How Education Systems Have Always Created Our Futures

By Sal Gordon, Head of Teaching & Learning at Green School Bali


Humans are learners. We do it naturally – even before we are born, we are learning. Our species is defined by its ability to learn. We are all also communal animals – we build relationships and we share. When we share learning, and learn collectively, we create systems that have inputs and outputs – and these systems, these education systems, have been the driving force of our continued evolution and the generator of the cultures we live in and create for the future.

Education Systems, throughout history, have been ‘Indicator Systems’ – reflective of our human cultures in the present and the future. Just like ‘Indicator Species’ point to the health of an ecosystem (i.e. amphibians in an ecosystem signaling less pollution).

The Australian Indigenous peoples had systems to pass on learning for 60,000-plus years. Their Golden Age, through the 8th to 14th centuries, brought advancements in the fields of algebra, calculus, geometry, chemistry, biology, medicine, astronomy and the Arts. Unsurprisingly, it was also a golden age of education. The emphasis on democratizing education from the mid-17th to 18th century, including encouraging free debate and expanding literacy, resulted in the Age of Enlightenment. And, most recently, the education system born during the Industrial Revolution – with its mechanisation of agriculture and mass-production – moved us out of agrarian-centered societies and into ones which allowed capitalism, nationalism and consumerism to flourish. This system still lingers in schools today, but it is no longer serving the needs of our present or future.



Think about the world we live in … The technology explosion, the access to and rapid sharing of both information and misinformation through the Net. We also have hunger, poverty, chronic disease, mental illness, war, exploitation, pollution, species extinction, resource depletion and biodiversity loss …the list goes on. What does our current world tell us about the education system that created it?

Education, as it entered the new millennium, had lost focus on its purpose. And an Education System without a purpose needs a rethink. But there is hope. Passionate educators around the world are reflecting on the needs of now and the future, sharing those ideas, and helping schools evolve.

As school leaders, teachers, students and parents continue to build culture in their schools, we have become eyes-wide-open of the long-term implications. The learning that happens in schools has always been more impactful than students passing exams. What we teach and learn in schools, across generations of human civilisation, has always had far greater outcomes – the knowledge that we share, the skills that we develop, and the values that we demonstrate – create generational change. And I can see that change happening. Perhaps one day this age will be known as part of The Great Transition.



In your school, what is the culture you are building? Are you teaching only about the past – or learning for the future? Are learning programs reflective of the needs of today and of tomorrow? Whether we like it or not, what we do at school, what we learn, who we become as individuals and communities directly impacts the world we want to create.