Answering the question of why education is important in the 21st century is easy and difficult at the same time. Easy because we have plenty of reasons. And difficult because, although the reasons why education should play a central role in our societies have not changed much in the course of history, the particularities of our time make the answer more complex.
Let’s start with the simplest…
Why is education important in the 21st century?
- Education is a fundamental right of all people, and as such is included in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Article 26).
- Education is the most effective mechanism of social mobility that exists: it prevents the vicious circle of poverty from perpetuating itself, promotes equal opportunities, and reduces social inequality. Of course, for education to be able to facilitate the achievement of these achievements in the long term, it must be “equitable, inclusive, and of quality.”
- Education is the most powerful tool of transformation that exists since it allows us to promote human rights and sustainable development, and thus build a more just and equitable future for all people.
Schooling, one of the biggest education problems
Contrary to what we might think, these arguments remain valid in the 21st century as well. We live in a world where there are still more than 258 million children out of school (a figure equivalent to more than half of the population of the European Union). For this reason, a large part of children are deprived not only of a fundamental human right but also of the opportunities necessary to escape poverty and be able to contribute to the construction of more just and equitable societies.
On the other hand, minors from some countries are also affected by the shortcomings of a system incapable of fully guaranteeing equity and inclusion, as well as permanence in the educational system. These figures and arguments should be enough to justify the importance of education. However, the reasons we just listed could apply to almost any other time in history.
Reasons for the importance of education in this century
Firstly, we live in what has been called “liquid societies”, characterized by rapid changes, uncertainty, and technological innovations. At a recent conference on education, the vast majority of speakers highlighted the difficulty of preparing children and young people today for the labor market of the future, since the speed of innovation prevents us from knowing what that will be like. However, all these people agreed on something else: education has the fundamental role of providing people with the necessary abilities and skills to develop critical thinking that allows them to face all those challenges that right now we cannot even guess.
On the other hand, this critical thinking is also essential when training people to be aware of their rights and duties as citizens, which is especially important in the era of over-information (especially political), populism, and hoaxes (also known as fake news).
Education can (and should) develop our capacity for analysis, invite us to question the veracity of everything that is sold to us as true, and, above all, teach us to reflect. In this sense, we have a lot at stake.
Between education and opportunities: the barrier to access and permanence
We are clear about one thing: the house does not start with the roof. First things first: ensure the right to education. To do this, it is essential to analyze the barriers to access and permanence in the educational system, from poor coverage to economic barriers and school dropouts.
Poor coverage, from the most basic educational infrastructure to the incorporation of digital tools that allow distance education. On many occasions, one of the most important barriers is the insufficient number of schools, teachers, or basic materials. How can we ensure equal opportunities in education without tables, heating, open-air schools, or the neglect of rural schools? It is essential to address all these issues and add a new one: digital equipment. The digital divide currently represents another obstacle to fully accessing the right to education.
Economic barriers: the cost of equal opportunities in education. Poverty is one of the most exclusive factors and one of the main barriers for millions of people to access and remain in educational systems. Even those systems that are defined as free and mandatory entail indirect costs (school transportation, the cost of books, school supplies…). As a consequence, many families cannot afford the opportunity cost of education for their sons and daughters, since in the dichotomy between the benefit obtained by investing in education versus the immediate need to meet basic needs such as eating, it is usually prioritized the second.
Failure, repetition, and school dropout. The low quality of education does not ensure decent job opportunities, poverty, and the absence of sufficient resources to support students with greater difficulties are invitations for many boys, girls, and young people to become demotivated and end up abandoning their studies, eliminating any possibility of education becomes a door to equal opportunities.
Education is very important and obstacles will always be there. However, humans can always find a way, one of which is with online education like that offered by Learn Now.