Recently read this book by Ariely– and found the following discussion highly relevant to my thinking here on 21st century education:
As we learned in our experiments, cash will take you only so far— social norms are the forces that can make a difference in the long fun. Instead of focusing the attention of the teachers, parents, and kids on test scores, salaries, and competition, it might be better to instill in all of us a sense of purpose, mission, and pride in education. To do this we certainly can’t take the path of market norms. The Beatles proclaimed some time ago that you “Can’t Buy Me Love” and this also applies to the love of learning– you can’t buy it, and if you try, you might chase it away.
So how can improve the educational system? We should probably first rethink school curricula, and link them in more obvious ways to social goals (elimination of poverty and crime, elevation of human rights, etc.), technological goals (boosting energy conservation, space exploration, nanotechnology, etc.) and medical goals (cures for cancer, diabetes, obesity, etc.) that we care about as a society. This way the students, teachers, and parents might see the larger point in education, and become more enthusiastic and motivated about it.