Our Education System is Failing to Prepare Children for the 21st Century. Here's Why.

Updated: Jan 8, 2019

What outcomes should we seek from our education system, if we are to successfully prepare the next generation of young minds for a highly globalized and uncertain 21st Century? Graduating school with top grades? Having a good foundation in maths, science and English? Being able to get a job after graduating? Developing a range of dynamic skills?

Exam Results and League Tables

Well, I would argue that success for children in education comes in a wide variety of forms, and whether today's students leave school with top grades is not always a reliable indication of the excellence of a national education system. Likewise, top exam results don't necessarily demonstrate that tomorrow's youth are gaining the knowledge, skills and values they need to thrive in the 21st Century.

In the past two decades or so, education in many countries, especially English-speaking ones such as the UK and US, have turned more and more towards competitive league tables and high-stakes testing as evidence of the success or failure of our schools, and children themselves.

But is this right? Do good grades guarantee a child will grow into a happy, resilient and successful adult? Does getting poor grades in school mean the future is hopeless and that a child will never amount to much?

Of course not. Think about the list of people who left school with few qualifications and achieved the highest accolades in the business world, for instance. Business people like Sir Richard Branson and Steve Jobs are just two examples of people who shone after leaving the classroom with poor grades.

So perhaps then we need a better working definition of the word 'success' before we can apply this to the context of education. Does a high-powered career ultimately make a person successful? Does raising a healthy, happy family mean success? What about becoming rich and famous?

Well, in my opinion none of these things in and of themselves demonstrate success – each one is an extrinsic measure, while in reality, success is intrinsic and personal to each individual.

Dream Big and Persevere

What about listening to your heart, following your passions and living life on your own terms? Does that make a person successful? Well, I feel we might be getting closer, but it’s still not a useful working definition. Perhaps though the famous quote below by Israelmore Ayivor hits the mark by emphasizing the inescapable ingredients of success – passion and perseverance in every endeavor.

“Successful people are defined as ordinary people who never gave up on their dreams and passion is the secret of that persistence!” ― Israelmore Ayivor, Dream Big!

For good or for worse, when most people think about success, the first thing that usually comes to mind is money. Culturally we’re bombarded everyday with social cues that being glamorous, famous, wealthy and powerful are assured indicators of success. The insinuation being these are the things we must seek, if we are to find happiness and fulfillment.

But glance the pages of any celebrity magazine and you’ll soon read scandal after scandal of celebrity drug addiction, alcohol abuse and divorces, and that’s just scanning the headlines! So this would seem to suggest money, power and celebrity status aren’t always the best indicators of success or happiness. So what about my definition below?

“A successful person is someone who shapes their own destiny, who dreams big, who follows their passions and who perseveres no matter how hard things get. It is something both personal and transitory - what is success for one person is different to another.” ― Alex Moxon

Redefining Success in Education: Four Essentials

I'm not afraid to admit, my definition of success took quite some time to come up with. As I thought about it and wrote down the characteristics of people I consider to be successful i