In view of the People’s Summit of Rio+20, the International Council for Adult Education (ICAE) organized a virtual exchange to spark an international debate to rethink the learning needs for a world worth living in, in a context where paradigms are shifting. Sergio Haddad describes the challenge and its connection to adult education. Sergio has for many years served on the Executive Committee of ICAE Secretary. In 1994 he created the NGO Ação Educativa with a mission of promoting educational and youth rights, social justice, participative democracy and sustainable development in Brazil. He is deeply involved with organizing the World Social Fora in Brazil.
“The emerging of the second phase of the capitalist economic crisis – now focused in Europe, but reaching all the main countries – enlarges the perverse social effects of the serious recession that burst in 2008. At the same time, the continuous growth of China and other emerging countries demands more and more natural resources. Both processes impact strongly on the global environmental crisis and deepen social inequalities, creating new humanitarian crisis. All of them require a deep modification in the economic, social, cultural and political system – the global capitalism and its institutions. Together they constitute a civilization crisis that carries on the destiny of billions of human beings.
There is a world meeting coming soon where these problems could be discussed and solutions found, if there was political will among the main national leaders: the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20) that will be held in Rio de Janeiro from June 20-22, 2012. This meeting brings the symbolism of the twenty years of the United Nations Conference on Development and Environment (Rio 92) and all the conferences that took place afterwards, a series of events where an important diagnosis was made, indicating that the world was accumulating huge structural problems and proposals were elaborated to face them.
... Changes will certainly come, but they will only occur through a bottom up approach, and the leading role of civil society.”
This is how the call for the civil society to join Rio+20 next year in Brazil starts. Economic crisis, socio-environmental crisis and paradigm crisis seem to complement each other in a historic moment which many refer to as a “civilization crisis”. To get over the current situation, the solution relies on the central role played by civil society in view of the lack of action from a great part of the governments, powerless to face these challenges and driven by the interests of the great corporations and the world financial system.
The reference to a civilization crisis exists because the values and ethical paradigms that feed the current civilization model can no longer be fulfilled in actions. We can no longer think in societies that promote values and lifetime goals such as: earn more to consume more and have more. Such values have created a development model in which only 20 % of the world population consumes 80 % of all production, which means that to enable some people to accomplish the dream to have more and more, it is necessary that others have less and less. In addition, to enable a few to consume a lot we are depleting the natural resources, harming the environment and those who live on this planet. Global warming is the most perverse face of this environmental crisis. It is an unsustainable model! We have to overcome this model based on a win or lose approach to a win-win model, with principles and ethical values based on mutual care among human beings, coexisting and sharing, and also based on our reconciliation with nature. These are values that will guide society towards new economic models and new government actions.
High unemployment rates, increasing inequality, income concentration, over exploitation and precarious jobs, environmental deterioration, concentration of land ownership, growing slums, precarious social services, privatization of common goods, increasing discrimination of different kinds, are all signs of this crisis that seems to be long term. Growing migration of populations looking for decent work and survival has resulted in more violence and repression from the countries that host these populations, increasing xenophobia and discrimination.
The answers given by governments to overcome this crisis are the same ones given through traditional economic adjustments, and we already know the consequences of the famous measures of fiscal austerity: increase of unemployment, cuts in public expenses, tax increase and the use of public resources to save the financial system and the great corporations. Let’s take as an example the case of Greece and other European countries that, driven by financial logic, involved their economies in excessive speculation creating an unsustainable bubble in the financial sector instead of investing in the productive one. The result we can see is the suffering of their people, who have to deal with the impact of this financial logic which is based on accumulation and concentration of profit. This is the reality of the countries that have traditionally exerted power across the world.
At the same time, the emerging countries, called BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa), have been choosing the path of economic growth at any cost, based on the same production patterns of the model that is in crisis today, with great consumption of natural resources, without being able to offer well-being for their people in a minimal and fair way, reinforcing inequalities and perpetuating the polluting consumption model.
Once again the poor will bear the cost of this model, those who cannot defend themselves and enforce their rights. Likewise, the environment is directly affected, presenting clear indications that its natural cycle is changing. The big corporations and the financial system that is mainly responsible for the crisis – as a result of governments’ inability to regulate the markets during these decades of neoliberal policies – will get away, again, unharmed, and their profits will remain basically unaltered.
Education, as a human right and a public service, can be used as an example of this crisis: privatization, unqualified teachers with low wages and with no motivation, low quality in services and in students’ performance. Furthermore, the objectives to develop curricula to train citizens for a fair and democratic world have turned into programs oriented by the logic of the market and the needs of the financial system: competitiveness and dehumanized technological training.
All this indicates that most of the objectives subscribed to by nations through different international agreements like the Belem Framework for Action, the Millennium Development Goals and Education for All – the year 2015 being the deadline to present results – will not be achieved, and will pose more difficulties in this context of world crisis.
