FSM 2002 – Conferência Especial Sobre Educação (eng)

This purpose of this text is to present the analyses, conclusions and principal proposals of the World Forum on Education (WFE) meeting held in Porto Alegre, October 27-27, 2001. The WFE was explicitly a part of the process of the first World Social Forum (WSF) held in January 2001 and held with a view to the second WSF. It brought together approximately 15,000 participants from 60 countries: teachers and educators, academics and researchers, principals and directors of schools and educational institutions, but also students, and representatives of trade unions and social movements involved in the struggle for a society and a world with more democracy, justice and solidarity.

The directions of the WFE can be seen from the themes of the conferences and debates. Four plenary conferences were devoted to the following themes: “education as a right”, “education, work and technology”, “education and culture”, “education, change and utopias”. Four “special” debates considered education with respect to international organisations, the information society, popular education, the resistance movements and the alternatives to neo-liberal policies. Twelve thematic debates were also organised. Furthermore, 772 reports setting out policies, experiences and research were presented and 29 “parallel” forums, meetings or conferences were organised. Never before had an international meeting been organised on this scale before, and the Forum was remarkable both for the diversity of its participants and themes and by the degree of convergence in their hopes and struggles.

It is obviously impossible to produce an overall summary of the ideas exchanged during these four days. This report will present the analyses of the present situation of education in a world that is the victim of neo-liberal globalisation, and the fundamental principles asserted by the WFE, from which certain proposals are derived.

1 Education, victim of neo-liberal globalisation

The basic principle asserted by the WFE appears at the end of the Charter drawn up during the Forum: “Public education for all as an inalienable social right, education guaranteed and funded by the State, never reduced to the status of commodity or service, with a view to a society based on solidarity, democracy, equality and justice”. This principle stands in opposition to the logic of neo-liberal globalisation, and more specifically of the International Monetary Fund, the World Trade Organisation and, particularly, the World Bank, whose view became predominant in international policies on education during the 1980s. This view can be summarised by the following points:
• Education must be thought of and organised firstly on an economic logic and as preparation for the labour market. It is the amassing of human capital, to be thought of in cost/benefit terms. It is thus, like all other capital and commodities, a matter for a market.
• Consequently, educational investments and curricula must be thought of in terms of meeting the demands of the market. On the one hand, it is necessary to prepare “employable”, “flexible” and “adaptable”, “competitive” workers. This is expressed by pressure from sectors of the economy on curricula. On the other hand, it is necessary at the same time to develop a basic education system for all (conceived as lasting roughly four years) and to organise secondary and post-secondary teaching in accordance with market requirements and in the form of a deregulated education market. This effort to subject education to the demands of a capitalist market is taking place at all levels, even in higher education and research, which are becoming steadily more and more dependant on the interests and resources of big capital.

This view of education, imposed by certain international organisations, had a very concrete effect in confronting a growing number of countries with a dilemma: they had to choose between paying the external debt (plus exorbitant interest) or giving an education to all.
This view entails several consequences.

