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Justification of the Humanist Philosophy of Education in a Rapidly Changing World

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In a rapidly changing world where we have emerged in the age of information and technology and a growing knowledge economy, the pace of change in an evolving employment landscape is predicted to accelerate with approximately 65% of children entering primary school expected to gain future employment in completely new job types that don’t yet exist (World Economic Forum, 2016). Whilst the question about the purpose of education remains philosophically unsettled, Durkeim (1973), summarised that education teaches individual skills necessary for future occupations. This is an important function in advanced industrial society with its complex division of labour, therefore the guiding principles of vocational and academic educational philosophies might assist educators to navigate and keep up with these changes, however, given that each of these philosophies assumes the deficit view that ‘young people must be deliberately and actively shaped to take their rightful place in adult society’ perhaps as society evolves beyond the industrial age the humanist philosophy of education would best guide the education of today’s young people.

‘Defining the purpose of education connects a broad vision of social, cultural and economic futures with the actual practices and priorities of schools. Intelligent action is guided by aim’ (Education Queensland, (2002), p.11). If the aim of education is preparing young people for adult roles then it would appear that a vocational philosophy would best guide the education of today’s young people as the processes involved in taking over roles in society keep it functioning however a vocational education serves as a mechanism for preserving our society rather than serving its evolution.

‘For thousands and thousands of years, educational activity has involved preparing young people for fixed roles’ ( Learning Guide 2: The Vocational Philosophy, 2019., p9) and Deweys research demonstrates that preparing young people for adult roles that already exist through vocational learning is effective however it limits the growth of knowledge and thus development of new career options for young people ( Learning Guide 2: The Vocational Philosophy, 2019). Applying a vocational approach to educating our young people may still be valid as new job types come into existence however it fundamentally cannot meet the demands of preparing students for roles that due not yet exist.

The academic philosophy, that education on certain subjects that are particularly suited to developing the mind and promote the search for truth can improve society, also appears to be a useful guide in the education of young people today. However, the notion of a just society requires the application of a vocational approach in order for each person to transfer and learn to a high level the skills required for roles in society to keep functioning and thus an academic approach in this regard is limited, however the academic perspective does focus on improving society rather simply preserving it ( Learning Guide 2: The Academic Philosophy, 2019). Guided by contemporary forms of the academic philosophy, there has been a shift in Australian education from the systematic approaches, schools of thought and perspectives of 20th century nation building to the approaches, schools of thought and perspectives of 21st century nation-(re)building (Connell, 1993, Dewey, 1990, Durkeim, 1973, Osborne, (1998), p.10, Luke 1999, Symes & Preston, 1997) with the introduction of ‘STEM’ and ‘21st Century Skills’ into classrooms supported by the view that ‘science, technology, engineering and maths are especially important in the modern world of learning and work’ and; that ‘STEM literacy’ along with critical thinking, creative thinking, communication, collaboration, teamwork, personal and social skills and ICT skills are going to be valuable in the future (Queensland Curriculum and Assessment Authority, 2007).

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Australia is a diverse nation filled with mass diversities of ‘cultural capital’- defined as a set of influences and or experiences that are valued within an institution or society (Thomson, 2003) Whilst recent application of the academic philosophy has been an effective guide to educating young people by valuing STEM learning and 21 Century skills in response to the age we are living in, thus providing students with an opportunity to achieve the recommended learning outcomes that might be beneficial to them later in an uncharted employment territory they are not necessarily reflective of all students diverse interests, learning styles or multiple intelligences. STEM and 21st Century skills draw on and are developed through deep inquiry and complex problem-solving using mathematical knowledge and scientific procedures, applied to technological and engineering challenges ( Learning Guide 2: The Academic Philosophy, 2019), however research suggests that 21st century skills could also be developed via the conceptualisation of educational practices situated in the arts by focusing on discovery, surprise, distinctiveness and the metaphorical; and by regarding the quality of the learning journey as highly significant (Eisner, 2002). Such a conceptualisation offered as an alternative to or alongside STEM learning would increase the diversity of ‘valued’ subjects and ‘21st Century skills’ thus better positioning students to be prepared for the unknown employment possibilities of the future. Despite this, the academic philosophy regardless of how it is contextualised still implies that for young people to be equipped for jobs that don’t yet exist they must acquire the cultural capital by having a highly prescribed education rooted in ‘valued’ subjects imposed on them.

