Education needs to be a transformative power
Yénifer López Ramos. “There is no more powerful transformative force than education – to promote human rights and dignity, to eradicate poverty and deepen sustainability…” This was a statement made by UNESCO in a document calling for greater effectiveness in the world of education today, entitled: “Rethinking Education: Towards a global common good?”.
Global education has seen itself rocked by the pandemic which has affected the whole world, and the school closures in 168 countries are currently affecting 70.6% of students worldwide -only a few days ago, it affected more than 91% of students. These closures have high social and economic costs, particularly for those students living in highly vulnerable situations and their families, since the pandemic has affected everyone, but not all are affected equally. The educational gap between countries as well as within countries has shown itself clearly, and we have been able to see how this is founded on profound social differences.
We are not going to look at the magnitude of the consequences which will arise for so many millions of pupils and their families, but rather we will be looking at how the school needs to rethink its role in order to be a powerful transforming force, which plays an even greater role today, because in its hands lie the potential to educate towards building another possible world, and a better future.
We urgently need to look at the aim of education and the organisation of learning. Gehiomara Cedeño, assistant national director of Fe y Alegría (Faith and Joy) in Ecuador, and in charge of Education within the International Federation of Faith and Joy, roundly stated: “We were not prepared, not as a school, not as teachers, not as staff, nor as a society”. The structure and the regulations in place were not enough to respond to the emergency. This is why we need to change the agenda and priorities of education. We need to ask: what kind of education do we want?; what is the aim of education?; what is our educational plan?
Likewise, we need to reshape the role of educational leaders, right from areas of public administration down to the level of management in education centres. It is very important to recover the role of leadership in the face of bureaucracy, since a strategical approach is needed now more than ever in these uncertain and unfamiliar circumstances. Educational leadership needs to be based more on meaningful discussions, and on facilitating cooperation between different sectors of the community (teachers, families, pupils, non-teaching staff…), with the reason for their participation and autonomy being that they are ready to work together in case of sudden crises.
Additionally, it is essential for educational systems to encourage an awareness of our interdependency alongside a sense of global co-responsibility in a world that is becoming increasingly interconnected, as we have seen in the Covid-19 pandemic. This crisis has made us aware of the deep connections that exist in a globalised world and the interdependence that links us all, from China to Ecuador, with all countries affected by the same illness. The current pandemic again brings to the fore issues of curriculum content that are linked to our global reality, to humanity and to the challenges we face as a society. Within ten years, we will reach the deadline for the fulfilment of the Sustainable Development Goals. Looking at them again in the light of what is happening to us now leads us to an inescapable realisation, that of our need to include education for a global citizenship within the educational curriculum, as is put forward in goal no. 4.7. Perhaps in this way, schools can help children understand the reasons for forced migrations, or the cry of nature which calls out to us to change our consumer habits, or how economic growth is not the answer to all our problems, while at the same time developing an awareness of the links between all of these issues and phenomena, such as the global pandemic that is currently afflicting us.
Education is a public good, and as such needs to be inclusive, fair and collaborative, as well as being oriented towards the common good. In order to work towards the common good, a rethinking of the concept of an educational community is vital, as well as opening up pathways to participate in it. This means looking at the educational community in a different way, carrying out a needs analysis through asking and listening, and revising the current decision-making processes. Building networks based on working together, solidarity, and shared efforts is vital. This is the moment when we need to look at co-teaching, learning communities, the school-community relationship, and links between different sectors… It is the time for making connections that work towards the common good and making our schools into inclusive and fair places. We know that the pandemic is widening the gap, and the great danger is that many children, teenagers and young people will be left behind. The pandemic has shown us that advances made in the right to education have not always materialised, and educational inequality still exists, although it has become invisible. Our response needs to be unified then, and we need to reach a point where those pupils who come from more complex backgrounds and more vulnerable situations can have the same opportunities as the rest of their schoolfriends.
Perhaps it is also the time for the world of education to incorporate into its principles the teaching of the “ubuntu” philosophy -a word which originates from the Zulu and Xhosa languages-, people “knowing they form part of a bigger picture”. In this way, education can become the transformative power that promotes human rights in the world and the dignity of all people.