THERE IS NO question in the mind of any reflective person but that the future safety of humankind, and the planet it occupies, depends upon education. So does the welfare and well being of individual members of humankind, each in his or her own life, but obviously it depends on the "right kind" of education--and what exactly is that? From the different experiments in educational methods and subject matter of the two-and-one-half millennia since classical antiquity, one can infer an answer. Putting that answer into practice has proved to be difficult, because of two major barriers, one cultural and the other economic but, where it has been applied, it has promised and sometimes achieved, success.
Before outlining what education should be, and explaining the barriers that lie in the way of its proper realization, it is useful to note the scale of the problem that faces the world in terms of educational deficit.
According to the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization's Institute for Statistics, nearly one in five of the world population is illiterate, and two-thirds of them are women. More than 120,000,000 of the world's youth are illiterate, with girls again constituting two-thirds of the number. At last count, there were 65,000,000 children not in school at all. Literacy rates indeed are rising, fastest for youths under the age of 24 and fastest still among females in that age group. In Arab states, the male literacy rate is 85%; the female rate, 65%. In south and west Asia, the male rate is 74%; the female rate, 52%. In Sub-Saharan Africa, the male rate is 68%; the female rate, 50%.
Note the figures for female illiteracy: half of the girls and women in these regions are illiterate. The impact on their lives and the lives of their children has been well reported by the UN and other agencies, which note that, if girls and women have at least the elementary capacity to read, write, and add and subtract, their lives are transformed; they have fewer and healthier children, as well as some control over their own affairs instead of being the property of fathers and husbands--but think, too, of their access to newspapers and books, their ability to read to their children, the enhancement therefore of their own and their children's lives.
It is of the first importance to note that measures of literacy are not measures of educational attainment or even provision. Literacy is a necessary condition for education, but it is not a necessary condition for many kinds of training in practical and economically productive skills. Neither is it a precondition for wisdom, which no doubt many illiterate people possess in greater abundance than those stupefied by an overload of nothing but book learning and theory. It...