International Commission reconvenes and calls for bold educational transformation
The International Commission on the Futures of Education met on 28 June and issued a call for education to serve our shared needs and common futures in new ways.
Under the leadership of Her Excellency Madam Sahle-Work Zewde, President of Ethiopia, Commmissioners met in Paris at UNESCO headquarters in the context of the Transforming Education Pre-Summit which brought together ministers and deputy ministers of education from 154 countries. Convened to support the UN Secretary-General’s Transforming Education Summit (TES) planned for 19 September the Pre-Summit served as an opportunity for exchange and knowledge-building by youth, governments and civil society on the why, how and what of educational transformation.
The Commission released a statement proposing that that forging a new social contract for education offers both the vision and process for transforming education.
Transforming education means supporting teaching and learning that is transformative for learners. To achieve this we need fundamental changes to educational processes and opportunities worldwide. The Commission urges us to see this as “less a complete overturning than a metamorphosis.” Download a PDF of the complete statement here, or click below to read its individual sections:
Transforming education for just and sustainable futures
Education has always had to adapt and respond to a changing world. Today more than ever, education must help transform the world.
Despite over half a century of national and international education and development efforts, the promises of quality education for all remain unfulfilled. We will not ensure education as a human right across the lifespan by continuing to do more of the same.
Unsustainable economic and social development patterns are jeopardizing the future of humanity and the planet. Here, education is part of the problem and part of the solution. We must take care that education systems support development models that are environmentally sustainable and socially just.
Education is the best tool we have for optimizing the relationship between democracy, diversity and justice. Democracy without diversity can be exclusionary. Diversity without democracy can be superficial. And justice without democracy and respect for diversity is unachievable. But much work remains ahead of us for education to do what we need it to.
The challenges now and ahead of us are ones that require collective action. They cannot be solved by governments alone. Instead, we need everyone to be empowered and encouraged to participate in making change. At present, however, education around the globe is not fit for these purposes. A bold educational transformation is urgent.
Transformation means fundamental changes to educational processes and opportunities worldwide. This is less a complete overturning than a metamorphosis. Transformation must be an intergenerational project that leads us to something that is both new and a renewal. We need to identify what it is we do now in education that should continue, what should be abandoned, and what needs to be creatively reimagined afresh.
Transforming education means going beyond reforms that improve our education systems and our educational practices. Rather than better versions of existing systems, transformation results in education systems different from today's.
Transforming education means supporting teaching and learning that is transformative for learners. Transformative education empowers as it connects people to each other and the world; exposes them to new possibilities; and strengthens their capacities for critique, dialogue, knowledge creation, and action.
Together. We will only transform the ways we design, carry out, and govern education through a society-wide approach that upholds education as a public endeavor and strengthens it as a common good – a form of shared wellbeing chosen and achieved together.
Arriving at new ways for education to serve our shared needs and common futures is the vision behind the Sahle-Work Commission’s call for a new social contract for education: a collective reframing of the purposes of education; who, what and how we teach; and the roles and responsibilities of all involved.
Education will have to serve us very differently than it has in the past. But this transformation also must be accomplished in a different way than before. We will need strengthened public dialogue and more inclusive participation – with priority placed on those whose voices, cultures, and knowledges have been most excluded and marginalized.
Broad social mobilization to transform education should be supported by innovation and research. Education needs to become a global responsibility with international cooperation expanded and made more equitable in a spirit of solidarity that builds trust on all levels.
A new social contract for education will require difficult changes in power relations between states, social movements, citizen groups, professional associations, business and other actors. Despite the inspiring work of many over recent decades, we still have to challenge ourselves to think and do differently. Engaging in this important task together is our best hope for transforming our living cultural traditions into sustainable futures.
Five directions of change
Our education systems must be inclusive and prioritize education for all. Schools and other educational institutions should not be places of competition for scarce opportunities. As much as schools need to be transformed, they must also be protected as unique social and educational sites because of the inclusion, equity, and individual and collective well-being they support. Thinking beyond the school, we should ensure that all forms of education work to broadly distribute knowledge and expertise, and not concentrate it in the hands of the few.
Educational systems transformed in this way will play a vital role in supporting the broad social participation needed to build just and sustainable futures. They will help us mobilize necessary change beyond the sphere of education.
Curricula must enable access to knowledge and, at the same time, decolonize it by encouraging children, youth and adults to consider what is excluded and what assumptions are made. While foundational skills remain of the essence, we must advocate for curricula that develop creativity, engagement, and a breadth of capabilities across the lifespan. Rather than bureaucratized grids of subjects, we need ecological, intercultural, and interdisciplinary study of issues that are relevant to people and contemporary challenges through community-engaged, problem-, and project-based pedagogies.
Curricula transformation in these directions will mean that learners of all ages will be better able to understand and act on the interdependencies, inequalities, asymmetries, and relationships that shape today’s world.
To foster the intellectual, social, and moral capacities of people to work together to transform the world with empathy and compassion, teachers themselves must have dignified working conditions and ongoing professional support that recognizes teaching itself as a collaborative profession. This entails fair and transparent compensation, healthy and safe workplaces, and systems that enable teachers to effectively use their judgment and expertise in designing student learning that goes well beyond the constraints of traditional ‘lessons’ and ‘classrooms’.
Making pedagogies of collaboration and solidarity guide the lifelong continuum of teachers’ careers will enable the construction of new educational environments and a culture of ongoing innovation, exploration and research.
We need new educational strategies that shape digital technologies as a force for social solidarity rather than for partisan politics or self-promotion. Technological interventions should be humble and curious about those they claim to be serving and involve affected actors in defining the contours of problems and the acceptable range of solutions.
A new technological paradigm that remains in constant relationship with democratic values and inclusive, participatory practices will best serve our intertwined human and planetary futures.
It is increasingly clear that to overcome past injustices and transform the future there needs to be greater world-wide collective responsibility for education. Education is now moving beyond national borders. Stewarding education as a global common good will require moving beyond philanthropy and aid – to also think about reparations for the glaring inequalities that have been created and permitted in our world.
A significant North-to-South transfer of resources and increased South-South cooperation will help us ensure the full development of human capabilities, regardless of circumstance or birth, and help make the knowledge commons truly global and open for all to use and contribute to.
The proposals in this statement from the International Commission on the Futures of Education are offered in a spirit of humility (1) because the Commission is fully aware that educational transformation must be accompanied by social, political and economic transformations, and (2) because the Commission believes that authentic educational transformation needs to be localized and co-constructed in each national context.