In view of this context, it is worth asking ourselves, among other things, how can we analyse the crisis and its impacts? What are the structural causes of the multiple crises and the failure in the implementation of international agreements? What challenges do democratic systems face to create new institutions for a non-speculative financial system that guarantees economic and social rights and a development that does not destroy the environment? What are the consequences in the field of education? How can we build a new economy based on social and environmental justice that promotes education under new conditions?
“People are facing the upsurge of popular struggles in a much more original, diffuse and vigorous way than any other seen in the last decades. Political mobilizations overwhelmed the Arab world. The Indignados take to the squares in Spain and in many other European countries.
The Occupy Wall Street movement spreads across the United States. Indigenous protests have strong impact in the complex Andean region. An unusual number of popular movements reach even those countries known for their social stability. On October 15th we saw demonstrations in almost a thousand cities in 82 countries.
The indignation with inequality and political and social injustice appear as a common characteristic among all these movements that question the ‘system’or the ‘power’, confront its destructiveness and break with the passivity of the neoliberal decades. Austerity policies promise more misery, more discrimination, and the youth is outraged with this reality and mobilized for their future. In all continents, sectors that until now used to be apathetic set in motion in a democratic, pluralist, unitary and autonomous way, to question the established power.
These are movements that emerge from present needs and aspirations, after three decades of neoliberal globalization. These are mobilizations that bear values that were lost in neoliberal times, like empathy towards the suffering of others, solidarity, defense of equality, search for justice, recognition of diversity, criticism towards market homogenization in the world, appreciation of nature
– essential ideas for the reconstruction of a counter hegemonic project, more humane and fair.”
With these words, the message disseminated by the organizers of the Peoples’ Summit, an activity parallel to Rio+20, analyses the moment of reaction against the above-mentioned crisis. It is foreseen that the same kind of mobilization will continue in the process of Rio+20, and many activities will be part of this gathering of strengths by civil society with the following agenda: the mobilizations against the G20 in Paris that took place on 3rd. and 4th November; the mobilizations at COP17, in Durban from 28th November to 9th December; The Thematic Social Forum, in Porto Alegre, in January 2012; The Forum on Water, in Marseille, in April 2012.
The Thematic Social Forum: Capitalist Crisis, Social and Environmental Justice that will be held in Porto Alegre and the Metropolitan Region from 24th to 29th January 2012, is one of these moments where civil society will gather forces, through debates about the reality of this world, the formulation of proposals to overcome the crisis and elaborating strategies of mobilization. Its focus is on the great world meeting called Rio+20, in the context of the global crisis.
It is expected that Porto Alegre and the Metropolitan Region could be, in 2012, the meeting point of the Indignados, the local peoples and all the anti-systemic movements, able to present a way out of the crisis. Guidelines and global campaigns will come up from this meeting. It is very important to be aware that this will only be effective if we are able to affirm and transmit an alternative paradigm of society, if we build a common vocabulary capable of articulating the diffuse demands of a great part of the population. Because it is a thematic forum, it will be able to build a programmatic and strategic reflection that will also be presented at Rio+20 and will attract crowds to Rio de Janeiro, as announced in its call.
In the field of education we have the Global Campaign for the Right to Education and different national campaigns; different popular educat ion movements, many of them being mainstreamed by gender, race/ethnicity, sexual orientation perspective. We also have as an example the important movement of the Chilean students.
These and other articulations of civil society movements lead us to ask ourselves: How can we make the struggles of resistance and the defence of quality public education visible, and who carries the future now? How can we, as educators, stop the commodification of life, the privatization of common goods and nature? How can we enhance the strategies to articulate our struggles, the existing campaigns in favour of quality education, and how can we bring out new campaigns, making the new communication technologies become true technologies of empowerment and participation?
What other issues could help us seek meaning for our resistance struggles and search for alternatives as a movement of educators for another possible world?
In view of this crisis and its impact on the education field, in view of the mobilizations of educators and other social sectors that react to the problems produced by the current model of civilization, it is worth asking ourselves: what, in the strict sense, is our role as educators?
One of the new paradigms that may guide educational practices in its various dimensions, from formal to non-formal, is care. This paradigm, so important for women and their movements, as well as for other social groups, assumes the double function of preventing future damage and of repairing past damage.
We think that to know how to care constitutes a fundamental learning within the survival challenges of our species because care is not an option: As human beings, if we do not learn to care, we die. We believe that in the present global context of the planet and of society, care is and will be the new paradigm that will give order and guidance to our politics, science, economy, business, aesthetics, daily life and education.
