Celebrating the 2022 International Day of Education by changing course and transforming education

Illustration by Amy-Leigh Braaf

Celebrating the 2022 International Day of Education by changing course and transforming education

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1948, and at that time, over 46 percent of the world’s population had gone to school. Since then over 95 percent of the world’s 8 billion people have gone to school. Enrolment in 2020 exceeded 90 percent in primary school, 85 percent in secondary, and 65 percent in high school. Despite, substantial global expansion of access, hundreds of millions of children, and adolescents continue to be denied their basic right to a decent education due to numerous exclusions.

The COVID-19 pandemic has worsened an already-existing education deficit. Before COVID-19, Sub-Saharan Africa had approximately 100 million children from pre-school to tertiary education level who were not in school due to a lack of investment, living in areas of conflict, low quality of the educational system, or continuing inequities between the affluent and poor, girls and boys, as well as the rural and urban divide. According to a UNESCO Advocacy Paper titled “How many students are at risk of not returning to school?”, an additional 5.3 million children in Sub-Saharan Africa were expected not to return to school in 2020 as a result of the impact of COVID-19 (UNESCO, 2020). I assume that the situation worsened in 2021 because anecdotal evidence suggests that the more children stay out of school, the less likely they are to return to classrooms.

 

“The COVID-19 pandemic has worsened an already-existing education deficit. Before COVID-19, Sub-Saharan Africa had approximately 100 million children from pre-school to tertiary education level who were not in school due to a lack of investment, living in areas of conflict, low quality of the educational system, or continuing inequities between the affluent and poor, girls and boys, as well as the rural and urban divide.”

Poverty is a major barrier that limits millions of children from accessing educational opportunities. According to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization’s (UNESCO) Institute for Statistics (UIS), there are 123 girls for every 100 boys of primary school age who are not enrolled. Girls are significantly more excluded in lower and upper secondary school. The poorest females in nine of the world’s poorest nations spend an average of two years less in school than their male counterparts. As girls reach adolescence, they encounter unique social and economic obstacles, including early marriage or unplanned pregnancies, domestic labour, and concerns with menstruation health and stigma. To ensure that females finish their secondary education, the obligation extends beyond the walls of the school building itself. Parents/guardians, community leaders, religious leaders, teachers, NGOs, the private sector and the state should join hands together to ensure that girls start and finish their education.

“To ensure that females finish their secondary education, the obligation extends beyond the walls of the school building itself. Parents/guardians, community leaders, religious leaders, teachers, NGOs, the private sector and the state should join hands together to ensure that girls start and finish their education.”

 Numerous commentators and researchers have reported that if we stay on our current course, we are committing to a world filled with reprehensible inequalities and exploitation, as well as the erosion of social cohesion and human rights, democratic backsliding, technological disruption, environmental destruction, and the catastrophic loss of biodiversity that comes with climate change. It is safe to conclude that since the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic, the well-being of children in sub-Saharan Africa has been under siege from all directions.

 

January 24th, 2022 marks the fourth International Day of Education, and this year’s theme is “Changing course, transforming education”. A reimagined education system underpins the rebirth and transformation of societies because education systems that are inflexible often repeat and prolong the same problems that jeopardize our common destiny. The priceless value of education rests in its ability to link us to the world and others, to take us out of our comfort zones, and to open us up to new possibilities. Our shared difficulties may be addressed with scientific, technological, and creative solutions. It is through education that we can cultivate the knowledge and skills necessary to create a society that is more socially inclusive, economically equitable, and ecologically sustainable in the future. It’s been widely stated that, as things now stand, humanity is faced with an existential choice: either continue along an unsustainable path or fundamentally alter direction. Education is, very appropriately, a tenet of the 2030 Framework for Sustainable Development – a vision for humanity that is inclusive aimed at advancing the well-being, justice, and peace for all.

“The priceless value of education rests in its ability to link us to the world and others, to take us out of our comfort zones, and to open us up to new possibilities. Our shared difficulties may be addressed with scientific, technological, and creative solutions. It is through education that we can cultivate the knowledge and skills necessary to create a society that is more socially inclusive, economically equitable, and ecologically sustainable in the future.”

Defining the purpose of a social contract

The social contract concept dates back to Protagoras and Epicurus. However, in its recognizably contemporary form, Thomas Hobbes revives the theory, which was further elaborated in various ways by John Locke, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and Immanuel Kant (D’Agostino, Gaus and Thrasher, 2017). Following Kant, the concept went out of favour with political theorists until John Rawls revitalized it. It has been central to the work of several moral and political philosophers in recent years. The ultimate purpose of social contract theories is to demonstrate the rationality of social (moral, political, legal, etc.) standards. This does not separate the social contract from other theories in moral and political philosophy that seek to rationalize moral and political principles. The social contract method is different in that justification is not based on external reason or truth. As to T. M. Scanlon’s interpretation, rational agreement (or non-rejection) generates justification. That is, the fact that everyone in society agrees on a rule or principle is the primary justification for that rule or concept.

The need of rewriting the educational social contract/compact

Creating a new social contract for education is all the more critical in light of ongoing societal upheavals and impending dramatic disruptions. It must address the current web of inequities that support educational and social exclusions while also contributing to the shaping of ecologically sustainable, socially fair, and inclusive shared futures. Any social compact for education must begin with a shared vision of education’s public purpose. The new social contract or compact for education must assist us in uniting behind common goals and providing the knowledge and creativity necessary to design sustainable and peaceful futures for everyone that are rooted in social, economic, and environmental justice. A new social compact for education must be founded on two principles: (i) the right to education; and (ii) a commitment to education as a public communal endeavor and a shared benefit. The discourse and action required to develop a new social contract for education must be firmly rooted in an affirmation of human rights.

