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Forum: The Future of Education

The Humanist Association of Toronto

Every Saturday we meet to discuss a topic decided upon the previous week. These are topics of humanist interest, from a humanist perspective.

The topic of the discussion will be decided in a prior meeting, usually two weeks in advance. This week’s topic is: The Future of Education by HAT member Karl Iglesias. Join us, won’t you?
I’m prefacing this write-up by establishing that as a U.S. citizen, I can only speak of the American education system and that I’m only referring to “organized” education.

What is the purpose of education? What is its future? Taking a moment to ponder answers, some might agree with educator Sir Ken Robinson who said, “The aim of education is to enable students to understand the world around them and the talents within them, so that they can become fulfilled individuals and active, compassionate citizens.” This seems to match the consensus among child development scholars that the purpose of education is to develop the child’s natural abilities, often called the 4Cs (Creativity, Critical thinking, Communication and Collaboration).

Others might think education aims to bridge the gap between ignorance and the available knowledge of agreed-upon subjects, and train students to score well on tests in order to obtain sought-after degrees that may lead to successful professions.

But is the current education system keeping up with the times and needs of society? As the Canadian columnist Richard Needham once said, “Sitting in a classroom is excellent preparation for life, assuming that life is to be spent sitting in a classroom.”

Many confuse education with accumulating knowledge. The current system is akin to students collecting enough dots (information, facts, knowledge) to pass their exams, and then dump all the dots as soon as the exams are over. How many of us remember information from our college classes unrelated to our current profession?

Is there more to education than just attending school, passing standardized tests, and getting a degree?

Is a true education an intrinsic activity rather than externally absorbing a one-size-fits all curriculum of knowledge? As Greek philosopher Plutarch once said, “The mind is not a vessel to be filled but a fire to be kindled.”

Should we change the current mindset from a top-down system, one standardized to fit everyone, to a bottom-up system, one that recognizes the uniqueness and talents of each student, ignites a student’s curiosity and develops a love of learning that goes beyond their first 17 years? Or should it be a balance of both? Not only learning about important subjects but also learning how to learn, and understand how to connect the dots we’ve collected?

Let’s discuss!

Additional questions for discussion:

What is the purpose of school?
What is the role of the teacher?
Do you feel that the current education system fully prepares students for the needs of the 21st century?
Is standardized testing is the most effective way to judge learning?
What role should government play in education?
How do we evaluate and validate the informal, self-directed learning that happens outside of school?
What would an ideal education system and curriculum look like?

Suggested viewing (optional)

Video: Noam Chomsky on being truly educated (3:33):

Video: Isaac Asimov on education (2:52):

Meet our diverse group, trade perspectives in a free and open forum and learn from others as they learn from you!

BTW: don’t be concerned if there are not many RSVP’s. Many HAT members attend regularly but don’t sign up on Meetup. Our online meetings have been very popular with 20-30 attendees.

NOTE: The HAT Forum adheres strictly to the City of Toronto Policy on Non-Discrimination (

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