By Amy Clarke, formerly Head of the CAF Private Client team

Education is one of the single greatest inequalities we face as a global community. The recently announced Sustainable Development Goals list 17 key areas for global investment, with education being the key tenet of Goal 4. Dealing with gender disparity, access, lifelong learning infrastructure, resources and equality are key to delivering a global platform for education that will produce generation after generation of literate and numerate individuals.

However, when one considers Aristotle’s quote, education of the mind is one thing. Education of the heart is something very different. I was fortunate enough quite recently to facilitate a panel of experts from India on the issues facing adolescent girls in that vast and complex country. Before our session, a young  female beneficiary of Magic Bus, a hugely impressive charitable organisation outreaching to disadvantaged and marginalised children in India, stood up in front of a packed room at the Wellcome Trust and shared her story. It was moving and powerful and beautifully articulated by a young girl who could have so easily been left to fall through the cracks in society. Her story was especially compelling given that she spoke from the heart. Not just of the opportunity to access the formal education she had, but of the confidence she gained, the self-belief that grew, and the passion she found for helping others follow the path she had trodden.

Was this actually the greatest gift she had been given?

Often it’s the softer side of education that delivers the most prophetic change in children – the gift of someone who believes in them; someone who will imagine the cast of thousands in a child’s mind and re-engage their own sense of wonder and awe, that so often gets beaten out of us as we grow older; and someone who can help them master their emotional intelligence; the greatest gift we’re all given.

Certainly when I talk to my friends and peers, there seems to be a growing sense of dissatisfaction with how our children are being educated. Are we teaching them to find their passions and purpose? Are we encouraging them to follow the path less travelled? Are we equipping our children for the future, a future that will be depend on a global community working more harmoniously together, without prejudice, or arguably pride, but with passion and love? Or are we at risk of unintentionally equipping them for a life that currently is, not the one that could be?

Emotional resilience, spiritual strength and self awareness are tools some charitable organisations round the world are starting to deploy alongside traditional formal education. One Australian charity has packaged this up in the form of philanthropic learning. Kids in Philanthropy works with children between the ages of 8-15 and their families to teach the art of giving. Developmental psychologist Marilyn Price Mitchell claims that children who are encouraged and actively carry out random acts of kindness experience increased wellbeing, popularity, and acceptance amongst peers. This leads to better academic achievement and an increased social conscience. Arguably it leads to more enlightenment, a better sense of self and a clear understanding of purpose and, as the Buddhists would offer, Life.

George Monbiot has also written copiously about this over the years. He believes we need to ‘rewild our children’ – to reconnect our children with the natural world, and let Nature teach them the truths that only Nature can. He argues that by expanding a narrow curricula driven education system, we can equip our children with the necessary formal skills alongside the softer skills without losing that sense of wonder and awe, and the belief that anything is possible. Rewilding can also often break through to children struggling in what is a fairly binary education system.

As we move to address the Sustainable Development Goals, numeracy and literacy are key. No-one doubts that. But we must not lose sight of the importance of protecting childhood innocence and imagination. We should embrace their sense of wonder and awe, and nurture the belief that when they grow up they can be anything they choose to be and that anything is possible. We must all embrace the casts of thousands we had in our heads as children and imagine a better world with them. We must equip them to pick up the baton when it is passed on and philanthropy is the most impactful form of education we have. However, it alone cannot achieve the impact we need without the passion and the purpose of the next generations coming through. We need to equip them to succeed. And arguably this includes education of the heart, as Aristotle said.

So, to the growing number of charitable organisations around the world who have recognised this, and are embracing it, and to the casts of philanthropists supporting them and engaging their own children in this new educational environment, I salute you. The future will be bright if we help our children imagine it so.

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