Education, empowerment and socialhealing (Michael Manley)

I am availing myself of the opportunity provided to each member of the Commission to add a brief personal comment. I do so not to add anything new – the Report is comprehensive – but by way of emphasis.

I raise five points: First, the educational process in the future, to the extent that we can anticipate coming events by studying present experience, will have to shoulder a contradictory burden.

On the one hand an education system is the guardian of standards: standards of academic excellence, scientific truth and technological relevance. As such the system tends to be exclusionary, concentrating energy on those students who demonstrate abilities and aptitudes that are consistent with norms of excellence. The rest will tend to be relegated to a lesser process of training for life as part of a process of exclusion from the best that society can offer.

On the other hand we live in a world which is being increasingly torn apart by intractable divisions. There is the United States in danger of entrenching a permanent dichotomy between a largely black underclass and the rest of the society,
largely white.

European social fabric is beginning to fray under the strains which are surfacing between native majorities and migrant worker minorities. Ethnic tensions have torn apart Bosnia and Sri Lanka, while their tribal equivalents create
similar instabilities in Nigeria, Angola or Rwanda. In short, the world is crying out for inclusionary, healing, uniting influences. These cannot begin with political endeavour with much prospect of success. Often politics is driven by these very tensions. The same is true of parents who are, of necessity, often the seat of the problem. It is the education system and, in particular, the school that provides the best, perhaps the only hope of starting the healing, inclusionary social process.

The school of today and tomorrow must plant the seeds of caring so that underclasses do not become the victims of an ideology of exclusion; must nurture the concept of an over-arching humanity in which the brilliant, the average and
even the disturbed, the Muslim and the Christian, the Hausa and the Ibo, the Irish Catholic and the Protestant, all occupy an equal place in a process of permanent social inclusion.

In this sense the school, which must be the guardian of standards, must be the catalyst for human values which are as universal as the scientific truths which must be protected. Indeed, if we do not achieve a widely effective breakthrough in
multicultural education, we may find that increased success in the imparting of skills can have an ultimately negative impact. It is not fanciful to anticipate a situation in which highly educated people are trained to fight each other with increasingly deadly effect. For example, more cost-effectively achieved ethnic cleansing could be the price
of failure to address both sides of the educational challenge.

Secondly, the role which education must play in the process of empowerment can be seen in both an obvious and a more profound way. Clearly, a young person will be empowered to the extent that education imparts marketable skills. At the same time, empowerment involves social skills beginning with an understanding of how societies work; what are the systems of power and the levers to which they respond; how to influence decision-making and the extent to which this is affected by social dynamics.

The examples can be multiplied almost indefinitely. If all of this is not facilitated by the educational process, the underclass in pro s p e rous societies will re m a i n permanently frozen in powerlessness; developing countries will never develop the
means to advancing because they will be unable to take profitable advantage of the opportunities in the global market-place. Furthermore, all societies, at whatever stage of development, will be increasingly subject to wrenching social tensions as the gaps between rich and poor become ever more deeply entrenched, ever more intractable.

A tragic and potentially disastrous situation now exists in the world. The corrective programmes imposed by the International Monetary Fund and the structural adjustment programmes by the International Development Bank have
massively invaded and compressed the capacity of developing countries to finance the delivery of education in terms of quantitative and qualitative improvement.

Recent moves to ameliorate this process are coming far too little and too late.

Thus, far from being the moving force behind individual and collective empowerment, education is in retreat in many parts of the world.

It is the ultimate irony that UNESCO calls for the development of new p a radigms for the twenty-first century while the multilateral financial institutions, themselves the creatures of Bretton Woods and the United Nations system, conspire to ensure that the pervasive paradigm in recent years can be summed up as ‘compression and retreat’. We must press for a dramatic reversal as the pre-condition of a credible set of recommendations.

The paradoxes which are implicit in the first two points lead us to the third question of emphasis. To be effective, an education system must operate within the context of a social compact, understood and supported by all. Governments have a huge responsibility to act as the brokers of this compact, a process which should begin within the political system itself. Unity among political leaders is the indispensable prerequisite for unity in society are large about the education system.

Only by these means can we ensure that it serves the need for standards and the imperative of a broad national consensus directed towards social justice.

Fourthly, the first three points have an implication for the work which should follow the publication of the report. How will we capture the attention of governments and societies so that these years of work have an impact globally and within each
society?

The report is being presented at a time when the state itself is in substantial retreat in many countries. In addition to pressures exerted by the multilateral financial institutions, governments have become the targets of minimalist ideology or the victims of shrinking resources. For these reasons alone it is possible to predict a diminishing role for the state in education systems in much of the world. Something will have to take up the slack if individual societies are to hope to improve or maintain their position in the global market-place and solve the problems posed by increasingly bitter social division. The provision of adequate resources is not the least of the issues which must be addressed by each society.

Accordingly, UNESCO needs to organize teams of persons who take the report, its analyses, its conclusions and its recommendations to every corner of the globe. The report should become the basis for governmental discussion; parliamentary debate; examination by research departments of political parties; within the ranks of educators and the wider body of academe; among religious leaders and last, but by no means least, in schools themselves, perhaps in simplified form.

My final comment is about the members of the teaching profession and the role which they must continue to play as individuals. Economic reality requires and improving technology facilitates the delivery of more and more of the substance of education by impersonal means such as video and audio tapes or even more indirectly, as in the case of distance learning. These technical advances are entirely desirable if education is to be provided in the most cost-effective way to the greatest number of people around the globe. However, there is an inherent danger against which we must guard.

Throughout history teachers have played a role more profound and subtle than that of instruction. Bringing to their vocation a passion for ideas and values together with a love of children and an understanding of the process by which
you plant the seeds of motivation, the profession has inspired millions of people to become everything from community activists to loving parents; from distinguished professionals to valued leaders in every aspect of a society’s life. It is
imperative that we never lose sight of the teacher in this personal, interfacing sense as the critical instrument in the educational process.

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