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Influential global bodies have a say in the future of education, and the outcome could shape the economy and the environment for generations, writes Jason Beech in part one of a series on global education
When it comes to education, humanity is heading in the wrong direction, according to a UNESCO report. The UN commission on The future of education revived the debate on the need to reform global education policy. This has led to debates between UNESCO and the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) on the nature of education.
Both organizations have their own vision of what it means to be an educated person and how educational practices should be organised, funded and evaluated. But these organizations do not represent the views of the whole world.
Underlying any decision about what to change requires a full understanding of the type of individuals and societies we want to promote. The UNESCO report proposes that education promotes change based on agreed common values. Simultaneously, the OECD has proposed ways to make education systems more adaptable to disruption and change by suggesting that education could be more dynamic and that education systems should be reformed to better keep up with the economic changes anticipated by policy makers. .
The OECD has become the most powerful voice in global education debates since the launch of the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) In 2000.
Every three years, PISA assesses 600,000 15-year-old students in a globally comparable test that assesses how well young people are prepared to enter the labor market in the “knowledge economy”.
Based on the results, the OECD publishes the rankings of the 79 participating economies. These rankings matter to policy makers and influence public opinion. It also creates an individualized and market-oriented view of education.
Even UNESCO has been absorbed by the logic of the market, reducing its concept of “lifelong learning” to a focus on skills in the workplace.
But the influences go both ways: The OECD has relaxed its strictly economic logic, adding “global skills” in its PISA assessment, measuring traits such as children’s ability to engage “with people from different cultures , and to act for collective well-being and sustainable development”. ”. Even then, the focus on “soft skills” is primarily aimed at preparing workers to function successfully in multicultural teams, rather than developing a deeper contextual understanding of discrimination or non-Western approaches to discrimination. awareness.
The OECD has also begun to measure student well-being, distinguishing between “happy” and “unhappy” schools. Countries in Latin America and Northern Europe were found to be the happiest, while countries such as Japan, Korea and China recorded the Life Satisfaction level.
But the method used to record happiness is based on an individualistic and Anglo-centric perspective. In some non-Western societies, happiness and satisfaction depend on the well-being of a collective community rather than an individual. The results therefore do not accurately compare student happiness, but are skewed by the different ways students interpreted the exam question.
UNESCO’s latest report reaffirms the organization’s humanistic values, based less on the market and more on concepts such as respect for life, social justice and shared responsibility for a common future.
The report explicitly critical the use of standardized student rankings and assessments that encourage competition, instead of promoting teaching methods that emphasize solidarity and collaboration. The report also emphasizes the importance to open education systems to indigenous knowledge.
As UNESCO suggests that humanity is headed in the wrong direction, there may be a need to rethink the way the world talks about education to chart a more equitable and sustainable path.
That might be easier said than done. For example, introducing collaborative learning methods is a huge challenge in education systems that have been designed to rank and order students based on their individual performance.
Including indigenous knowledge in institutions that have been historical custodians of Western knowledge can also be challenging. Conventional school systems were developed reflecting developments in Western science, aimed at educating students in “rational thinking”, a Western tradition.
These debates highlight that education is more than just teaching and learning. Education has the ability to shape the future and our approaches to challenges such as climate change, growing inequalities and the pandemic. Whether young people face these challenges collectively or individually; competing or collaborating, will be influenced by how the world views education.
Jason Beech is a lecturer in education policy at Monash University School of Education. Before joining Monash, he was an associate professor at the School of Education at the University of San Andrés in Argentina. He is currently a visiting professor at San Andrés, where he is also director of a UNESCO chair in education for global citizenship and sustainable development. He is Associate Editor of the Education Policy Analysis Archive and has taught at several universities in the Americas, Europe and Australia. He declares no conflict of interest.