• The fundamentally cultural and human dimension of education is hidden, and the right to cultural identity and to cultural difference, which already was hardly respected by globalisation, is completely disregarded. The universalist dimension, relating to what is common to all men over and above any cultural difference, is no longer taken into account either. The question of cultural difference and universalism, of the right to be at once different culturally, but similar (and equal) in terms of dignity and recognition, is no longer part of the debate: all we now want to know about education are its economic and professional aspects. On this logic which devalues culture – and therefore symbolic universes – (a logic that can be seen at work in the arts or the communications sector), what is threatened are the very references by which subjects construct themselves. How can one be surprised then by explosions of violence and, more generally, the all-pervading diffuse violence in contemporary societies? This neo-liberal reduction of education to the status of a commodity thus threatens man in his human universality, in his cultural differences and in his self-construction as a subject.
• The States role in education is contested and is actually shrinking. This role is all the more contested in that neo-liberalism is mounting an attack on all forms of regulation, therefore against all public spaces and against the very culture of a public service. State intervention is now only considered legitimate to manage and limit social damage, and therefore the risks of social explosion, attendant on these neo-liberal educational policies: it is expected to direct focalized compensatory policies to certain populations (which incidentally may constitute most of a countrys population…). Education is therefore designed as social aid and not as a human right and an endeavour for universal citizenship.
• In this situation we are witnessing the advance of private education at all levels and especially at the university level. We are also witnessing the introduction of market logic into the public institutions themselves, which more and more are competing not only with private institutions but also among themselves. At the university level, the idea is being imposed that universities, including public ones, must be self-financed. Meanwhile, and more and more assertively, it is not only market logic that is invading the school, but corporations themselves (banks, large multinationals) are cynically making inroads into the school system to sell or promote their products and services there.
• The rates of basic schooling are increasing but the social inequalities in access to knowledge are worsening. They are worsening because the basic public school is being asked to include populations which the neo-liberal logic works, at the same time, to exclude or marginalize. They are worsening because the public school must face this contradiction without adequate investments being granted, whether in terms of funding, of teacher training or of research and innovations in teaching. They are worsening because young people are more and more being taught in different institutions, depending on their parents socio-economic status. The educational networks being put in place are more and more differentiated and hierarchical. In these networks, the public school must take in the most fragile populations, under the most difficult conditions. Hence basic schooling, a long-sought goal (but which is not even given in several countries), is accompanied by massive student failure, with illiteracy, dropouts, repeating the year, etc. It must, however, be noted that the public school is resisting and in many places is fighting back, innovating and renewing itself.
• The first victims of this situation are the most fragile populations: the poor, children of immigrants, indigenous communities, young people belonging to dominated ethnic, religious or cultural minorities, and families marginalized for one reason or another. Teachers are also victims, not only because their working conditions are getting worse but because, in many places, it is the very identity of the teacher that is being undermined. It is especially undermined by the endeavour to redefine them as education technicians, forgetting that, while it is good that they be better qualified, this is effective only when accompanied by ethical commitment.
• In parallel, we are witnessing attempts to set up an educational market based on the new information and communications technologies. This market, which operates on the laws of profitability, which escapes all form of regulation, which is not equally accessible to all, heralds a new form of exclusion: “digital exclusion”. These new technologies cover the States withdrawal by fostering the illusion that the problems are to be solved not by reinforcing the public school but by equipping all with computers and introducing distance learning. In fact, however useful technology may be, it will not be able to solve the problems on its own. Very rarely in basic teaching have computers and an Internet connection created innovative practices to solve problems caused by social and educational exclusion.
• Some of the values puts forward by neo-liberal thinking have always been, and remain, equally values of progressive educators: in particular, freedom and autonomy, and decentralisation. However, neo-liberal and progressive thinkers do not mean the same things by these words. One must thus beware of the word trap and constantly redefine these values in terms of a progressive plan for society and the world and of social struggles.

2 Basic principles and proposals for education in a more interdependent, democratic, egalitarian, and just society and world

Two principles, which are also connected, must guide reflection and proposals. First, education is a right and not a commodity. It is a universal right, linked to the human condition itself and it must be defended as a right. It is not primarily an instrument for economic and social development, even if it can also be secondarily considered as such. It is not a preparation for the labour market such as it is, even if it may also be a method of developing occupational skills – it is to be thought of in the context of the struggles to transform the relations of production and social relationships. Education is, fundamentally, the triple process by which, indissociably, the child becomes a human being, a member of a society and a culture at a given time and in a given place, a subject with his or her personal history. It is a movement of hominization, socialization, and subjectivization. It is culture as an entry into symbolic universes, as access to a specific culture, as a movement of construction of a self. It is a right to understanding, to roots, to a future. It is a right to the universal, to cultural differences, to personal originality. All three of these rights must be taken into consideration.
Nevertheless, it must be acknowledged that sometimes they are in contradiction to each other. Certain forms of cultural diversity may contradict fundamental human rights, especially in the treatment inflicted on women or children. It must be clearly affirmed that defending pluralism is not to permit relativism: the right to cultural differences cannot grant a right to refuse women access to public life, to impose non-instructional child labour on children, or to mutilate children (excision practices, etc.). The right to cultural differences bases its legitimacy on the equal dignity of all human beings and cannot be invoked against this dignity and against equality. Conversely, the universalist dimension of a progressive educational project must not be used to disguise dominant cultural forms, abusively presented as universal. Likewise, while each person has the right to belong to a group, it is a matter of a right and not an obligation: no one must be required to remain in the culture or religion of his or her ancestors. The reconciliation of these three rights (to the universal, to cultural differences, and to a personal history) is not always easy, including within the educational field. Nevertheless, it is easier when education is tied to movements of progressive struggle for more solidarity, equality, and justice
Second, globalization in its current neo-liberal form is not the only possible form. The fact of fighting against this globalization does not imply a withdrawal into oneself or into ones group of belonging, or into ones society or country. Much to the contrary, progressive struggles have always been for more solidarity within and among countries. It is necessary to oppose the networks of money and power that are in the process of globalizing the world by struggling to create a world that is open but interdependent: another form of globalization.
Education is an instrument and an important arena for these struggles to the extent that, by definition, it has a universalist dimension: whatever differences exist between cultures, they are all cultures created by human beings. Insofar as education is a universal right and to the extent that the progressive project aims to create an interdependent world, education is an important instrument in the struggle for peace and against all forms of violence, discrimination, exploitation, and degradation of human beings.
The fact that education is a universal right entails the fact that public education must also be considered a universal right. Indeed, on the one hand, public education, and still more specifically, the public school, is the only means by which the poor and the weaker have access to education. As a result, the right to education entails the right to the public school. On the other hand, public education is, or should be and must become again, a support for an educational project that is truly for all, education open to all, education as a universal right.

