For centuries, education has been integral in preparing them to contribute to their communities. Education shapes the skills, attitudes, and beliefs of the individual and plays a role in shaping the norms and values of a particular society. These values eventually define the community structures people build, the goals they strive for, and how they help advance global development.
Education has the power to bring individuals and communities together, equipping them with the abilities and knowledge to overcome pressing challenges. This power is not only at work in the conventional classroom but also in any setting where people can gather together and learn from each other. Teachers and learners involved in conventional schooling, technical or vocational training, leadership coaching, and any other form of education can and should tap into this power for positive social change.
The following are some of the ways that educational systems have transformed society around the world throughout history:
It Redefined the Concept of Childhood
Different societies have had vastly different ideas about the nature of childhood over time. The developmental psychologist Erik Erikson in a book entitled Childhood and Society argued that a community’s conception of childhood played a significant role in their understanding of society itself.
Many societies around the world, at one time, thought of children as young adults waiting to reach full physical maturity. The idea that a person’s mental and emotional capacities required time to reach maturity was a view not commonly held for many years. Over the 19th and 20th centuries, changes in the general understanding of childhood often came hand in hand with social developments, particularly in education.
Movements for free education across Europe and the United States, for example, began springing up and gaining traction in the early 1900s. These social developments were due to the evolving concept that children needed space, activities, and education appropriate for their particular developmental stage. The push for universal education also encouraged the efforts to extract poorer children from the farms and factories where they were put to work in often inappropriate conditions with few protections.
It Was a Major Force Against Systemic Racism
Systemic racism has plagued societies globally for decades, resulting in widespread social and economic inequality and even racially motivated violence. Due to this far-reaching problem, many parts of society have needed to come together in a combined effort to address systemic racism. Police reform initiatives, for example, must work hand in hand with efforts to create better economic opportunities for minorities, and, of course, education also plays an essential role.
Authoritarian leaders have used the “divide and conquer” strategy for thousands of years to establish empires and exert control over subjugated communities. That is why the ability to embrace social differences and connect meaningfully with other people is so integral to a healthy society. World leaders have been aware of this fact, and of the power that education holds to encourage equity and social inclusion, since World War II and the fall of Nazi Germany.
The establishment of UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation) is one notable milestone in the history of global education and the fight against racism. Founded shortly after World War II, the organisation advocates for the integration of human rights values and principles into education systems worldwide. To this day, UNESCO actively encourages member states to implement programmes, strategies, and political policies centred around human rights education.
As part of its work, UNESCO facilitates dialogues between educational policymakers, teachers, and researchers on key topics like pedagogy and curriculum development. The organisation also holds teacher training sessions, produces and disseminates teaching and learning materials, and facilitates productive educational partnerships for schools all over the globe.
It Was a Source of More Opportunities for Women
For centuries, sexist paradigms and social norms prevented women worldwide from receiving a quality education. Many societies relegated women to a kind of secondary status for much of history, in large part by denying them access to knowledge. Women’s entry into formal educational institutions, first as students and later as teachers, signalled the shift in this history.
In the United States, a group of 18th-century female writers and intellectuals formed the Republican Motherhood movement. This movement argued that the role American mothers played in the upbringing and education of their children was fundamental to shaping those children into ideal US citizens. They went on to assert that the existence of well-educated mothers was integral to the social and political life of the nation at large.
These arguments proved so compelling to American leaders that they eventually opened doors for female students to enter the formerly exclusive public education system. The Republican Motherhood movement also helped propagate the image of women and mothers as respectable and qualified educators, which created more professional opportunities for female teachers.
These are just some highlights of mapping the positive impact of education on global society. There’s no doubt that education is integral to greater personal empowerment for individuals and can lead to more widespread social change.
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