I like to think that I am by nature an optimist. I tend to believe that problems exist to be confronted, and that people are generally good and willing to work together to improve the lives of others. But having said this, I must confess that I find that the newspapers at the end of one year and the beginning of the next can sometimes dent my otherwise sunny disposition. In many ways it would be a good idea to steer clear of the journalistic harbingers of doom for a few days, at least until the depressing review of the old year and predictions for the new are well out of the way. However, I think there may be a different way of dealing with the woebegone soothsayers of newsprint, so long as we are prepared to recognise that their apocalyptic auguries are not necessarily reliable, and are entirely dependent upon the inactivity of every individual who can make a difference.
I long ago gave up on on making New Year’s resolutions. It seems to me that most of these were generally destined to be forgotten or discarded by mid-January, and that those which were maintained were often of no real substance or consequence. Here again the media do not help by informing us of the new year pledges made by numerous “celebrities” as if their virtuous intent was something with which we should be amazed. (Am I the only one for whom the term “celebrity” often refers to someone of whom I have never heard? – perhaps I should get out more!). However, the notion that we should occasionally stop and reflect upon our own situation, and that which affects the lives of others, is of itself, no bad thing, and perhaps an indicator that we might do this more often. Whilst New Year appears to have been hijacked as a time for such activity, there is, of course, no reason why we shouldn’t undertake such cerebration at any time.
UNESCO have just issued a document titled Sustainable Development Begins With Education, which provides exactly the kind of reflection that I have in mind. I must admit that I almost put this document to one side, fearing that alongside the many other year end doom mongers, this might just push me over the edge. Fortunately I overcame my latent cowardice and found within this document a number of affirming statements, which whilst bold in their assertion, are founded upon evidence presented in a series of helpful vignettes. In a piece as short as this I cannot possibly do justice to the UNESCO document, neither can I highlight all of the statements made. But I can present examples here, along with a suggestion that may hopefully have more credence than most superficial New Year’s resolutions. The UNESCO document highlights examples of how:
- Education prevents the transmission of poverty between generations.
- Equity and inclusion in education are crucial for enabling the best possible learning outcomes.
- Education helps women have a voice.
- Equitable education service delivery is critical to tackle the roots of discontent in cities.
- Education helps reduce political corruption.
As stated, each of these statements is accompanied by brief examples to illustrate the truths that they contain.
UNESCO suggest that the knowledge that education has an impact upon these, and other issues, should help to spur policy makers and professionals forward to create the conditions that enable progress to be made.
I suppose it might be said that everything suggested here is obvious, and that the people who read this blog are those who would share such sentiments, and already have a commitment to support the moves that would promote change. This is quite true, but maybe this is because of the limited way in which we conduct our professional conversations and actions.
Here then is the suggestion that I promised above. I suspect that on issues of education, equity, poverty and social justice many of us spend most of our time talking to other like-minded individuals. This is in part a result of the professional and personal circles in which we rotate and the fact that most of us belong to the tut-tutting classes who express our concerns for the state of the world. So perhaps we need to rethink our own behaviours and to consider the ways in which we commune with those who are less aware of the issues facing children, and the possible consequences of taking affirmative action on behalf of education. Maybe we need to find those channels, which far from preaching to the converted, may lead us to sup with the devil and increase his (or her) awareness of the difficulties faced by many children and the important role that education can play in improving their lives. After all, it is not individuals like you that are inhibiting progress, but it may well be others who are less aware or prefer to remain in ignorance of those issues that you are attempting to address every day in your classrooms, or elsewhere in your life.
For those of us working in academic institutions, this might present many new challenges. We are expected to attend the conferences, publish papers, write books and give lectures to those who are already likely to give us a sympathetic hearing. We may therefore need to find new means of communicating with those who may be less inclined to hear and more oppositional in terms of the ideas we wish to express. Such activity may afford us new learning opportunities and help us to become better informed in addressing those issues for which we claim to carry a torch.
I am not suggesting that I have the answer to how we might move forward. All suggestions for how such a task may be confronted will be gratefully received. Maybe we can review progress at the end of 2015.
A VERY HAPPY, PEACEFUL AND SUCCESSFUL NEW YEAR TO ALL FRIENDS
A copy of the UNESCO document Sustainable Development Begins With Education can be read at