John Bugg

Education for the 21st Century

Hedley Beare and Richard Slaughter. London: Routledge, 1993. 180 pages. Index. $39.95 (hardback).

Professor Hedley Beare and Dr Richard Slaughter are members of the Department of Policy, Context and Evaluation Studies in the University of Melbourne’s Institute of Education. There is a realisation at the end of the second Christian millennium that individuals can no longer live and act in isolation or without regard for the world community. Marshall McLuhan’s global village is rapidly becoming a reality. News Corporation’s chairman, Rupert Murdoch, in an interview recently in the Australian indicated clearly that his company saw immense changes in the communication facilities of the global community in the next few years.

It is good, therefore, that Beare and Slaughter have taken up these matters and given them an educational perspective. The consequence is a very stimulating and challenging book that should be read by all school administrators. The writers suggest that we need to consider school organisation and curriculum development in the light of the changes now taking place in our global community. No longer can we consider ourselves in an isolated part of the world, taking for granted an almost unlimited supply of resources and believing that some social or economic event in some far off place in the world will not affect us.

Furthermore, to “educate young people as though the present patterns of thinking and living, or the past ones for that matter, provide a sound basis for confronting the future is quite plainly dangerous”. The suggestion is that schools have retained in an administrative model that retains pre-industrial elements onto which has been grafted some notions of the factory model. Schools are like monasteries with all the order and control of small isolated groups. The school is often run as if it is a religious order, devoted to teaching and learning, to personal growth and to preparing the individual for service to and in the world. Such an administrative pattern fails to take account of the real world where telecommunications are by satellite and it does not take three years to circumnavigate the globe.

The issue for schools to address is that things around us have changed and we must accommodate that or, like other organisations, become irrelevant. Educators need to provide a “credible vision of a future that works and that reconnects each individual with a wider world. They need a sustainable human vision which embodies a set of, viable purposes and meanings”. A futures curriculum needs to be established that is centrally concerned with negotiating and exploring new and renewed understandings … it has a role to play in defining a more just, peaceful and sustainable world”.

The book concludes with a range of skills that children will need to cope with this new paradigm, along with guidelines for teachers, and strategies that may be used to move the schools in a new direction. Beare and Slaughter have written a fine book. It is a pleasure to read about matters of a higher order than national curriculum and competencies. That we, as administrators and teachers, should consider the notion of myth and legend, the seeking of ideas beyond our immediate needs, and caring for one another and the world as a whole, is refreshing and overdue. How we deal with the economic rationalists, and the materialism of the twentieth century is clearly a challenge.

Education for the Twenty-First Century will be seen as a milestone in the continuing education debate in this country, and that honour will be well deserved.

At the time of writing John Bugg was a senior member of the staff of Geelong Grammar School, Corio, Victoria, Australia.

This article was published in the PR Guide, Melbourne, 1994.