The two-day Initiative roundtable conference, 'Human Education in the 3rd Millennium', held on July 7-8, 2019 in Dharamsala, India, was the first event of the global education initiative, which brought together scholars from ten countries, and included the Dalai Lama as a special keynote speaker. The main conclusion of the conference was to initiate the World Forum 'Human Education in the 3rd Millennium' in December 2020 aimed at developing a collective Declaration.
We have come together with shared concerns regarding dangerous trends affecting global society and education. Humankind, which has become a planetary power, has considerable influence on the future the entire Earth. Education needs to nurture new human responsibility to reduce violence against nature and other people. In this sense our initiative supports the directives of UNESCO on education, which embody the needs of the world. We share the ideas presented in the 1972 and 1998 reports to UNESCO, but we testify that they have not been properly realized. So in orderto make education capable of accomplishing goals for the world, we need to identify and confront certain aspects of current educational policies, including managerialism and neo-liberal ideologies, and clarify the current situation within education itself, that is characterized by very low interest in educators and educatees as humans as well as the very low interest in collective well-being and democratic values. This situation contributes to the technocratic-informational scenario that characterizes the development of civilization in the post-industrial era.
We are aware of various other attempts and initiatives in educational practice, theory, and philosophy in the world, aimed at changes in education. We are making common cause with them and believe that the World Forum will provide a place for many of them. Our initiative is based on belief in the need to give a voice to educators and educationists and belief in the possibility of coming to a collective decision in the form of a Declaration by the specially developed organization of the World Forum.
A philosophical and interdisciplinary approach to the concerns of education compels us to examine the notion of 'being human' that apparently underpins educational paradigms and policies around the globe.
Thus we identify four main themes as necessary and essential to the World Forum on 'Human Education in the 3rd Millennium': educational policy; being human; democracy; education.
1. Damaging trends in education, strongly associated with neoliberalist ideology, reduce teachers and students to economic units that produce and consume. This is evident in the standardization, benchmarking, high-stakes testing, accountability measures, commercialization and the centralized control of education that undermines the values and norms of democracy and a social ethos of shared purpose. The neoliberal creation of an individualistic society immersed in populism, sectarianism and narrow self-interest is unacceptable at a time when the public good, democratic norms and global cooperation are critical for a socially just, environmentally sustainable and peaceful future.
Education policies around the globe are privileging the concept of 'learning' over 'education'. 'Learning' lends itself more readily to cultures of high-stakes testing.
2. Since the scope of 'education' is much broader than 'learning', educational policies should include our relationship with the living world, human societies and ourselves.
3. 'Miseducative' trends, detrimental to individuals and the larger human community, seem to have emerged under politically constructed conditions that prevent educators from participating in policy making. Current trends reflect a collusion between political and corporate power that marginalizes educators, their professional judgments, professional and academic autonomy and self-determination.
4. All ideological approaches to education are based on assumptions about human nature. (Thus, neoliberalism reduces humans to 'homo economicus', rational maximizer). But there might be greater educative value in revisiting questions such as 'what is a human being?' and 'what is an educated human being?' and 'what ought to be the higher purposes of human beings?', since human being by own nature is inexhaustible and indefinable.
5. Students need to be supported in learning how to exercise their agency and live happy and meaningful lives. To this end, education should be designed to give expression to student and teacher agency and their need to make meaning and belong. Eudaimonia (happiness/ flourishing), which is the direction of human aspiration, requires an education grounded in a sound understanding of human nature, motivation, needs and desires, and also an education grounded in a sound understanding of the inherent value of the whole Earth, both natural and human (in all of its ecological and social diversity).
6. Education should recognize and address the human need for an inner life and self-transcendence, with values of empathy, fraternity and compassion. The ethical dimensions of human development need to be made integral to meaningful knowledge, capacities, skills and sensibilities.
7. Education also needs to engage with the challenges of a 'post-human' era which is likely to bring radical shifts in our understanding of what it is to be human.
8. Democracy refers not only to governance designed to protect individual rights and provide political representation. It is a means for creating spaces and dialogue for cooperative ways of life that value equal dignity for all, rights of self-determination, social justice and solidarity. Creating such dialogic and cooperative spaces requires overcoming of epistemic injustice, that is, the inclusion of everyday knowledge, experiences and worldviews also of socially and culturally marginalized students in formal education. (See also the attachment)
9. There is an inherent tension between the ideology of neoliberalism and democratic values. Neoliberalism is a form of totalitarianism which makes the economy an unassailable idol to be served – not critiqued. By contrast, democracy places the public good, justice and freedom above economics. The embodiment of neoliberalism with its 'common sense' ideals, promotes the pursuit of private good while democracy promotes public interest which benefits everyone. That is why ideals of democracy in education are under attack by populism, etc. and worth defending.
10. In this sense universities have specific responsibilities towards the public sphere: to inform public debate and to help society address complex matters.
11. Education cultures in neoliberal conditions are increasingly defined by managerial deference, technocratic efficiency, upward accountability, and performance, along with the involvement of new actors and organizations from business and philanthropy. Depoliticization and the transformation of education from a public good into a private good is determinative to such developments. To combat these tendencies, education must be open, transparent and democratic so that the legitimacy of education is not judged in terms of narrow instrumental claims of efficiency or effectiveness.
12. Our concern in reclaiming democracy is to affirm the need for educational institutions and cultures to respect teachers’ agency, voice, artistry, and professional judgment as fundamental to sound education. It is also to affirm a vision of education which empowers young people to become experimental, critical and creative human beings who value compassion and respect for others.
13. Reclaiming democracy requires public ownership and governance of schools in which schools are run by democratically accountable bodies that answer to the needs and interests of students, families and the communities they serve, rather than being run for-profit by opaque, unaccountable actors and institutions.
14. To overcome the narrow framework of 'learning' and design education that is able to discuss existing concerns and address them adequately, requires a different vision of education, based on a system of human-oriented principles.
15. Education must be designed to overcome epistemic injustice, that is, to include the everyday knowledge, experiences and worldviews of socially and culturally marginalized students, to pose questions and facilitate inquiry, to nurture critical, creative, and ethical thinking. Educational spaces that function as communities of inquiry sustain educatees' interest, motivation, and curiosity, while encouraging self-questioning, imagination, reflexivity as well as the development of empathy, emotional maturity, openness to others, and an appreciation of difference.
16. Questions of value, diversity, social justice, and human nature should be among the objects of reasoned and evidence-based inquiry in schools and other educational spaces. This would include the design of curriculums, teaching-learning resources and the preparation of teachers.
17. Education should also engage educatees in activities which enable them to experience a rewarding growth of self-determination and allow them to contribute to a better world through connection with other beings.