In order to answer the above question, perhaps it would be best to begin with a more basic one.

What is the purpose of a traditional education?

In truth, there is no definitive answer. However, in general terms, a traditional education is one which is focused on teaching the basics and learning being more a case of memorising facts and figures as opposed to understanding what they actually mean.

Without doubt there are elements of a traditional education which are enormously beneficial to the life we can lead when we leave school, and as multiple social proponents agree, everyone is entitled to an education.  Where the Human Rights Act is concerned, Protocol 1, Article 2: Right to Education states that: “ No person shall be denied a right to an education. In the exercise of any functions which it assumes in relation to education and to teaching, the State shall respect the right of parents to ensure such education and teaching is in conformity with their own religious and philosophical convictions.”

According to UNESCO, “The Universal Declaration of Human Rights affirms that education is a fundamental human right for everyone.”

Further, UNESCO believes that the right to an education entails the following:

  • Primary education that is free, compulsory and universal
  • Secondary education, including technical and vocational, that is generally available, accessible to all and progressively free
  • Higher education, accessible to all on the basis of individual capacity and progressively free
  • Fundamental education for individuals who have not completed education
  • Professional training opportunities
  • Equal quality of education through minimum standards
  • Quality teaching and supplies for teachers
  • Adequate fellowship system and material condition for teaching staff
  • Freedom of choice

Traditional education – the three ‘Rs’

Not that long ago, in the United Kingdom, a traditional education focused predominantly on what was known as the ‘three Rs’. Of the three ‘Rs’, however only one of them actually began with the letter ‘R’ and the other two were so included because of phonetics – the way the words sounded. The ‘three Rs’ were:

  • Reading
  • Writing (pron. ‘righting’)
  • Arithmetic (pron. ‘rithmetic’)

To be literate in terms of both words and numbers has always been very important, but the importance in ‘the whole scheme of things’ has diminished over the last 30 years, and particularly during what is being dubbed as the ‘digital’ revolution.

The purpose of a traditional education has changed

Going back 150 years and education played two primary roles in people’s lives. For the majority, a good education was a springboard to getting a good job. Being illiterate meant that work opportunities extended predominantly to the areas of poorly paid manual labour. Being literate might afford you the opportunity to progress up the ladder to become a foreman or clerk. In the latter half of the nineteenth century and earlier half of the twentieth century, going to school for the majority was not simply a part of their education, it was their education. Once out of school, the best way to secure a good job was thus to do an apprenticeship.

Alternatively, for those who could afford a ‘public school’ education in the UK (public schools were in fact private schools where substantial fees had to be paid for a child’s education, such as Eton or Harrow), that type of education would open doors socially and also enable the brightest pupils to go on to further education at university and subsequently devote their lives to research, often scientific in nature. 

Jump forward 100 years and only then did things begin to change. According to UK Parliament statistics, in the 1950s, 3% of school-leavers went on to university. By the end of the 1970s that figure had risen to 14%. That figure now stands at 40%. Today, a traditional school education for many is just the beginning, not the end of their educational journey.

Society has changed, but the education system has not

How we learn may have changed, but what we learn hasn’t changed to the same degree. More to the point, the world that we live in, our societies and understanding of the world around us has changed. This, primarily, is a consequence of the dissemination of knowledge.

If we look at the way many of us lived 150 years ago, we knew very little about the world around us, other than what we may have been taught during history lessons at school, if that was even part of the curriculum! We lived a very insular and parochial life where the world we lived in seldom extended far beyond the borders of the town or village where we lived. There were no cars, there was nominal public transport, while religion tended to evolve around our own beliefs and perhaps one other form of religion – e.g., Roman Catholics and Protestants. We also tended to live pretty much a hand-to-mouth existence where financial security revolved around having sufficient money to pay the rent, put food on the table, and to keep warm. Retirement and pensions were not part of anyone’s plans. In 1880 the average life expectancy from birth was just 41 years, while if you miraculously reached the age of 50, living beyond 70 years was still rare. Put simply, you worked until you dropped. People did not retire and spend the next 20 years eking out their pension.

Today, anyone dying in their 70s is considered to have ‘died young’ and we no longer work until we drop – we work towards our retirement. But unfortunately only a minority start contributing sufficiently early in life towards a pension that would provide financial security in retirement. The problem here is that we know very little about finance as it is not part of the school curriculum. We may be literate where numeracy is concerned, but we know next-to-nothing about finance! Isn’t it about time that schools woke up to this problem?

