Global progress, education and enterprise

The President of the Global Progress Commission, Felipe González, delivering the opening speech, outlined what he described as the context in which discussions had been taking place, with reference to the commission’s work, as well as his personal approach to the topic for debate at the Seville seminar, namely education.

The Global Progress Commission.

Having set out the two types of seminar which the commission organizes – regional meetings or seminars and subject-specific seminars – the President went on to list the seven items for the proposed debate. He told his audience in Seville that three defining features of the contemporary world could be identified: economic globalization, increased capital movements and the technological revolution.

Keeping to the analytical method espoused by the Global Progress Commission, he highlighted the three main impacts of the said features on nations and their domestic affairs: the impact upon the structure of the state (moves towards supranational and ‘intra-national’ structures); the impact upon the state’s size and role (the quest for a ‘leaner and meaner’ state); and the state’s room for manoeuvre with regard to macroeconomic policy (the drive for sound and balanced macroeconomic policy and the scope available to left and right to put forward alternative income and spending policies).

Lastly, he reminded those present that the seventh item for general discussion, reintroducing a global analysis, dealt with organizing the international community and the open regionalism proposed as a working formula to counterbalance the power concentrated in the hands of the United States.

Education, education, education.

Taking as his basis the view that education constitutes the single most important strategic factor in meeting the challenges of the next millennium, the President of the Global Progress Commission described education as the purest form of investment in human capital – not merely social expenditure.

Education can also be approached from the point of view of solidarity. Primary education, for instance, has a crucial part to play in fostering a spirit of solidarity, provided that it is neither elitist in nature nor channelled solely towards encouraging competitiveness. Elitist and competitive schooling will not provide us with the foundations upon which to educate human beings able to distinguish, and thus respect ‘otherness’. In higher education, though, we can and must educate in order to achieve excellence; ‘qualificationitis’ is unnecessary as well as inadequate.

Let us therefore educate human beings in whom a sense of solidarity and of discernment of differences has been instilled, for it is education of that kind which reaps dividends.

Initially it might appear that this approach of combining education, solidarity and humanism has nothing in common with the strategy of short-term gain employed in the business sector, and its representatives would be inclined to disassociate themselves from it. That is why, as we know, Felipe González has suggested tackling matters from a new and different angle which does away with tribal rhetoric, yet whose virtue may be seen to lie in its adopting a business mentality. As regards the future of a company in the medium or long term (or, if you prefer, the chance of its generating profits beyond the short term), by supporting education in the same way as you support sound management, you are quite simply investing in human capital, the key to keeping growth in an open and globalized economy on track. Here the authorities have a role to play which no one else can.

But to return to our focus on education in terms of the solidarity that we, the advocates of progress, espouse, let us not forget that human solidarity also demands that expertise be redistributed in order to enable a huge number of countries, most of them African, to surmount the obstacle to development represented by a lack of expertise. These countries must make up lost ground in this area if they are to stand any chance of joining the development train, and here the strategic role of education comes to the fore once again. Fortunately, at the same time we have what might at first seem a paradoxical situation whereby the need for an industrial revolution could be sidestepped, and knowledge and expertise redistributed through the technological revolution. Here, then, new technologies and the information society could contribute to global human development in large measure.

The spirit of enterprise.

Redistributing knowledge and education is a necessity, but there is something missing when we fail to convert that knowledge into developing creative potential – that is, enterprise. What seven- or eight-year-old child does not dream of being this or that? Yet by the time we reach our adolescence or early adult life we have become people who would prefer to have our future arranged for us. Our education systems turn out people highly akin to bureaucrats or civil servants, for the public and private sectors alike. How else might we explain why of the 150 or so people who earn degrees from a certain Spanish business studies faculty, none wish to set up a business or seek a management post?

We must ensure that our education systems embrace a spirit of enterprise, of creativity, of running risks and making mistakes, and that they instill a sense of obligation. ‘We’ll support your enterprise in going it alone, and should you fail we’ll be there to help you out’.

The suggestion here is not to adopt the American lifestyle – anyone can become another Clinton or Reagan – but to arrive at a more active, more inclusive and more creative form of society, a process which includes reforming the welfare state.

Economic growth, cooperation in education, the university and global progress.

Their methodological approaches, the cultural backgrounds and the subjects they dealt with may have varied greatly, but the speakers at the four round-table discussions (see enclosed seminar agenda) followed the same robust line of argument in examining in great detail the key role played by education in information societies, providing as proof the connection between economic growth and education.

