The future of any society depends on its ability to foster the health and well-being of the next generation. Stated simply, today’s children will become tomorrow’s citizens, workers, and parents.

When we invest wisely in children and families, the next generation will pay that back through a lifetime of productivity and responsible citizenship. When we fail to provide children with what they need to build a strong foundation for healthy and productive lives, we put our future prosperity and security at risk.

“The Science of Early Childhood Development: Closing the Gap of What we Know and What we do” National Scientific Council on the Developing Child and the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University from the opening paragraph in the Executive Summary.

The aim of education is to develop productive and responsible citizens. Starting from the first impressions of the world that we absorb as infants, through the formal education years and later into establishing our careers, learning that is focused on the goal of responsible citizenship improves the state of the world. Perhaps all the world problems may be traced back to education that misses this goal.

“School needs to inspire their students to help make the world a better place,” declares John Mark Froiland, researcher, assistant professor in the Department of School Psychology at the University of Northern Colorado and author of Inspired Childhood.

The lack of motivation to learn often results in low performance, poor self-esteem and disruptive behavior. As self-image decreases, the desire to constructively contribute to society declines creating a downward spiral.

“Children should not be burdened with curriculum, but the teachers should know the simple values of life: say thank you to somebody; be kind to somebody; be respectful for somebody’s time; try to be a good listener,” explains UN Ambassador Anwarul K Chowdhury, former Under-Secretary-General and High Representative of the United Nations and chair of the UN General Assembly drafting committee for the UN Declaration on the Culture of Peace.

Froiland finds that the motivation to learn is connected to feeling empowered to be able to help others with what we learn. Froiland gives the example of how his father’s anxiety over academic performance in medical school dissipated when he switched his focus to learning for the purpose of being able to help his future patients.

Even as babies, humans show a greater desire to connect with people than with things. As we grow the desire to connect matures from receiving care from others to participating with others and eventually to the experience of benefiting others. Learning for the purpose of helping others is a powerful natural motivator.

We begin life as intrinsic learners – eager to connect with the world. Yet, when a child starts formal education, the motivation to learn decreases. “The average child has a high level of intrinsic motivation in Kindergarten that then drops steadily until 9th grade (even through to the 12th grade according to one study),” Froiland reports, and attributes the decline to using disconnected motivational tools. “Parents treat learning as if it’s a bad job. Learning isn’t a bad job that you need to give gold stars – over emphasize grades and GPAs,” he continues.

Without understanding a child’s natural impulse, parents, teachers and the school system employ external motivators, which further decrease the drive to learn. “It is only in the past one hundred years that we have put children in a classroom and expected them to all learn by listening in exactly the same way,” Stephen Scott Cowen, MD, pediatrician writes in his book, Fire Child, Water Child. Cowen emphasizes appreciating a child’s unique nature, which will cultivate their desire to help others.

Personal connection that stimulates the desire to help others is a missing key element in education. If we align education with the motivation to help others through what is taught, we can foster responsible world citizens. Producing world citizens means that our future generations could creatively resolve conflict without violence, cooperate together in community and contribute to a healthy society.