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Opinion
The Role of Education in Societal Progress and Sustainability
The wise and intelligent use of knowledge will bring about a more peaceful, equitable and sustainable society
By David Scott Clegg | Web Exclusive
Periods of enlightenment, of the individual and of society in its totality, have marked the path of mankind throughout history. Nations have been forged from the imagination, arisen through reason, concretized through common sense and practicality, ripe with possibility to improve the human and world condition. The arc of characters echoing through the chambers of time, timely in message and meaning even today, have been as diverse as they have been divulging in answer to our most basic questions, needs.

Confucius. Lao Tzu. Socrates. Plato. Voltaire and Rousseau. Benjamin Franklin and other inspirations for fledgling nations aspiring to be more. The roads to modernity have been paved with figures, philosophers, scholars and statesmen, seeded across the fields of time. Each providing a piece of the puzzle that has given rise to a new vision, consciousness of what it means to be a human, being, and a society worthy of sustaining.

But to what end? What greater purpose may be served than merely the will of man and nation? Is there more in store for mankind as we seek, then find, a greater definition of a good living, of a good life?

A shared future for mankind

The recent gathering of global leaders, representatives under the context of the 73rd UN General Assembly, has set its sights on "making the UN relevant to all people." It has identified "global leadership and shared responsibilities" as a means for "peaceful, equitable and sustainable societies." More than words, the underlying meaning of such provides a global blueprint for a greater footprint, "a community with a shared future for mankind," a vision China has adopted as a road worthy of travelling in accord with Xi Jinping Thought, and the action to follow. It is a vision that will benefit China. It is a vision that must benefit the world. It is not as unique in vision as it will be in the unfolding through mutual cooperation and higher virtue achieved.

But what is it that separates mere thought, words from meaningful action in attainment of such grand and benevolent ways, means? Merely knowledge alone will not bridge the gap between society currently constructed--either in China or globally--and a greater one envisaged. Knowledge and the acquisition thereof is one thing. The wise and intelligent use of knowledge to bring about a more peaceful, equitable and sustainable society, well this requires the will and skill that may only be found in the essential education of the 21st century learner. Essential skills that teach us how to think, feel, relate, to resolve those issues that separate, isolate, deviate from the path that we are bound to together.

Cooperativeness. Innovativeness. These are the natural tendencies of societies, at least those who aspire to not expire. These must be the outcomes of such a journey as espoused by China, the UN and its representation. For without a high degree of cooperativeness and innovativeness, a society may not rise without challenge, and most certainly will be unable to sustain itself if and as it does. Human societies must have a measure of adaptiveness to the constant change in conditions, circumstances. And adaptiveness requires cooperation and innovation to change in concert with the changing face of an increasingly multi-dimensional world and the demands lay upon it.

China knows this. Its history demonstrates this. It is a history of dynastic reinvention, of fracture and restoration. Each time, under a vision, philosophy of social harmony through the re-creation, reinvention of itself in concert with the complimentary forces of the natural world – the yin yang. Henry Kissinger in his book On China highlights this. Yutang Lin in My Country And My People helps explain this, what it means to be 'Chinese' to a world rife with distorted meaning, understanding. For greater awareness leads to better understanding, and better understanding aligned with a sense of one's inherent responsibility to greater action.

The role of education

This leads to the role education plays in ensuring a peaceful, equitable, attainable and sustainable society – and to societies that move in harmony.

As early on as early is, we are learning. Instinctively, intellectually, intuitively, we begin the classroom of life as soon as life itself begins. And with this, through both informal and formal means we are educated. Whether we are cooperative, whether we are innovative as a society, this is established in the early years of learning; strengthened, anchored through the formal years of education; and brought to bear on society as we enter the workforce as a life force. As with learning in general, if it has not been taught, learned, anchored through experience, then it will not be available to the individual nor the society they serve.

Cooperativeness, innovativeness is not a flame that lay dormant, then magically ignited by command or demand of role as an adult member of society. Creativity, communication, collaboration, these are seeded and harvested in the early learning years, and through study and practice anchored during the intellectual and social-emotional development of the child-student. As the student enters university or moves along the equally critical professional education pathways, higher education must prove to be more than merely a degree factory. It must further anchor the innovative and cooperative faculties of the student through rigorous scholarship and criticality, while continuing to fuel the motivation to know as requisite to the ability to do--responsibly, productively, sustainably.

Nations have their own intentions for education. Education systems tend to serve the unique vision and requirements of society and the marketplace. This diversity in approach and purpose must be maintained, as through diversity we find our greater common denominator as humanity. Policy must be "learned" and not merely "borrowed" to ensure global society maintains its diversity of culture, ideals and most importantly, ideas. And through these ideas, vetted through a common place and purpose, greater heights, a new atmosphere or quality achieved that surrounds, permeates a people and nation. Or in the case of global society, a united nations under one shared vision, version of what it means to be human, with a diversity of talent and interests leveraged to lift the current condition of the world. A community of shared vision. A society progressed in a more peaceful, equitable, sustainable fashion with respect to its social, political and economic structures. Inclusive of all, infusing that which each brings to the issues at hand, a united cause that may only be solved through a unifying effort.

A tenancy of uncertainty

The world is comprised of many actors, the forest of many trees. Each is required to complete the landscape, the mosaic of nature. As gifted photographer Wang Wusheng so masterfully captured in his re-visiting of the ancient art of Chinese landscape painting through the modern lens, the nature of the Yellow Mountains are a demonstration of such, a composite of rock and cloud, each providing greater texture, meaning, definition for the other through their shared existence, and reflected essence. One exists so that we may understand greater the meaning and purpose of the other. They share through the nature of who they are. While this is true of education itself as a shared public good, we have entered by way of current century and the nature of globalization a changing definition of "public," and a broadening definition of "good."

We are a people with a shared destiny. This we may say with certainty. And it is a destiny derived from moving thought to word, word to action, in the refining of what we mean by societal progress, and what is at stake as we seek to sustain not only our national interest, but our human existence. The certainty lay with our commonality as one humanity; the uncertainty with our degree of willingness, our ability to rise above our limiting individuality, collectively, through a consciousness of cooperativeness, and with a spirit of mutual innovativeness.

For we are but tenants. With the Earth our landlord. And by the nature of our natural relationship, a cooperative, innovative global fraternity is paramount to not only a peaceful, equitable, sustainable society, but to our invitation to remain in tenancy.

Like it or not, in harmonic acceptance or pained recalcitrance, this is truly a community of shared destiny.

A One Sum Game for all humanity.

The author is chief executive of UNITE Education.

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