Resources for survival today

Of all the answers we received to the question "what is education for?" one of my favourites is from Anne Atkins whose Thought for the Day broadcasts don't usually have me nodding in agreement. Thinking, perhaps, of her fellow Christian Terry Waite, who was helped through his ordeal as a hostage by his ability to recall and ponder great tracts of literature, she said education "should give us inner resources and independence of thought".

Former inspector Gervase Phinn points to compassion as a key skill to be developed, while Tony Benn wants students "to discover the danger of hate and the power of love". What traits could be more important than these in the increasingly precarious world today's children will inherit? Compassion comes to the fore in times of natural disaster, such as the Asian Tsunami.

The danger of hate is harder to learn, when fear of hidden enemies with alien world-views dominates the headlines.

Today's children will be tomorrow's leaders of an increasingly polarised world community - but one where the residents of our shrinking global village will need to work together harder than ever to solve the severe ecological problems we are building up for them. They will need resilience, flexibility, problem-solving skills, the ability to take risks - all those characteristics that industry demands, to ensure both economic and personal survival, for themselves and for Britain. Because only one thing is certain about the future - it's uncertain.

This is the first of four supplements asking What is education for? Although an election is imminent, they look beyond immediate political squabbles and short-term vote-getting solutions, and consider the longer-term agenda. Where are today's policies leading us, and what might be better? What are the learning needs of the 21st century? Why go to school at all? How can education help save the Earth? Commentators of various persuasions will present their own suggestions. We hope these supplements will be starting points for your own thinking. Please fasten your seatbelts and join us on a bumpy ride into the 21st century.

Send an email, telling me what you believe education is for. Some replies will appear later in this series

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