 

It is important to look at how our current conceptions of education, knowledge, and learning limit our ability to forge new routes and achieve the futures we want. We can’t go where we want to go by just extending the present educational development paradigm. Our educational system must strive to bring people together around common goals and offer them access to the science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) skills they need to create a fairer and equitable world. When it comes to redressing past injustices and preparing us for the future, the new social compact for education must do both. To that end, the new social contract for education should prioritize the following broad strokes:

“The new social contract or compact for education must assist us in uniting behind common goals and providing the knowledge and creativity necessary to design sustainable and peaceful futures for everyone that are rooted in social, economic, and environmental justice.”

Education should be promoted as a public endeavour and a common good

When it comes to education, it is a collaborative endeavor that helps people and communities grow together. As part of a new social compact for education, there must be a commitment on a societal level to include everyone in public discussions about education. This emphasis on participation is what distinguishes education as a common good – a kind of social well-being that is collaboratively decided and obtained.

Teachers must be at the heart of their work and their vocation

When it comes to a new educational social compact, teachers need to be at the forefront, and their work has to be respected for the collaborative endeavour it is, to foster educational and social reform. Teaching requires a combination of empathy, skill, knowledge, and morality. Teachers’ work should be characterized by cooperation and collaboration. As the well-paid and well-recognized master convenors of educational relationships, places, and times, we should encourage and support teachers to work together. Teams and enabling settings that cater to the demands of pupils in terms of their physical, social, and emotional development are essential to the production of high-quality teaching. Teaching professionals should be encouraged and adequately rewarded for their contributions to the development of new knowledge, research topics, and educational approaches. Teachers should be given the flexibility and authority to teach how they see fit. Developing a strong sense of self as a teacher should be a top priority. Proper training and continued education are necessary to guarantee that instructors have the knowledge and skills necessary to create and lead student learning. Teachers should take involved in public discussions on education policy. Teachers must be included in societal discussions and participatory decision-making processes if we are to rethink education as a common enterprise.

“When it comes to a new educational social compact, teachers need to be at the forefront, and their work has to be respected for the collaborative endeavour it is, to foster educational and social reform.”

Cooperation and solidarity should be at the heart of pedagogy

Bringing students and teachers together to collaborate to alter the world is essential in a new educational social compact. Mutual respect for difference, reparative justice, as well as a caring and reciprocity ethic should be the foundations of cooperative and solidarity pedagogies. Pedagogy connects. By learning from one another, instructors and students evolve. Pedagogical interactions are defined by the creative tension of simultaneous individual and social change. The conventional educational triangle has students, instructors, and knowledge. The knowledge commons feed and nurture teaching and learning.

Curricula should be developed in response to the abundance of existing information and include ecological, intercultural, and interdisciplinary learning

An ecological, multicultural, and multidisciplinary curriculum would enable learners to access and develop information while strengthening their ability to evaluate and apply it. A curriculum is more than a grid of school topics, and we need to conceive about it that way. We must define curriculum issues in terms of developing capabilities and two key processes: acquiring information as part of humanity’s shared legacy, and collectively creating new knowledge and worlds. Learning designs might be child, topic, learner, or instructor centred. Academic or applied knowledge might be scientific or humanist, specialized or omniscient. While each technique has merit, new paradigms and viewpoints are necessary to capture the increasing complexity of knowledge-world collaborations. Educators should approach knowledge acquisition by determining what should be learnt and what should be unlearned. Notably, the conventional wisdom on development and economic growth must be reconsidered in light of the ecological crisis. Countering disinformation requires scientific, digital, and humanistic literacy. It is important to teach students how to discern between thorough research and propaganda. We must teach digital skills that enable students to utilize technology effectively. Students should be able to ‘act on’ science and technology by deciding how and why they are utilized.

“An ecological, multicultural, and multidisciplinary curriculum would enable learners to access and develop information while strengthening their ability to evaluate and apply it. A curriculum is more than a grid of school topics, and we need to conceive about it that way.”

Schools should be safeguarded as educational spaces

Schools should be safeguarded as educational spaces because they promote inclusivity, justice, and individual and community well-being. Additionally, schools should be restructured to better promote global change toward a more just, equitable, and sustainable future. Schools must be venues that bring together people from diverse origins and expose them to new challenges and possibilities they would not have encountered otherwise. Schools need to rethink their structures, classrooms, schedules, and student groups to promote and facilitate collaboration. Schools should be supported by digital technology, not replaced by them. It’s time for schools to set an example for future generations by protecting human rights and being carbon-neutral exemplars.

“Schools should be safeguarded as educational spaces because they promote inclusivity, justice, and individual and community well-being. Additionally, schools should be restructured to better promote global change toward a more just, equitable, and sustainable future.”

Written by Khetho Dlamini

Programme Manager

D’Agostino, F., Gaus, G. and Thrasher, J. (2017). Contemporary Approaches to the Social Contract (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy). [online] Stanford.edu. Available at: https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/contractarianism-contemporary/

UNESCO. (2021). UNESCO Futures of Education report – Reimagining our futures together: a new social contract for education. [online] Available at: https://www.guninetwork.org/publication/unesco-futures-education-report-reimagining-our-futures-together-new-social-contract

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