UNESCO calls for voices on Education futures 2050

Three main topics will be discussed.

Las preguntas planteadas fueron las siguientes:

Topic 1: Our changing world: How do you view the future? 2050 

The first question asks participants to imagine the future in broad terms.

When you think about 2050

– What are you most hopeful about?

 – What are you most concerned about?

Topic 2: Broad Purposes of Education

The second question focuses on the ‘why’ of education (note that ‘education’ should be understood as all forms of organized learning for people of all ages).

Considering the visions of 2050 that you just described and the collective purposes of education that you just described, How should what we learn, how we learn, and where we learn change in the future?

Responding Group:   Education for an Interdependent world

                                         India (Pune, Honavar, Gujarat)

                                           Philippines (Manila, Davao, Iloilo, Cebu)

A group of ten teachers/ guidance counselor/ NGO coordinators from India and the Philippines gathered online to respond to the call of UNESCO on the EDUCATION FUTURES. They are members of an international association EDUCATION FOR AN INTERDEPENDENT WORLD which through selected projects promote capacity building of young people and professional groups. Their teaching experience span from the kindergarten/primary levels, to middle school, secondary, and university levels. Of these ten participants, seven are actively involved in formal education, of which four are in their first few years in the public school system in the Philippines from primary to the university level, four are employed in private systems of the Philippines and India respectively and two are engaged in non-formal education with the indigenous peoples of Davao, Philippines and with rural communities in the Karnataka area in Honavar India.

Everyone who participated started her projection of the future from the current status of education and the changes that the pandemic imposed on the educational system in the realities of India and the Philippines where they are practicing their professions.

Projecting the FUTURES of EDUCATION by 2050

Reasons of hope:

The group found hope in the possibilities that technology brings in the field of education. The younger generations have a real grip in the use of technology as a growing valuable resource for information gathering and for making sense of data through the different potent computer programs available.  In the limitations brought about by the restrictions of face to face teaching, visiting, and relating, technology has brought people together and filled the void that otherwise would have been created in the closing of schools and other institutions, in the control of free and fluid access to travel and entries to social venues where ordinarily social interactions would be happening. As a whole society has been resilient and learned and adapted itself to virtual communication to remain connected with one another. We have proven in these challenging times that human beings have the capacity to be resilient … to adapt … to meet the challenges head on. We bank on this human resiliency to foresee new opportunities in the futures of education by 2050.

Another reason for hope is the belief in the capacity of young people to bounce back and to rise to the occasion, for many, impelled by the real desire to learn even in the direst condition such as literally no physical space for those in the slums, the limitations of distance for those in far flung areas , the limitations of access to internet connectivity faced with the closing of schools and navigating the new normal long distance learning imposed upon them by circumstances, the limitations caused by the pressure to work instead of being in school and even the limitations of physical hunger. The pangs of poverty while heavy were surmounted and carried well by many of the young people. In the Philippines, there are still many parents who will do everything to send their children to school as the way out of poverty, and still many teachers who are fired by the mission to make a difference in the lives of their students. These too are factors of hope.        

While still in its very initial realizations, interventions by the educational authorities or ministries are starting to address the mental health of students affected by the “new normal” pedagogy caused by the pandemic. The Department of Education in the Philippines has begun to deploy personnel trained in mental health in some of the schools. The fact that the concern for the total child is now looked into as integral in the focus of educational directives by policymakers is already a sign of hope. In addition, a growing acceptance that with the child must be addressed as well the total wellbeing of the teacher. The mental health of the latter is directly affecting the student in a cause-and-effect relationship if not by osmosis.

Concerns Underlying Futures of Education

With hopes come concerns as well. With the easy access of technology for our young people some very existential questions are now increasing in its relevance. Since the pandemic, the number of suicides among young people has increased. Cases of depression before known only as isolated cases studies are now rampant, expressed by students ’withdrawal, by rebellion or apathy felt in the schools. So we ask, “ How do we form our young people to be adept in technology and at the same time in competences that are social in nature … relationships, communication, values that are the references of conduct and behaviors, in mores and traditions that are the anchors of one’s identity and culture in a society that has isolated them from these realities? Have we provided in our educational curriculum ethics in the use of the internet and social media? It looks like many of our young people are no longer sensitive to the respect of intellectual property and are using information with no criteria or limits and without respect to its source. By 2050, would we have taken measures of formation to be in place beyond the use of technology for more and better-commercialized products even if these would have made our lives more comfortable? Is the threat of the potent G5 really impending? There is a strong concern for the diminishing value of children relegating the child’s expertise to the manipulation of gadgets in gathering information without forming in him the values of critical thinking, socialization, and even to the extent that gadgets control the individuals and not the opposite. Like addiction, our young people are controlled by the gadgets they use opting to be glued before a screen and leaving aside values of family, of friends of expansion that are not within the realm of digital control. The group describes this phenomenon as the diminishing value of every child.