This definition of public education as a universal right implies a certain number of consequences:

• Basic education must be obligatory; this is a necessary condition for education to be universal.
• The public school must be free at all levels (including university) and it must be of high quality (so that access to school is not confused with access to knowledge). The public school must therefore receive financing that it needs and the teachers must receive the academic and professional training that are indispensable to a quality school.
• The public school must be accessible to all, without regard to sex or identification (ethnic, religious, cultural, etc.). The equality of treatment among everyone must be ensured within the public school. If special measures are taken in favour of students from the poorer or more socially fragile segments of the population, they must be added to the measures intended for everyone, and not replace them. Public education, in the public schools or other public institutions, must be accessible to all ages: early childhood, childhood, adolescence, adulthood, old age.
• The public school must be defended as a right. Any interference with this right must be publicly denounced as an interference with human rights. It is especially necessary to publicly denounce, with wide dissemination (including international), the requirements to reduce credits earmarked for public schools that the IMF is imposing in its so-called adjustment plans (with the support of dominant countries, and especially of one hegemonic country, which gladly direct speeches on human rights to those dominated countries on which they are nevertheless dealing a blow against the universal right to education). Educational reforms must be the act of a national sovereignty which cannot be renounced and the result of teachers innovations, and not an adaptation to the globalized market.
• The fact that public school is a right entails requirements for the school. What is a right is not merely access to public school, but access to knowledge and education.
A basic common curriculum for everyone, which constitutes an obligation for the school and for the State, must therefore be defined.
The basic principles of a democratic education in contemporary society must therefore also be respected:
• education with a respect for human rights and the dignity of oneself and others: against violence, oppression, drugs, etc. ; therefore, also, education with the universal values of liberty, equality, solidarity, peace, and knowledge
• education that acknowledges cultural differences and that respects them and takes them into account (provided that they are not in contradiction with the right to dignity or with the rights of the subject)
• education that respects the rights of the child (defined in international charters), especially his/her right to expression
• education that is in keeping with the perspective of long lasting and interdependent development, therefore also education about the environment and education with regard to knowledge of and respect for ones heritage
• education that ensures the literacy of all (including illiterate adults)
• education that teaches critical and rational thought, that protects against all forms of fundamentalism and demagogic populism
• education that takes scientific and technological developments into consideration; therefore, education that also, in addition to access to books (which remain irreplaceable), ensures access to computers and to the Internet – without, as a consequence, falling into the illusions noted above or confusing access to information with access to knowledge
• education that takes into consideration all the dimensions of the human being, thus also the body (health education and sex education), sensitivity, and the imaginary (education in the arts)
• education that teaches citizenship and peace, that develops an awareness of the rights and duties of citizens, that builds feelings of belonging, that opens the child to his/her culture but also to other cultures, that teaches tolerance and the management of disagreements and conflict through words and discussion rather than through violence, that makes it possible to overcome the abandonment, relational isolation, and widespread violence engendered by an urbanization without guideposts and without educational support; the teaching of foreign languages must contribute to this teaching of peace (certain people, at the time of the World Education Forum, insisted on the teaching of Esperanto as an educational instrument for encountering others and for teaching peace).
Such education assumes the need to rethink and often to transform many current pedagogical practices. It is not a question of only defending the public school, but also of transforming it, sometimes profoundly, so that it is no longer a place of failure for children who belong to the most fragile social classes, communities, and cultures. The right to education is not merely the right to go to school, it is the right to the real acquisition of knowledge, to knowledge that makes sense and not merely to information delivered by the teacher or found on the Internet; it is the right to intellectual activity, to expression, to the imaginary, and to art, to the mastery of ones body and to the comprehension of ones natural and social environment; it is the right to the guideposts that make it possible to construct ones relationships to the world, to others, and to oneself. It is necessary to recognize that the pedagogical practices that are currently dominant are far from always ensuring respect for these rights and to make a commitment to a thorough transformation of the public school. This must be a transformation that attests to its capacity to transmit a heritage, to respond to the challenges of the present and the future, and to renew itself.
This transformation must be accompanied by teacher training that is itself profoundly transformed and by research. It implies respect for principles of democratic organization: organization of the curriculum by multi-year cycles rather than by classes that last for one year (taking care that practices corresponding to this organization by cycles are implemented); democratic and participatory management of institutions (with participation of the students themselves, of parent representatives, and community representatives); regular meetings among teachers, and development of team and interdisciplinary pedagogical practices.

