I feel strongly about education. On a personal level, I relish the thrill of learning, that invigorating rush I get when I feel my mind expanding, and I desire others, particularly kids, to experience this too. On a global scale, I feel passionate about education’s ability to effect social change, lifting people out of poverty and enabling gender equality. I’m not a teacher, but both my parents are, as are numerous members of my extended family. Education is in my blood, along with a fervent wish to see teaching continue to evolve in order to give children the best learning experience they can possibly have.

But what is education, this abstract concept I feel so passionately about? I don’t mean the endless array of pedagogical treatises that theorize learning practices. What are the core elements that make my mum and dad see their job as a vocation, not just a career, the essence that makes learning so utterly fundamental to being a human being? It’s difficult to sum up a concept so infused with passion and idealism, but when I came across UNESCO’s Four Pillars of Learning, I thought they came close.

  • Learning to Know

    Rather than emphasising the importance of simply acquiring knowledge for its own sake, ‘learning to know’ points to the significance of the process of discovery. Through the continuous development of memory, imagination, reasoning and problem solving, learning to know is a lifelong journey of enlightenment. When modern education sometimes feels like it prizes test scores over the kids themselves, it’s heartening to see UNESCO enshrine the significance of the experience of discovery, not just the quantifiable outcomes.

  • Learning to Do

    ‘Learning to do’ isn’t about hothousing our kids into readiness for the working world of technology or business. It’s about using education to empower kids with intangible skills they’ll use through their personal and professional lives alongside traditional subjects, skills such as teamwork, communication, building effective relations and adaptability to change.

  • Learning to Be

    This might be rephrased as ‘learning to be yourself.’ ‘Learning to be’ emphasises how vital education is to cultivating kids’ individual personalities and talents, or as Zhou Nan-Zhao describes it, “all-rounded development and full flowering of the human potential of individual learners.” This is perhaps the pillar that appeals to me most as I feel teachers’ faith in their students has an incredible power to coax forth their burgeoning personalities and unique gifts.

  • Learning to Live Together

    This Pillar reflects the importance of striving for consideration and balance in today’s rapidly changing, multicultural society. Education has the power to foster appreciation of the interdependence of all humankind and respect for other cultures and value systems, as well as encouraging dialogue to work through conflicts.

I like UNESCO’s Pillars of Learning because they take a holistic approach to education and respect that every learner is an individual with a unique personality.

Does a particular Pillar appeal to you? Are there any other Pillars you’d like to see added to these four?

By Deirdre Kilbride

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Image credits: Learning to Drive (Alex Proimos) / CC BY 2.0