Ilva Johansson, focusing on the northern European perspective, laid emphasis on the need for education to be permanent and continuous, and stressed that the objective of education for all should be pursued steadfastly. Citizens must be educated in order to cope with change, and education was a tool to foster economic development, social justice, equality, democracy and integration.

Anissa Bouhadef highlighted a different cultural, political, social and economic context in which education is envisaged as a crucial element in progressive national policy, a means of curbing violence and an indispensable factor in establishing a culture of peace, democracy, pluralism and respect. She saw civic education suffused in humanist spirit and with the human being at the heart as the most effective means of achieving peace and social democracy. Although presented with reference to Algeria, her beliefs could nonetheless be applied to similar climates where violence, terrorism and authoritarianism have been frustrating the potential emergence of a pluralist, interdependent and peaceful society which would bind together progress, development and respect for human rights.

Giving the Latin American viewpoint, Jesús Rodríguez stated that the anxiety to leave behind a lengthy period in which economic development had been accompanied by social inequality had led to the suggestion that education should be viewed as the most remarkable means of guaranteeing equal opportunity in society and ushering in growth with equality. Ensuring that such a view prevailed would require hands-on policies in the public sector.

The discussion on cooperation in education highlighted an interesting contrast at the seminar. On the one hand, Vittorio Campione put forward the progressive European vision of education for development, undoubtedly based upon humanist values, solidarity and respect for diversity and different cultural identities, through which investment in the form of education and knowledge was transferred to those regions where education was lacking. On the other hand, Joseph Kisanji gave the African vision, according to which education equals development. In our view, these two approaches complement rather than contradict one another. In effect, Campione did not advocate education for development as a form of aid, but favoured an enhanced role for education within the policy towards more deprived countries and regions to produce a broad learning spectrum which geared people up to react to change. Kisanji took a similar line in his defence of educating Africans in other areas as well, such as technology, natural science and mathematics – in other words, ongoing education resulting in development and a nation able to educate itself, in complete contrast to the effects of the systems inherited from the colonial era and the period of decolonization alike.

The message delivered by Yehudi Menuhin and the education programme presented by Ricardo Lagos provided an equally interesting contrast. Again, however, they did not prove incompatible, for although they differed in form and method, a common humanist thread ran through the philosophy of both presentations.

Menuhin the great musician outlined a genuine manifesto calling for tolerance, mutual trust and reconciliation between adversaries. Once again education was presented as the most valuable means of attaining those goals, the special feature of Menuhin’s approach being his firm belief in the pedagogical virtues of fostering the creative arts and the senses, by which he was, of course, referring to music, song and dance. Focusing education in that direction develops trust in other people and things, and stimulates the pleasure derived from discovery. Education should be applied to the world of leisure as well as the world of work. We must nurture critical and original thought, not insecure people who will always be just a step away from violence and revenge. Finally, we should aid the emergence of a movement to reconcile capitalist and socialist values which would tackle the problem of unemployment and the new concept of work or activity.

Ricardo Lagos set out a broad programme for a progressive education policy which he expounded by listing the four challenges he felt education would have to overcome in the 21st century. The first would be the intellectual challenge of providing education with an emphasis on depth rather than width which would teach us how to learn and adapt to change at a rapid pace. The second would be the moral challenge of moving on from education geared towards competition to a blend of solidarity and competitiveness, of identity and pluralism whereby values, not truths, would be instilled. The third would be the challenge of achieving equality, not so much by extending education to more people as by improving the chances of equal achievement and access to quality education for all. The fourth and last would be the organizational challenge, implying decentralized education and monitoring standards.

Lastly, the seminar analysed the role of the University in education and development. Emphasis was placed on the ease with which universities could maintain mutual contact and thus enhance the redistribution of knowledge; on compiling and then disseminating available research; on the vocation of the university in fostering cooperation in education; and on the potential of institutions of higher learning to train the voluntary corps for professional life. Marta Elena Cassaus gave a particularly eloquent account of her experience with regard to the pilot project on intercultural education for development, promoted by Madrid University and designed to educate leaders of indigenous peoples in Guatemala. Based on the conviction that formal education fails to further solidarity or cooperation in education, the project intends to adopt a new multicultural and inclusive approach which recognizes peoples of different backgrounds, regardless of ethnic origin or gender.