Knowledge and learning are humanity’s greatest renewable resources for responding to challenges and inventing alternatives. Yet, education does more than respond to a changing world. Education transforms the world.
With The Futures of Education: Learning to Become initiative UNESCO set on a pathway since September 2019 to mobilize the many rich ways of being and knowing in order to leverage humanity’s collective intelligence. It relies on a broad, open consultative process that involves youth, educators, civil society, governments, business and other stakeholders. November 2021 the commission will publish a report designed to share a forward-looking vision of what education and learning might yet become and offer a policy agenda, following previous UNESCO global reports on education (Learning to be, 1972; Education: a treasure within, 1996).
The Commission’s Report builds on a humanistic tradition defined by an emancipatory vision of education at the individual and collective level and which affirms education as a public good and a fundamental human right. Today, we need a new understanding of humanism that recognizes we cannot separate humanity from the planet and all other living beings. For sustainable futures we need to address inequality and improve the quality of human life without compromising future generations and the eco‐systems of which we are a part. We also need to consider what it means to be human in the age of rapid technological transformation. Education is one of the crucial ways we rework our relationships with a more‐than‐human world. The possibility of an interdependent, caring, common future depends, to a great extent, on education. Education enables and strengthens paths towards a humanity that values diversity to build the common together.
Radical change is needed in the design of education systems, the
organization of schools and other educational institutions as well as curriculum and pedagogical approaches. There is a growing consensus that things must be done differently. The Commission seeks to give voice to this desire for transformation—which must preserve the historical legacy of public education, being fully aware that we are at a turning point. The COVID pandemic brutally revealed what we all already knew: we need a different education and a different school.
In the last decades, a set of trends and interests have supported the idea that the “death of the school” is upon us. Some have argued that the school will be replaced by an infinity of devices and approaches—strongly supported by digital technology and artificial intelligence—all of which point in the direction of a “hyper‐personalization” of learning. In such scenarios, schools are seen as obsolete institutions. Teachers become expendable professionals, who could easily be replaced by other forms of monitoring and supervision. While not grounded in experience or evidence, the premises underlying this vision, fueled by the unprecedented expansion of the global education market in which the EdTech industry leads the way, has been leading us down a dangerous path.
It destroys social institutions without providing proven alternatives. And it must be resisted in the name of a regenerative education.
The place of education in wider society: strengthening a common public education This first area of focus is dedicated to the new landscapes of education. For two centuries, educational policies and approaches focused on the organization and management of education systems comprised of institutions. We now need to think about education in a much broader perspective, within the framework of a wide range of connections, spaces and times. It is this idea of an education that goes beyond institutional dimensions that defines this first area. In this context by public education the Commission does not refer solely to state‐sponsored schooling. Public education must be seen, above all, as a way of reinforcing our common belonging to the same humanity while valuing differences and diversity. Learning and studying together with others is the best way to promote a life in common, a convivial society. For that, we need a public education that brings us into dialogue with the unknown.
Commit to strengthen education as a common good. Education is a bulwark against inequalities. In education as in health, we are safe when everybody is safe; we flourish when everybody flourishes.
Value the teaching profession and teacher collaboration. There has been remarkable innovation in the responses of educators to the Covid-19 crisis, with those systems most engaged with families and communities showing the most resilience. We must encourage conditions that give front-line educators autonomy and flexibility to act collaboratively.Nine ideas for public action
Promote student, youth and children’s participation and rights. Inter-generational justice and democratic principles should compel us to prioritize the participation of students and young people broadly in the co-construction of desirable change.
Ensure scientific literacy within the curriculum. This is the right time for deep reflection on curriculum, particularly as we struggle against the denial of scientific knowledge and actively fight misinformation.
Protect the social spaces provided by schools as we transform education. The school as a physical space is indispensable. Traditional classroom organization must give way to a variety of ways of ‘doing school’ but the school as a separate space-time of collective living, specific and different from other spaces of learning must be preserved.
Make free and open source technologies available to teachers and students. Open educational resources and open access digital tools must be supported. Education cannot thrive with ready-made content built outside of the pedagogical space and outside of human relationships between teachers and students. Nor can education be dependent on digital platforms controlled by private companies.
Protect domestic and international financing of public education. The pandemic has the power to undermine several decades of advances. National governments, international organizations, and all education and development partners must recognize the need to strengthen public health and social services but simultaneously mobilize around the protection of public education and its financing.
Advance global solidarity to end current levels of inequality. Covid-19 has shown us the extent to which our societies exploit power imbalances and our global system exploits inequalities. The Commission calls for renewed commitments to international cooperation and multi-lateralism, together with a revitalized global solidarity that has empathy and an appreciation of our common humanity at its cor.