Reid (2005), identifies that educators are preparing students for a future that is difficult to imagine at a time when the old and the new are intersecting. Much of the old is still dominant, even with technological advancement and globalization are constantly altering the way in which we communicate, understand and organize ourselves and is consequently of direct significance to schools, especially in how education prepares students for the employment landscape as it changes Thomson (2005, p.), states the theory of Bourdieu that ‘Schooling is organized to make differences and differentiation. It is geared to produce particular and different kinds of educated persons’. Ideally then, an educational philosophy that adopts a humanist perspective would best guide the education of today’s young people and: recognise the merit of Rousseau’s argument that young humans are already good and education should allow them to flourish with minimal, sensitive intervention; respect and value diversity, value concepts of self-love, natural curiosity and inquiry in order for young people to thrive and learn a great deal; honour the internal motivation and uniqueness of each child as favoured by Rousseau, Pestalozzi and Fröbel and; as suggested by Illich, be critical of ‘systems that force individuals into being needy, dependent and disempowered’ ( Learning Guide 2: The Academic Philosophy, 2019). Such an approach would minimise ‘institutional wisdom’ yet whilst it is in conflict with the philosophical perspectives of academic and vocational learning the humanist perspective it would still recognise the merits of vocational and academic learning provided such approaches are introduced to young people as a response to their expression of interest., making a humanist approach less restrictive than a purely academic or vocational approach on its own.

Further, each child is unique and has their own interests, strengths and needs hence a humanist approach to education would encourage young people to explore and develop these qualities through community engagement opportunities not so much to steer the natural temptation to envy towards compassion for those less fortunate as suggested by Rousseau but to serve as ‘stimulus opportunity or field experience’ so young people can observe, identify their interests, put today’s wealth and power in perspective and respond to the evolutionary needs of the community and broader society on a global scale. Similarly, Pestalozzi stressed the importance of experience rather than subjects in learning, and valued the internal motivation of learners. Further, Dewey found that meaningfulness, the close fit between learning and doing, and ‘whole person’ participation, promotes effective learning ( Learning Guide 2: The Academic Philosophy, 2019).

Such an approach framed within the humanist philosophy of education would not only generate cultural capital that would likely be beneficial to the demographic of students who will enter into jobs that don’t yet exist but more importantly it would represent the purpose of education in the 21st century in a manner that reaches beyond the scope of simply preparing students for employment in order to produce cultural and economic capital that is valued and beneficial to Australian society as individuals and as a whole. Furthermore, the humanist philosophy would best guide the direction of education because it honours student autonomy yet allows opportunities for complex forms of knowledge to develop. Deweys’ view that ‘teachers must begin with the purposes of their students, steer them into potentially rich experiences, and watch carefully for signs of growth’ ( Learning Guide ?: The ?? Philosophy, 2019., p?) conforms to this notion. Learner centred models of education guided by a humanist approach such as ‘Progressive Education’ which emerged in the 1800s along with home-schooling and de-schooling movements and more recently online and distance education learning networks incorporate practical elements of academic and vocational learning at some level yet they are all deeply rooted in a humanist philosophy of education and are powerfully demonstrative of how the humanist philosophy would be best to guide our young people in order to prepare the reported figures for future jobs that do not yet exist. The humanist philosophy grants educational freedom in a way that is fundamentally not attainable in education systems underpinned by the educational and vocational philosophies that currently dominant the sector now. However as times change it may even go so far as to guide complete educational reform regarding how, when, what, where and why education is accessed and delivered in the 21st century for every student including those that will enter into employment opportunities that do exist.

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Justification of the Humanist Philosophy of Education in a Rapidly Changing World. (2022, July 14). Edubirdie. Retrieved March 28, 2023, from
“Justification of the Humanist Philosophy of Education in a Rapidly Changing World.” Edubirdie, 14 Jul. 2022,
Justification of the Humanist Philosophy of Education in a Rapidly Changing World. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 28 Mar. 2023].
Justification of the Humanist Philosophy of Education in a Rapidly Changing World [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Jul 14 [cited 2023 Mar 28]. Available from:
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