The Public Good
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One of my favourite authors is Rabbi Jonathan Sacks because he provokes thought and makes it uncomfortable to stay in my little part of the world.
In his book To Heal a Fractured World on the ethics of responsibility and in the chapter titled “Responsibility for Society” he says that –
“We are responsible only if we could have achieved something but did not.” 1
This responsibility should not be taken lightly and we must always strive to achieve something because-
“Merely being a part of a society and failing to protest its wrongdoing renders one liable for part of the guilt- the guilt of the bystander, one who could have acted but did not.” 2
Confronted with this, I thought of all the opportunities that we have to protest but instead do nothing. What is even more profound is that there could be matters that we do not protest about since we do not consider them to be wrong. This led me to think of education and the impact that it should have on our collective consciousness.
From 2016 January 18 – 20 Paris, France hosted the UNESCO international symposium on education policies 2030. The topic was “School Leadership, Monitoring and Evaluation, and Governance in the implementation of the Education 2030 Framework for Action.”
One of the more significant statements recorded in the Framework for Action stems from the focus on development. It states that -
“The renewed attention to the purpose and relevance of education for human development and economic, social and environmental sustainability is a defining feature of the Education 2030 agenda. This is embedded in its holistic and humanistic vision, which contributes to a new model of development. That vision goes beyond a utilitarian approach to education and integrates the multiple dimensions of human existence. It understands education as inclusive and as crucial in promoting democracy and human rights and enhancing global citizenship, tolerance and civil engagement as well as sustainable development. Education facilitates intercultural dialogue and fosters respect for cultural, religious and linguistic diversity, which are vital for achieving social cohesion and justice.” 3
This is education as not just instruction and a means to an end but a formula for a way of being that will be beneficial to all.
Modern education while engaging us with the latest technology must also instill in us that there are “multiple dimensions of human existence” and to create a society that is fully developed and justifiable, we must be plugged-in to this reality, purposefully including it in all learning.
“Holistic”, “multiple dimensions of human existence”, “global citizenship, tolerance and civil engagement as well as sustainable development”, “intercultural dialogue” and “social cohesion and justice”. In a world where it is becoming easier to allow principles and morals to get lost in the struggle to survive how can one manage the task of keeping these meaningful goals always as part of the prevailing environment of change?
Universities and other institutions of higher education have to operate in this highly commercialized milieu where the accumulation of financial wealth dominates our actions. In a world of decreasing resources how do we keep the apathy away and not fall into the easy habit of pursuing my desires only? What does this mean for the future of education?
With respect to higher education the Framework noted the importance of institutions of higher learning as follows:
“In addition to imparting job skills, tertiary education and universities play a vital role in stimulating critical and creative thinking and generating and disseminating knowledge for social, cultural, ecological and economic development. Tertiary education and universities are critical for the education of future scientists, experts and leaders. Through their research function, they play a fundamental role in creating knowledge and underpin the development of analytical and creative capacities that enable solutions to be found for local and global problems in all fields of sustainable development.” 4
One of the strategies to realize this goal is that:
“Tertiary institutions, including universities should support and foster the development of policies for and provision of equitable lifelong learning opportunities.”5
This should not only be an internal function but they should, separately or collectively, advise government and non- governmental organizations on the best ways to stimulate critical thinking and generate and disseminate knowledge for social, cultural, ecological and economic development. At the core though is to establish what we want a society to aspire to.
There are so many challenges. Can the university realistically not align itself to a popular school of thought or way of modeling society and possibly risk financial ruin? Is the current mandate to universities to create a better way of doing the same thing and have more people engage in the same thinking more powerful than to rethink what exists as truth?
There is too much at stake it seems to advocate starting from the ground level when maybe this is what is desperately necessary. The university should not just be an agent of the state to disseminate knowledge but also an agent in the reassessment of present society with an objective to encourage people to be critical thinkers and not suffer from the guilt of the bystander.
1. Page 118-119
2. Page 121
3. Education 2030 Incheon Declaration Framework for Action – Towards inclusive and equitable education and lifelong learning for all
4. Item 41 page 13
5. Item 45 page 14