnected without appreciation for our interdependence and the interconnectedness of all of our problems. This is then reinforced by a neoliberal education system underpinned by theories of competition, unlimited property rights and state sovereignty facilitating a system of unchecked capital accumulation, extractive investment and the commodification of the commons.
This so-called “first-world” western development model is a failed experiment if we use sustained life on the planet as our barometer. More industrially developed nations have awoken and are scrambling to produce life-sustaining innovation while other countries are still playing catch up using the same outdated playbook.
Eric Williams urged that our future is in our children’s schoolbags. Perhaps the time has come for us to begin a conversation about what kind of future our educational investments will produce — not in platitudinous terms of becoming more competitive in a globalized world, attracting foreign investment, more jobs and pursuit of GDP growth. Even social entrepreneurship, local industry development or sustainable development indexing will not produce much of a shift where our conversations remain imprisoned by a pseudo-scientific theory of man as atomistic homo economicus within an economic system whose dominant narrative concerns are property, competition, self-interest and profit.
Perhaps the time has come for radicalised education. Education which is holistic, student-driven and which challenges the endless recycling of old theories. Education which reverses our preoccupation with Hobbesian man and embraces instead a new theory of ourselves as pro-social, connected and collaborative. Education which is itself intelligent, integrating emotional and social intelligence, rather than fetishizing standardized testing and certificates.
Gaining certifications are a testament to our mental fortitude, but not our level of consciousness, compassion nor our capacity to identify and create value. Solving the problems we face on this planet requires exponential leaps in our collective imagination and new ways of harvesting our collective wisdom. Our hope that education will lead to a better future is misplaced where our education system produces instinctive acceptance of and mechanical participation in the economic rituals of buying and selling. It is misplaced when our conversations on pro-social policy-making remain carefully measured against our pursuit of economic growth.
There should surely be more in our schoolbags. Are we ready to start a new conversation on how they should be filled?