UNESCO recently published a report, which accounted for over a million submissions in its global consultation process. In it, they call for a major transformation of the educational landscape that repairs past injustices and enhances the capacity to act together for a just and sustainable future. It hopes to start a global conversation to forge a new contract between all members of societies around the world. The UNESCO’s report “A new social contract for education” aims to recognize the progress and new challenges that the education landscape is concerned with in the process of shaping peaceful, just, and sustainable futures.
In 1945 with a population of 2.4 billion, 45% had attended school. In 2020 with a population of 8billion, 90% had attended primary, 85% lower secondary and 65% upper secondary. However, the world seems to be at a turning point in which there is widening social and economic inequality, climate change, biodiversity loss, resource use that exceeds planetary boundaries, democratic backsliding, disruptive technological automation, persistent poverty, rising inequality and violence are the hallmarks of our current historical juncture. Education expansion is incomplete and inequitable.
Other issues include exceeding planetary boundaries in terms of material production, consumption, and waste. Climate change can force displacements which can hinder access to education. Moreover, climate change is evidenced to increase gender inequality among the poorest. Additionally, the world’s most educated people are the most accelerating of climate change. For this reason, we need renewed and effective approaches to help students develop the capabilities to adapt and mitigate climate change. A focus on reducing the digital divide is also crucial in considering access to education.
Democratic backsliding and growing polarization are issues that need to be addressed. The breakdowns in civic discourse and growing infringements on the freedom of expression all have great consequences for education. Factors involved range from the rise of populist leaders and the growth of nativism manifesting as nationalism, to the power of social media with its capacity in real-time to disseminate intentionally misleading «fake news» and the manipulation of data. On a positive note, there is increasingly active citizenship mobilization that demands democratic rights and respect for the law which should filter through to future curricula.
To address the issues, the report invites the world to perceive education as a public and common good that needs based on a social contract that needs to be renewed. It hopes to unite around collective issues and provide the knowledge and innovation needed to provide social, economic, and environmental justice as it believes that the choices made today will determine the shared future. Pedagogy should be rooted in cooperation and solidarity, building the capacities of students and teachers to work together in trust to transform the world. Together, teachers and students need to form a community of knowledge-seekers and builders. Pedagogies of solidarity should recognize and redress the systematic exclusions and erasures imposed by racism, sexism, colonialism, and authoritarian regimes around the world. Basic principles are interconnectedness and interdependencies; cooperation and collaboration taught and practiced across levels and ages; solidarity, compassion, ethics, and empathy ingrained in the learning process; and assessment aligned with the aims in a meaningful way for students’ growth and learning
In the new social contract for education, curricula should grow out of the wealth of common knowledge and embrace ecological, intercultural, and interdisciplinary learning that helps students access and produce knowledge while building their capacity to critique and apply it. Curricula must enable re-learning how we are interconnected with a living, damaged planet. The capacity to live in harmony with what is needed for mutual existence can be learned through education. Learning how to empathize, cooperate, address prejudice and bias and navigate conflict are valuable in every society. The new social contract should aim at broadening literacies and creating plurilingual futures because linguistic diversity is a key feature of humanity’s shared knowledge. Moreover, we should enrich numeracy, learn from the humanities, build imagination through arts education, and cultivate scientific inquiry and understanding while applying those skills in the digital world. Curricula must foster capacities for discernment and the sincere investigation of truth that is complex and nuanced. Lastly, education should foster human rights, active citizenship, and democratic participation. The curricula of this new social contract should, therefore, enhance learner’s abilities to access and contribute to the knowledge commons; reorient the place of humans in the world towards solving the ecological crisis; counter the spread of misinformation through scientific, digital, and humanistic literacies; and foster human rights and democratic participation as key building blocks for learning that transform people and the world.
Teachers must be at the center and their profession revalued and reimagined as a collective endeavor to spark new knowledge to bring about educational and social transformation. Teaching demands compassion, competence, knowledge, and ethical resolve. The individual talents and abilities of teachers need to be bolstered by collaboration and support. There can be no reimagination of curricula without the presence of teachers. Teachers, however, remain under-recognized, underappreciated, underpaid, and inadequately supported. Teacher development is a rich and dynamic continuum of learning and experiences that are life-long. Principles should provide for effective collaboration and teamwork as characteristics of the work of teachers; production of knowledge, reflection, and research as integral to teaching; support for the autonomy and freedom of teachers; and enable the participation of teachers in public debate and dialogue on the futures of education
Schools should be protected educational sites because of the inclusion, equity, and individual and collective well-being they support – and reimagined to better promote the transformation of the world towards more just, equitable and sustainable futures. Schools have an irreplaceable role that involves being central components of larger educational ecosystems. They foster social relations, stimulate human interactions, dialogues, and exchange. However, some necessary transformations need to undergo so that they do not serve to entrench inequalities or widen disparities but are platforms for cooperation, care, and change. For these reasons, the Commission emphasizes the need to protect schools as spaces where students encounter challenges and possibilities not available to them elsewhere; redesign schools guided by a building collective capacity, and model the future by ensuring human rights are accounted for and schools become exemplars of sustainability and carbon neutrality.
The new social contract for education should enjoy and expand enriching educational opportunities that take place throughout life and in different cultural and social spaces. In doing so, states have a key responsibility for ensuring that educational systems are adequately and equitably financed. Decisions about digital technologies should be made in the public sphere and guided by the common good. The best strategy to do so is to ensure democratization of the cyberspace within a robust public sphere. Additionally, education should support the right to participate in cultural life by providing access to cultural resources that shape identities and expand worldviews. The principles to keep in mind include meaningful and quality educational opportunities at all times of life; healthy educational ecosystems that connect natural, build and virtual sites of learning; ensuring government capacity for the public financing and regulation of education; and broadening the right to education to include aspects such as to the information, culture, and science.
To catalyze a new social contract for education, the Commission calls for a worldwide, collaborative research agenda grounded in the right to education throughout life, and welcoming contributions from grassroots associations, educators, institutions, sectors, and a diversity of cultures. Research and innovation must strengthen the capacities of foresight and future literacy. The Commission calls for a generalized, worldwide, collective research agenda on the futures of education. The knowledge, data, and evidence that is produced for the future of education must be inclusive of diverse sources and types of knowledge. Educational innovation must reflect a wide range of possibilities across diverse contexts and places.
The Commission also calls for a renewed commitment to global collaboration in support of education as a common good, premised on more just and equitable cooperation among state and non-state actors at all levels (local, national and international). Global institutions should play a unique role in orienting our attention to longer-term challenges. Principles for dialogue and action include a call on all educational stakeholders to work together at global and regional levels to generate shared purposes and common solutions to educational challenges; ensure international cooperation that operates from a principle of subsidiarity, supporting and building capacity in local, national, and regional efforts to address challenges. Moreover, a focus on international development financing for low and lower-middle-income countries is needed, as well as common investments in evidence, data, and knowledge as an essential part of effective international cooperation.
The Commission believes that we will change course through millions of individual and collective acts of courage leadership, resistance, creativity, and care that gives special importance to the roles of teachers, universities and higher education institutions, governments, international and civil society organizations, youth, children, researchers, parents, cultural and religious leaders.
Link to the report: https://unesdoc.unesco.org/ark:/48223/pf0000379707