Education is important, but why is it important? What does ‘education’ mean to young people?

Since becoming immersed in fighting for universal education provision – giving every child, everywhere, the opportunity to go to school – TTW founder Justin Miles has been fascinated with all aspects of education, one of those being the level of importance that education has in society in different areas of the globe.

Education and access to education is undeniably important, essential for success, but through his work with schools and communities globally Justin became aware that there is an apparent disparity in the perceived value and purpose of education.

If you pose a question about the importance and value of education to an adult or adolescent you are likely to receive a ‘stock answer’ tainted by rotely learned facts or an ‘expected’ answer which conforms to accepted beliefs and theories.

But, when you ask a young child why education is important the answers are likely to be entirely raw, unbiased, untainted my rote repetition and extremely simple.

Partnering Microsoft Education, Justin connects with up to 4,500 children a month through their ‘Skype in the Classroom’ programme which provided him with a perfect and quite unique platform for talking with children around the world in a cross section of countries, communities, cultures and socio-economic backgrounds (which still obviously discounted those populations without access to the required technology) and asking why they thought education is important.

The results were unexpected and quite astonishing.

For a  three month period, during his ‘Skype in the Classroom’ visits with schools around the world, Justin dedicated the last section of his sessions to talking about education and asking why those children thought that education was important. The children in the study group were all under eleven years of age.

He asked each class or group to write him an email beginning with the words ‘Education is important because…’. There were no further instructions to the children. Teachers were asked not to direct or guide or otherwise influence the answers in any way or alter the language that the children used, just to record the information and forward it in an email.

Emails started to flood in. Even though many answers were the same, or at least very similar, patterns started to emerge and one pattern that became apparent was that the answers largely fitted in to one of two ‘camps’; those with an internally focussed benefit and those with an externally focussed benefit.

Many children replied with answers which had an internal focus, concentrating on benefits which supported their materialistic aspirations as individuals; ‘to have more money’, ‘to get a fast car’, ‘to buy a big house’, ‘to go on nice holidays’,  ‘to but once clothes’ and even ‘to get plastic surgery‘ (absolutely truthful – from a ten year old child!).

Other children replied with answers which had an external focus; ‘so I can look after poor people’, ‘so I can become a doctor and heal the sick’, ‘so I can make my city look pretty’, ‘so I can help animals’, ‘I can make the world better’, ‘so I can make plastic disappear’.

With the exception of the odd exception each class or group fell in to one camp or the other, those with an internal focus on benefit and those with an external focus on benefit and then a further pattern began to reveal itself – location.

Most of the children who demonstrated an internal focus of interest in their answers to ‘Education is important because…’ lived in countries, regions or areas which could be considered as ‘developed’. Most of the children who demonstrated an external focus of interest in their answers to ‘Education is important because…’ lived in areas which could be considered as ‘developing’.

Although the project wasn’t set up to provide any specific measurable data, the results and differences were glaringly obvious which lead Justin, and others involved in the project, to question why children in ‘developed’ areas were more materialistic compared to children in less developed or developing areas who appeared to be more altruistic.

One school in a developing area of Mexico actually made a video of their answers.