UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, published its latest report on education in November 2021. The report ‘Reimagining our futures together: a new social contract for education’ makes recommendations to reform education to meet the challenges we face, the climate crisis and an uncertain world.
We at the Finnish Lifelong Learning Foundation are working in the direction indicated in the report, for example in international Erasmus+ projects and development cooperation projects.
In the ongoing joint European Erasmus+ Bildung project, we are strengthening the educational mindset in adult learning and exploring how adult learning can better foster holistic learning.
Our aim is to reform adult learning and rethink the role of education. Four themes have been selected for closer examination: digitalisation, sustainable development, democracy and basic skills. The idea is for us to empower citizens to make informed decisions and drive the necessary changes.
Among project partners from across Europe, we also conceived and organised a spontaneous reading circle to familiarise ourselves with the report and reflect on the ideas it presents.
We were pleased to see that the report is a great platform for the issues and values we already advocate.
The UNESCO report sets the goal of a sustainable and socially just future, and education is central to achieving it.
UNESCO reports outline the importance of education
The ‘Reimagining our futures together: a new social contract for education’ report is part of a series of global programme reports commissioned by UNESCO. The reports are based on a humanistic approach to learning and humanity, human rights, and the pursuit of social justice.
The first report ‘Learning to Be: the world of education today and tomorrow’, was published in 1972 as a result of the work of a working group chaired by Edgar Faure. In particular, it warned of the risks of inequality. 1996 saw the publication of the report ‘Learning: The Treasure Within’ as the result of work led by Jacques Delors. The report presented four pillars of education: learning to be, learning to know, learning to do and learning to live together.
The ‘Rethinking Education: towards a global common good?’ publication in 2015 argued that education and knowledge should be seen as a global common good. Education is emphasised as a human right and the privatisation of education is criticised.
The work of the Futures of Education working group is based in particular on a snapshot of the environmental crisis. The underlying idea is also that the world is more complex and uncertain than before.
For our survival, change and cooperation to achieve it are essential. These values are clearly stated in the report and are easy to commit to as a provider of liberal adult education.
Cooperation will also be in the focus at UNESCO’s CONFINTEA VII conference in summer 2022. The event will set the agenda for the next 12 years of adult education and lifelong learning.
It is expected that the key message of the ‘Reimagining our futures together: a new social contract for education’ report will be strongly reflected in the conference declaration (the so-called Marrakesh Framework for Action).
Education is a common good – it must be safeguarded
The new UNESCO report calls for a new social contract for education and sets out a vision of what it should look like. Education is still seen as a public common good and national governments must be responsible for ensuring its implementation and the best conditions for it.
‘Reimagining our futures together’criticises in particular the dependence of the digital education infrastructure on a few private tech giants. For example, if Google Scholar were to close, researchers would lose access to their own work.
This dependency should be dismantled. The report highlights the importance of the public sector as a provider of education. Education cannot be left to private and commercial organisations alone.
To build a sustainable and just world, we need a pedagogy that aims to strengthen cooperation between students and teachers alike. The report challenges competition and measurement-based education. Instead, increasing empathy is of paramount importance.
The report states that schools must strengthen human rights and set an example in sustainable development and carbon neutrality. The role of the teacher is valuable and the significance of teachers as agents of change must be recognised.
UNESCO also stresses that learning is not limited to childhood and adolescence but continues throughout life. Learning also takes place in many different contexts.
The message is clear: learning should be seen as a lifelong right and should not just serve the labour market. The aim of learning is empowerment.
The narrowing of the role of education to provider of competence was also recognised in our reading circle. A narrow utilitarian approach ignores the huge amount of valuable potential in adult learning.
The world is changing – by working together we can survive
The working group ‘Futures of Education’ that prepared the report operated from 2019 to 2021. During that time, the world was facing a pandemic, and countries demonstrated their ability to make radical changes quickly.
Since the publication of the report, we have also witnessed a full-scale war of aggression in Europe. There is even the fear of a third world war in the air. Now, too, the international community has been able to respond to the crisis and support Ukraine.
We must not forget these lessons in the face of the climate crisis and other global challenges. Change is possible, but it will continue to require global cooperation and accountability. There is also perhaps a greater need than ever for dialogue and learning together.
‘Reimagining our futures together’ states the challenge with extraordinary clarity: instead of competition, education and learning must be based on cooperation and solidarity, be it for children or adults.
Lauri Tuomi, CEO, The Kvs Foundation
Nina Hjelt, Specialist on Lifelong Learning, The Kvs Foundation
The CEO of the Finnish Lifelong Learning Foundation is part of the Finnish delegation to UNESCO’s CONFINTEA VII conference. Follow our Sivistyksen pelottomat (the Fearless of Education) blog – We will give a report from CONFINTEA in June!
Read more about the topic here:
Uwe Gartenschlaeger: Old wine in new bottles – Why do we find “Bildung” so interesting right now?
Elm Magazine’s essay ”Rethinking and Re-imagining Education”, our English-language adult learning medium