Other groups have worked on other paradigms that add to the rest and can contribute collaboratively to a new way of thinking of educational practices. This is the case of the paradigm of living well. This concept has been retrieved by the traditional Andean populations and by encouraging a lifestyle based on “living well”. It fights against the heart of the current system and its dynamics of infinite and unlimited production and accumulation. This is because:
“The conspicuous nucleus can be mainly synthesized in a holistic and cosmic perspective, of respect and horizontal coexistence with nature, searching for social justice and full respect for multiculturalism. So, essentially, it emphasizes a radical concept of ‘living well’ and development that imposes self-limitation and austerity as opposed to unlimited production and irresponsible and unsustainable waste. With deep community content, it gives very little importance to consumption and individual property, but gives a crucial role to the inclusion of all human beings and harmony. A vision and a feeling towards human beings and the world that integrates with the whole universe and is separate from the anthropocentrism of modern Western capitalist hegemony.” 1
In view of the socio-environmental crisis, educators’ movements have been thinking about processes and programs that may introduce new practices and new paradigms that will recover the vision and direction of the relationship between human beings and nature. One of the most important networks which has been operating in this recovery is the Journey of Environmental Education that takes the Treaty on Environmental Education for Sustainable Societies and Global Responsibility as its charter of principles. This document states:
“We consider that environmental education for equitable sustainability is an ongoing learning process, based on respect for all forms of life. Such education affirms values and actions that contribute to human and social transformation and ecological preservation. It stimulates the formation of societies that are socially just and ecologically balanced, that live together in an interdependence and diversity relationship. This requires individual and collective responsibility at local, national and planetary level. We believe that preparation for the changes needed depends on the collective understanding of the systemic nature of the crises that threaten the future of the planet. The root causes of problems such as increasing poverty and environmental and human degradation and violence can be found in the dominant model of civilization, which is based on overproduction and overconsumption for some and lack of conditions to produce for the great majority. We believe that the erosion of basic values and the alienation and non-participation of almost all individuals in building their future, are inherent in the crisis. It is crucial that communities plan and implement their own alternatives to existing policies. Among these alternatives is the need to abolish the programs of development, adjustment and economic reforms that maintain the current growth model with its terrible effects on the environment and the diversity of species, including human beings. We believe that environmental education should urgently produce changes in the quality of life and greater awareness in personal behaviour, as well as harmony among human beings and with other forms of life.”
Likewise, in the declaration produced in its last General Assembly in Malmö, the International Council of Adult Education (ICAE) affirms and calls for accountability for this new era, where knowledge plays a fundamental role, and there needs to be quality education and equal access for all, particularly for young people and adults who are excluded from the benefits of mankind:
“We call on civil society organizations to review their processes, and forge strategies to nurture the emerging new way of life and a new economic and ecological solidarity, and to discuss how another planet is possible, where all have access to clean and safe energy, in order to reach the critical levels of consciousness required to sustain action on climate justice.
We acknowledge that, within a Lifelong Learning framework, social exclusion not only means exclusion from learning opportunities but also the perpetuation of a knowledge hierarchy which, consciously or unconsciously, excludes access to certain types of knowledge. In a world worth living in, access to all forms of knowledge will be open and democratised, and we call upon States to develop action plans to that end.
We require new adult learning and education policies where adult learning and education is not seen as an additional expense, an appendix to education policy, but as an essential part of the solution to the challenges facing humanity today. People without access to learning opportunities and power need active state support and an effective Adult Education infrastructure. Special attention should be given to sponsoring programmes that secure equality of voice, representation, recognition, empowerment as autonomous citizens for women.”2
The International Council of the World Social Forum that met in Dakar, decided to promote a debate on the new prospects for an education that confronts the models and the old paradigms, for this purpose, an interesting literature review on the concepts of Education for Sustainable Development – ESD, conducted by Alessio Surian, is available on the website of the World Education Forum.3 It discusses the concept critically, which has its roots in the Stockholm UN Conference on Environment in 1972, the Brundtland Commission Report of 1987 and the World Summits of 1992 and 2002. It also presents alternatives and concrete proposals that different education networks are carrying out in different regions. As we can see, there is a growing concern among educators to discuss new paradigms and to create new processes and programs that adjust their educational practices to the new times. Above you will find just a few examples of this. The Working Group on Education, led by ICAE, apart from working on the issue of crisis and its impact on education, will be dedicated to discuss and build new paradigms and educational practices for a new time, as well as how these practices can be disseminated and implemented.
In this sense, we must ask ourselves which new paradigms can guide a renewed concept of education for solidarity, care and welfare, compared to current paradigms based on the logic of market and competition. How can we, as educators, turn our educational practices into actions that enable the construction of another possible world? What examples of new concepts and practices may be seeds to be disseminated for a possible new education? What forms of education can we develop to educate on “the new paradigms” and to go beyond the skills that can be provided by the current school systems? What kind of political and institutional changes are we supposed to promote so as to create new learning forms to make young people and adults acquire and develop the necessary skills to have an active participation in the generation of new forms of empowered and participatory citizenship?
1 “Retrieve and value other ethical pillars” by Ricardo Jimenez.
2 ICAE – Malmö Declaration. 3 www.forummundialeducacao.org
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