Rethinking education? Yes, but in the framework of human rights
At a time of crisis and cuts to the welfare state, the mantra of reforms in exchange for efficiency has also reached education.
On 20 November 2012, the European Commission published a Communication with the intention of identifying strategic priorities, actions and reforms to bring education into the “modern, knowledge-based” economy of the 21st century
Society has changed drastically since the 19th century. Young people of 20 years of age have different habits, different languages and ways of communicating from those who are 25. Industries in an economy based mainly on financial transactions must be flexible in order to adapt quickly to new production processes.
With these challenges, the education system not only needs to respond to a globalised and pluralistic society but, in order to contribute to competiveness and jobs, it should, also reduce the mismatch of skills between what the private sector asks for and what it can provide.
In the past, enterprises used to request workers with specific skills; the production systems were known and did not change often so the education system was able to prepare the large majority of workers with the required skills. But in a situation where enterprises change overnight how can education adapt to these changes?
How can new generations face Jeremy Rifkin’s third industrial revolution with an education system based on the second industrial revolution?
At the same time, Member States, are facing the mass retirement of teachers, demographic changes and a lack of growth and competitiveness; and, over all, the crisis of the welfare state that needs to find new solutions to the financing of schools..
The Commission states: “In this communication, emphasis is being placed on delivering the right skills for employment, increasing the efficiency and inclusiveness of our education and training institutions and on working collaboratively with all relevant stakeholders”.
The document indicates clearly what skills are needed in the future, among them: to think critically, creativity, innovation, the spirit of initiative, the ability to solve problems and to work in teams, languages and IT knowledge.
Six priorities at national level and six key actions at European level are suggested.
Among them: vocational and training education (VET) and the dual system, become key actions of the Commission’s proposal.
This approach is shared not only at European level but also at international level.
In his recent report on the right of education, the special rapporteur Kinshore Singh, focuses his attention on the same subject.
However if on the one hand the Commission stressed: “The broad mission of education and training encompasses objectives such as active citizenship, personal development and well-being. While these go hand-in hand with the need to upgrade skills for employability […] the most pressing challenges for Member States are to address the needs of the economy and focus on solutions to tackle fast-rising youth unemployment”, on the other hand the Special Rapporteur, who agrees on the VET’s contribution in stimulating the economy and on the social development and the employability of the individuals, focuses attention on the main role of education: the integral development of the human person. For him, it is clear: education needs to face up to the crisis, needs to take into account the new realities of the economy; however it must not lose its “humanistic rather than a mere utilitarian vision”
The principle of the integral development of a human person - legally binding for all Member States that have ratified human rights treaties - recalls that delivering the right skills for the economy is complementary and interdependent with educating people on human rights and on their duties to the community”. One cannot be achieved without the others.
As was well emphasized by Fr. Pascual Chávez Villanueva, Rector Major of the Salesians of Don Bosco on a number of different occasions, it is important to remember “that teaching is an essential means for the enlightening of the mind” and called for an emphasis on, quoting Pope John Paul II, the “priority of the spirit over matter; the priority of persons over things; the priority of ethics over technology; the priority of work over capital; the priority of universal destiny of goods over private property; the priority of pardon over justice; the priority of the common good over personal interests”.
Executive Secretary Don Bosco International