Why We Need to Educate for Personal Growth, Not Productivity

In these changing times the model of education needs to undergo a rethink. The question that needs to be taken into consideration is what changes need to be made and how those changes can be made to ensure that the education model moves from one that is based on productivity growth to one that foresters personal growth

Children looking inside the giant book, vector illustration © rudall30 /

March 22, 2024 04:57 EDT

In the early 19th century, in order to meet the growing demand for skilled workers in an increasingly industrialized society, the standardized Prussian “factory model of education” was established which laid the foundation for the current education system. Inspired by late 18th-century philosophers, the education paradigm included a standardized curriculum taught by teachers who could efficiently provide the knowledge and skills necessary for people to increase their productivity and improve their livelihoods. As a result of technological advances and industrialization, productivity as well as the well-being of the workforce has increased steadily over the past two centuries.

Why we need to change the focus of education from productivity to personal growth

The current productivity of developed societies is more than an order of magnitude greater than it was prior to industrialization, far beyond what is needed to provide a comfortable life to its members. Productivity has only continued to increase as technology improves. Today, automation and AI are rapidly rendering most human contributions to their own survival unnecessary, to the point that humans will soon no longer need to be productive anymore.

Because of this, the central objective of the education system no longer needs to be increasing productivity. Instead, we need to provide an environment in which each individual can explore their own interests and strengths. The problem is that the current educational system is still defined by the original productivity-oriented paradigm.

Despite living in hyper-productive and wealthy societies, outdated educational systems are impeding certain sections within these wealthy societies from improving their well-being to the fullest potential the developed societies can achieve. Schools in economically advanced countries continue to use the factory model of education. This model was developed over a hundred years ago for the needs of a society that was significantly less productive than it is today. This model stifles much of the personal growth potential of young people in order to assimilate them into a homogeneous, efficient, productivity-oriented society.

To remove the educational barriers to personal growth, it is necessary to create a new educational paradigm, one that empowers and motivates individuals to explore their potential at every stage of life. Describing how to accomplish this transformation of the educational model is a complex and lengthy task beyond the scope of this article. However, it is possible to explore what the goal of the new education model should be.

How to make the educational model transition

The new educational paradigm should provide the right environment to transform the powerful curiosity-driven cognitive and sensory explorations that are innate in young children into interest-driven ones in adults. Some argue that one should maintain curiosity throughout their life. But neurologically, this is not an option. Let me try to explain why this is the case by clarifying the difference between curiosity and interest.

Curiosity is an involuntary “state of increased arousal response promoted by a stimulus high in uncertainty and lacking in information.” Once “curiosity has been aroused, the organism engages in a process of exploration to reduce the state of arousal.” Curiosity is also triggered by uncertainty and is only maintained only until the uncertainty is resolved.

In contrast, interest leads to a voluntary, continuous engagement in the search for information in order to increase knowledge. Interest is also generated voluntarily and can be sustained even after the initial uncertainty has been resolved by engaging and re-engaging with relevant content over time. In summary, curiosity is dominated by a short-term effort to close a knowledge gap, whereas interest is a medium- to long-term “psychological state in which individuals are engaged in learning more about a subject in general.”

Curiosity-driven exploration is essential for young children to acquire the knowledge and skills necessary to become independent individuals, and involves taking energy-intensive cognitive and physical risks. Once the individual has acquired the knowledge and skills necessary to survive, curiosity gradually reduces, most often in the late teens. Thus, to facilitate continued personal growth into adulthood, it is necessary to replace productivity-driven learning with interest-driven exploration that allows individuals to test their potential and lead more meaningful and fulfilling lives.

Therefore, in order to go beyond survival and achieve personal growth throughout adulthood, it is critical that the educational system nurture students’ interest in cognitive and sensory exploration, even as innate curiosity wanes. Because of the scarcity of resources, a century or two ago, people could only strive to survive. Today’s hyper-productive societies offer the vast majority of people unprecedented opportunities that go far beyond mere survival. 

In older times, the standardized curriculum of the factory model provided the knowledge and skills necessary for society to progress. Today, it unnecessarily inhibits personal growth throughout adult life. It is imperative that developed societies recognize the need to replace this outdated model with one that prepares the youth to explore the vast opportunities that hyper-productivity offers humanity. The education system should be fundamentally revamped to become the starting point from where innate curiosity-driven exploration is transformed into long-term interest-driven learning. This will not only benefit the individual, but society as a whole.

[Aniruddh Rajendran edited this piece.]

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.


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