The internet has changed how much information we have access to, but the education system has not adapted itself to help children process it

January 1, 1983 is accepted as the official birthday of the internet. With the arrival of the internet and of equal importance, the PC or personal computer, access to information was no longer restricted to those who were prepared to spend a morning down at the local library searching through numerous volumes of dust-covered books just to find out one single fact. Instead, thanks to the likes of Google and a smartphone, there isn’t much we can’t find out in under five seconds!

However, there is a problem. While we may all now have access to troves of invaluable information, how many of us know how to deal with it, or how to make the best use of it? 

But why?

No, the above isn’t the answer to the question “What is the most common question asked by three-year-old children”! Instead, it is a question many people ask when confronted by a situation that they know exists, but they have no real idea why.

Two classic examples include religion and the environment.

Unlike our forefathers whose lives revolved around their town or village and no further, today many of us approach life from a global perspective. What happens in China concerns people in the USA, what happens in Spain can affect other EU member states and their residents. We are now more aware than ever about the environment and the harm we are doing to it. We even have a greater idea of what is good for us to eat and what isn’t. The problem is, we have access to all this information, but we don’t have the basic knowledge, the foundation stones, that enable us to make the most of this new-found information. After all, aren’t the best decisions informed decisions?

So, while you may read that ISIS is a religious terrorist group, how many of you know what they are fighting against, what their agenda is? If you don’t know that, how can you form a valid and justified opinion as to why what they are doing is seen to be wrong by so many. The internet has informed us of the fact that the world’s faithful account for 83% of the global population; the great majority of these falling under twelve classical religions–Baha’i, Buddhism, Christianity, Confucianism, Hinduism, Islam, Jainism, Judaism, Shinto, Sikhism, Taoism, and Zoroastrianism, but what has a traditional education taught us.? With a combination of the internet and affordable global travel, we no longer live a parochial life like those who lived 150 years ago, but are we prepared for it when we leave school? The answer would appear to be an unequivocable no.

Why we need to change the structure of a traditional education

Let’s look back at the ‘three Rs’. Which of them are still essential today? Okay, we need to be able to read, that has to remain a key element of a traditional education. Do we need to be able to write? The answer to that will probably depend on when you last wrote a letter, wrote an essay, wrote anything? 

We type every day, whether it is using the keypad on our smartphone, the keyboard on our laptop or tablet, even the keyboard of our PC. We don’t need to write as the only time we ever seem to find ourselves with a pen in our hand is when we have to sign something, and perfecting your signature is not the same as learning to write. 

Do we need to be able to count? Is arithmetic critical? The answer is no, both times, as all we need to be able to do is operate a calculator and it will do the rest for us. After all, in maths exams in schools, today, you are allowed to use a calculator!

Lessons for a life ahead of us

When we leave school, this is usually the first step we take towards becoming independent, both in terms of the life we lead separate from our parent(s), and also in terms of financial independence. So, if we no longer need to be able to write or be numerate, what would be of greater benefit to us – what should today’s curriculum include instead?

Domestic Science 201 – Originally, and in a somewhat sexist way, domestic science was taught in schools so that when girls got married, they knew how to cook for their husbands. How times have changed… However, today, cooking isn’t really essential providing you have a microwave oven.

The problem is, ‘fast food’ is so readily available and when young, we tend to ignore the benefits of a good diet and just eat what we like. Having a better understanding of the importance of a good diet for our health, both today and in the future, should be obligatory.

Environmental studies 201 – When it comes to the environment around us, curiously, as is becoming common knowledge, what we eat and how it is produced has a tremendous effect on the environment, which is part of the reason why there is a major movement towards the promotion of meat-free protein. There is just so much to learn about eating healthily, so why should it be left until after we have left school?

Financial studies 201 – When we leave school and if we decide to go to university, we are going to automatically saddle ourselves with a mountain of debt that will hang round our neck like a millstone for many years to come after we leave university. If we have next-to-no idea about personal finance, how can we possibly ever avoid finding ourselves in a situation where we just can’t handle the level of debt we have accumulated? Banks are very crafty as students’ accounts are invariably overdrawn, so this is a great source of additional income for banks. The security comes from the fact that, historically, students get their parents to help them out when their overdraft gets too big!

Financial literacy is perhaps one of the most important skills to have when you leave school as it is knowledge that you will use for the rest of your life, such as when planning to buy your first home, investing for your future, building up a pension fund or planning for your children’s education.

Here at Cyclic Digital we are committed to disseminating this lifestyle education, but education delivered in an enjoyable and exciting way that makes learning fun, learning that is in lock-step with the demands of contemporary society.