Another cause of concern is the urgent need to update teacher education. According to one of the participants, only 10% of teachers in her school are really equipped to teach effectively with the strategies of flexible and or blended learning. This is a problem that can have longtime consequential effect on generations who would be adults by 2050. These are teachers taught to teach from a teacher-directed perspective and from assessments of knowledge through written quizzes and tests. It is doubtful that they now have the language to reach young people who have evolved in having a language of their own and who would belong to a labor force where skills and competencies are foremost above repetition of knowledge heard from the teacher.

The fact that the highest policymakers in education are political appointees of administrations that come and go from one election to the next creates an unstable pattern in the priorities of the educational system. This is of concern as politics become the frame of reference for policies that should be determined by real educators. Because of this it can happen that population pockets not considered of importance in elections may not be of priority concern for the politicians themselves. Unless there are strong advocates representing the marginalized groups, they may not be beneficiaries of policies that should directly benefit them. Hence, still of main concern for the future of education is the lack of intentional directives to allocate resources and scholarships for the youth leaders of identified marginalized groups and create programs of implementation for this purpose. While this may be legislated the conditions of the schools especially in challenged areas show that legislation is not a guarantee of implementation especially when the last, the least, and the lost are concerned. From these policies come the concern of social promotion. Schools or administrators, districts or regions fall into the practice of reporting numbers of successful performance to get the subsidies that are determined by the quota of passing students or promoted students they need to reach. Data reported as success numbers may not correspond to reality. Therefore real needs are obfuscated leaving many children caught in the circle of illiteracy with a diploma that will not in effect mean anything for some. Policies sometimes while may have good intentions do no take into account the real settings where policies are to be materialized. An example of this is the use of the mother tongue to teach in the first three year. Policies did not take into account that teachers may not have been trained for it. Because policymakers may not be educators, legislating policies may miss the nuances of pedagogy and psychology key to the educational process.

A Collective Purpose of Education

UNESCO calls for a collective purpose of education . Without this, efforts would be piecemeal depending on regions or countries. Some will be at the forefront of development, others lagging behind for nothing else but for lack of resources. Representatives of the two NGOs in the group advocate for a synchronized action and strategizing of priorities between initiatives of formal and non-formal education institutions especially in programs where the youth are at stake.

According to this group, by 2050 they dream that education would have erased illiteracy, that everyone can read to be at least functional and be able to participate in the decision-making process of his own group. That by 2050, education would be the vehicle that would prepare the young people in skills and competencies to be productive in the labor force. That by then, no child is left behind with the basics, so that the current occurrence of students reaching high school unable to read is completely erased. They also dream of the collective project of equipping the teachers to teach not so much as the only source or interpreter of knowledge but as facilitators of the same. By2050 teacher education programs would have incorporated in teacher training the capacity not only to deliver content to be accessible to learners but most of all develop competences to teach from the heart and with the heart, that is, to see the total child before them and take them where they are out of ignorance to the unfolding of the gifts innate in every child in the words one participant, the almost guaranteed results of “the wisdom of goodness”.

They dream of an education that would nourish the cultural identity of every child and enhances his or her capacity to open to a wider world beyond that of his or her own. By 2050, education in its collective purpose should be geared towards the appreciation of lessons and achievements of the past instead of falling into a revisionist history contingent on the philosophies of passing political powers. It is the collective purpose of forming citizens of the world, aware and cognizant of who he is and who he can be , aware and cognizant of his responsibility to the world and to his fellow human beings and anchored in a belief in One higher than himself giving meaning to who the person is and the meaning of his existence.

Where should the change happen: It starts in a restructuring of a curriculum where the student is the center, where the teacher has a non – negotiable role to facilitate learning and to empower the student, where communities are included as stakeholders of the educational development of every child. Change start with learning that includes awareness and creativity to use and to sustain the resources available where one is , where learning fosters civic responsibility awakening in young minds the need for policies that are future oriented and not anchored on the immediate gains of political groups that shine and fade. It starts with an educated electorate and citizenry owning the responsibility of nation building as a civic duty of all perhaps as future leaders of the same. It starts with a curriculum that brings students to see the gift of nature and the value of every human being as much as he values himself if not more. It starts with bringing ethics back to the curriculum and for those ready for it, the recognition of Someone higher than himself with whom he can find anchor and meaning . It starts with a curriculum where expertise in the academe or in one’s profession is sought not as an end to itself but a means to be offered for the good of all.

For this group gathered to answer the call of UNESCO, the above reflections are offered to be part of that collective voice on purpose of education that would hopefully be the drive for the FUTURES of EDUCATION 2030 and beyond.

By: Irene Bettina Pueyo and Roopa d’Souza, participants in the UNESCO’s call. 

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