How about education reform? — by Afterlife in Belgium

Putting Corona aside, public discourse is currently marked by spotlight discussions on definitive issues, like climate change, inequality or digitisation. Naturally so. We humans can only consume as much information at once.

There is nothing wrong with those discussions. In fact, we have often avoided these issues for reasons like fear, greed or loss of power. Change of some kind, I guess. 

But we also have them at the cost of what could be called second-tier discussions. Those equally moving, often equally existential. Sometimes, they are particularly important – for one simple reason: they are a-means-to-an-end-discussions. 

Education is a typical example.

Few would disagree: if you get education right, you will get so many things right. Like, current first-tier issues including the fight against climate change, inequality or digitisation. 

Public discussions tend to flare up especially in times of crises. Being Austrian, I followed the Austrian debate on education over the past weeks. Naturally, most of the focus was on how we can ensure continued education in times of physical distancing. In all seriousness, however, much of the discussion focused on the refusal of teachers to teach on ‘bridge days’ following Ascension Day and Corpus Christi – to make up, at least a little, for all those Corona days in lockdown. In the end, they gave in. Unbelievably, still embarrassingly so. Tu Felix Austria! And Austria was no exception. In societies faced with huge tectonic shifts, I heard too few voices calling for structural reforms. The debates’ credo in many countries: Back to business as usual. Absent were forward-looking questions, like: 

  • Is standard schooling, pre-Corona, as we know it, still in touch with reality?
  • Is our education system too challenging for some, uninspiring for too many or leaving others isolated behind?
  • Or simply in sum: how do we educate in a socially just way compatible with students’ needs in 2020?

The other day, I read an interesting piece on how Corona-triggered experiences can help us make education better, more modern and human. I liked three in particular: 

  1. Education makes room for uncertainty. Traditionally, schools are places, where certainty is instructed. Sometimes, however, ‘old knowledge’ can’t give us a presentiment of the unknown. Wouldn’t it be overdue to change many curricular to accommodate questions on how we want to live in a post-Corona-world or how we meet the challenges of the next crisis?
  2. Education wants free spaces. Lockdowns drain energy, but they also set some other, creative form of energy free. Call it reflexion day, or free-day for future, when students identify and realise their own projects that teaches them for life, something they don’t learn at school.
  3. Education is more than brainwork. Some Canadian schools do it. They are rewarded when working towards three overall targets: educational performance, social justice and invigoratingly the well-being of their students and teachers. The aim is to dispel fear among students to be motivated and mindful. In other words, to live life optimistically. 

I find these proposal refreshing. They beat ideology, something that too often stands in the way of education politics. 

Joseph, 32, Belgium