Editorial - Juan Carlos Tedesco
In the afterword to No. 85-86 of Prospects - the first in the series of 100 ‘Thinkers on education’ and the first also to be edited under the responsibility of the International Bureau of Education - we said that we had assumed a very demanding inheritance: that of maintaining intellectual rigour, respect for diversity and the ability to adapt to change. In over twenty years of existence, Prospects has been able to confront these three challenges by adopting an interdisciplinary approach, opening up its pages to researchers from all over the world and stimulating debate between different currents of thought. Keeping this tradition going, however, will require innovation.
Mankind at present is coping not so much with a circumstantial, passing crisis, but rather with the appearance of new forms of social, economic and political organization. The ‘information society’, ‘post-capitalist society’, ‘post-industrial society’ or ‘third wave’ are some of the expressions made popular in recent years by authors such as Jacques Delors, Peter Drucker and Alvin Toffler. Beyond the differences of approach and prognostication, all analysts agree that the new millennium will usher in profound changes in production methods, political organization, social structure and hence educational and cultural patterns. It is worth noting that, while the traditional type of revolutionary discourse has practically disappeared from the political arena, new pronouncements forecasting social and economic upheaval and modifying all dimensions of social and personal life now fill the pages and screens of the communication media. The bearers of these new revolutionary messages are not just political leaders representing the poor, the excluded and the exploited; on the contrary, they are individuals of very different political persuasions, familiar with state-of-the-art technologies and linked to the most modern sectors of the economy.
If one looks at the situation from the point of view of education and educators, one may appreciate the extent of the consensus that knowledge and information are the most significant variables when it comes to explaining new forms of social and economic organization. The notion has already become commonplace that the basic resources both for society and for individuals will consist of information, knowledge and the ability to produce and manage them. Education, understood as the activity through which knowledge is produced and distributed, thereby assumes an unprecedented degree of historic importance, in at least two different ways:
These challenges raise many questions. No one is satisfied with the way education is currently responding to the requirements of a society in the throes of upheaval. Education is in need of new content, new institutional designs, new agreements between its different actors, and it also needs to identify the basic aspects which must remain, the fundamental values of the human condition which must be strengthened. Since there is no general agreement, no one is in a position to offer categorical answers to the questions raised by the new social and educational scenario. It therefore appears essential to rest our thinking on doubt and query, rather than on some claim to a single, categorical answer, as we are accustomed. The present circumstances, instead of extending the accepted range of uncertainty, are restricting it. Rejecting doubt is tantamount to encouraging the expansion of dichotomous visions, promising either a radiant destiny or total catastrophe. A society which is exposed to a constant, rapid pace of change needs citizens and institutions who are able to handle uncertainty without trying to stifle debate. Experimentation, which has been admitted so far only as a tool of scientific investigation, should be tried in both theoretical thinking and political practice.
Of all the problems and possibilities which are emerging in this period of upheaval, four aspects in particular are worth mentioning for their effects on future Prospects policy:
In the first place, the process of social change presently runs so deep that we have to reconsider basic issues regarding the purposes of education. Who is to assume responsibility for educating the new generations, and what cultural legacy, what values, what concept of man and society do we wish to pass on? The lack of discernment in vast segments of society and the short-sighted views underlying many decisions of political and economic leaders have revived the need to discuss basic questions. Philosophical thought is regaining the importance it once had.
Obviously, this is not meant in the sense of purely metaphysical conjecture, unconnected with operational aspects. On the contrary, the idea should be to situate technical and operational analyses within the overall framework of a concept which can give meaning to our behaviour. Any technical analysis failing to take account of this general framework is merely another version of technocratic thought. On the other hand, discussing the purposes of education while ignoring its operational aspects would not only be sterile from the point of view of action but abstract and unproductive from a theoretical point of view. One of Prospects’ basic objectives will be to stimulate reflection on educational methods, institutional design and political strategies.
Secondly, as a result of the rapid pace of social change and the need to resolve the urgent and in many cases dramatic problems facing society, traditional relations between research, information and decision-making have been modified. Building democracy requires educating a citizen who is able to access information, to understand what is going on, who is capable of taking an active and conscious part in the proceedings. Access to information, in the broader sense of the term, is a crucial part of the process of building and strengthening democracy. The challenge consists therefore of designing instruments that can render educational information transparent. We have been accustomed until now to demand greater technical rationality in political decisions. Our efforts were aimed at improving the link between research and decision-making, facilitating the access of decision-makers to the results of research and to information systems. In the future, however, there will be a significant increase in the number of decision-makers, and therefore a greater need to train society as a whole to monitor the decisions taken at the highest political level. As a result, information systems and research results will take on a much more important political dimension than in the past. This leaves us facing a double challenge: that of introducing higher levels of technical rationality in political decision-making, as well as raising levels of political awareness of research objectives and the instruments of technical information.
Thirdly, it is worth noting that comparative education has recently acquired renewed significance. Now, much more than in the past, countries are observing the educational policies of other countries and comparing results. Successes and failures in terms of economic competitiveness are directly related to the amount of investment in education and in scientific and technological research, and to the results achieved with learning, and to specific forms of partnership between the actors in the educational process. But just as acutely, comparison is related to the strengthening of one’s own cultural identity, and to the identification and enhancement of one’s own values. One effect of the trend towards globalization, the supranational and the incorporation of the means of circulating information is the need both to reassert one’s own values and to open up to others, to those that are different. As a means of analysis, comparative education in this respect has a great deal to offer, not only in terms of giving knowledge, but also as a means to promote tolerance, international understanding and respect for what is different.
In the fourth place, we must assume the consequences of the currently accepted principle whereby education is the responsibility of all. This principle is valid not only in terms of financing education, but also in terms of defining educational contents and policies. Education, now more than ever, requires an intellectual effort by everyone. This means that intellectuals and scientists in general, and not only the educators, pedagogues and researchers directly linked to the educational sciences, must assume responsibility for thinking about education for the present and for the future.
These brief preliminary thoughts may help to explain both the continuity of some of Prospects’ features and its changes. The traditional sections of the review will be maintained. We shall, however, be giving more importance to discussions about the future; we shall systematically be calling on philosophers, economists, sociologists, anthropologists and political and intellectual leaders in general to express their views on education and its role in society. We shall also give greater importance to comparative aspects of education. Through a network of correspondents in different parts of the world, we shall do our best to reflect the existing diversity of situations and approaches to problems and we shall attempt to provide sustained support and circulation for the work of researchers in developing countries.
JUAN CARLOS TEDESCO
1. Hanna Arendt, The human condition, Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 1958.
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