Some other principles and proposals, which are more specific at such and such a level of instruction or for such and such a public, were formulated during the World Education Forum:
• The importance of educational policies aimed at early childhood (nursery schools, kindergarten), which we now know contribute greatly to the reduction of inequalities in school
• The principle of inclusion / integration of handicapped students (the deaf, blind, etc.), who must be included in the ordinary educational network; however, it is necessary to insist on the fact that this implies training the teachers for this integration (otherwise, this integration may produce new discriminatory effects) • The right to education of youth (and adults) who are in a situation of social exclusion or in conflict with the law: imprisoned persons, youth in shelters, street youth and, more generally, youth and adults living in situations of social vulnerability or marginalization – which often involves the creation of approaches and pedagogies that take into account the specific details of these populations (but from the perspective of universality and not from the discriminatory perspective of “compensation” and welfare)
• The need for instruction, research, and professional development (or “extension”) activities to remain closely connected in higher education. This principle must also be applied to private universities, of which the activity does not have to be authorized (including in matters of teacher training) if they are not also devoted to research. There it is a question of the protection of the university principle itself (as well as of the students and teachers). In addition, university decentralization and autonomy must not be excuses for the State to abandon public universities, to remove these universities from a national project, or to require them to finance themselves, but must be forms of respect for the critical function of the university and of research and for their independence with respect to public authorities and economic powers.
• Professional certification must not be abandoned to market forces but must be guaranteed by the State (with systems of reciprocal recognition of this certification among States).

3. Education and social conflict

The right to an education, to a public education, and to public schools-with all that that entails-will not be established by those powers that are dominant at present. On the contrary, current neo-liberal globalization imposes principles that totally contradict this right. This right can only be won by struggle, and these conflicts can only succeed if they are part of a larger campaign towards a society and a world that are egalitarian, interdependent, and just, and that have been liberated from the processes of domination and exclusion. The fight for education should join the larger movements of social struggle (represented in the World Social Forum) It is no accident that there has been a link historically between the rise of working-class conflict and the growth of public education and, conversely, between the ebbing of mass movements and the growth of private education and its commercialization. Working-class conflict is necessary for the universal right to education and to public schools to emerge. Conversely, education of all people is a basic, fundamental tool for organizing campaigns against exclusion by the working-class sector and for constructing alternatives to the liberal model of globalization. This connection also has educational merit: on the one hand, one educates oneself and learns in the process of struggling; on the other hand, the memory of working-class movements and of their conflicts is part of the patrimony that education must pass on from one generation to the next.
It is essential to stress that those who are excluded (the poor, minorities, indigenous populations…) must not be merely the beneficiaries of education, but that they must also be active participants in the public debate and confrontation of opinions and interests, as well as in the development, execution, and control of educational policies. These are a matter for neither individual decision-makers (which would risk submitting education to special interests), nor individual teachers (which would risk corporatism), nor, even, for individual communities (risking a community institutionalization harmful itself to youths); they should rather be brought into public, open, participatory, and democratic debate.
English text by volunteer translators Gillian Sloane-Seale, Jeanne Zang and Nanette Cooper-McGuinness

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