In September 2022, the United Nations hosted the first high-level summit on transformational education, where stakeholders were invited to highlight commitments and address the challenges we face. We hear again how shocking the need is. In low-income countries, 25% of youth and more than 55% of adults are illiterate, and 250 million children have not yet completed primary school.
The World Bank report The State of Global Learning Poverty shows that shocks such as the Covid-19 pandemic, the war in Ukraine, and the Taliban's ban on secondary education for girls in Afghanistan;
"Learning poverty has increased significantly: the proportion of children unable to read and understand simple passages by age 10."
As the Brookings Institution emphasizes, there is an urgent need to change the education system.
“We are at a critical turning point where hundreds of millions of children are likely to be deprived of a quality education at a time when we must face climate change, escalating conflicts and the threat of new epidemics.”
In addition to the climate crisis, humanity faces many pressing issues: biodiversity, food, water, energy, poverty, inequality, democracy… the list goes on. Everything is interconnected and very difficult to solve, and we are facing a global tragedy of the commons. The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals were created to provide an overarching framework and "create a shared blueprint for peace and prosperity for people and the planet now and in the future." But we are not on the way to it.
During the UN Education Summit, there were clear signs that not all the parties that need to resolve this issue are at the negotiating table. Financing and investment were lacking, and the invited IMF and World Bank did not participate. About half of the expected leaders were also not present, many choosing to attend the funeral of Queen Elizabeth II.
Without the participation of all key political and financial players, how can we develop a common program of critical education and climate reform? There is a gulf, even an abyss, between the problems we face, the communities they face, and the problems we can solve.
A week after the summit, the Global Futures Conference is hosted by Arizona State University and the Earth League during New York Climate Week. Its mission is to "identify ambitious and achievable solutions" and "seeks to push society towards a future of opportunity, not sacrifice." The meeting highlighted education as one of the key drivers of transformation, but it was open again, this time between education and climate and sustainability stakeholders, with the Learning Planet Institute being the only organization present at both events.
We know climate change education can cut up to 20 gigatons of carbon dioxide by 2050, better than more than three-quarters of the best climate solutions available today. Today, however, most education systems do not prepare students and learners to adapt to these challenges, let alone overcome them.
We needed to implement coordinated solutions very quickly to engage learners (youth, higher education and lifelong learners) and help them understand how to overcome common challenges. Trying to update the system is no longer enough. the gap is too big. On the contrary, education itself must change radically. According to UN Secretary-General António Guterres, “education should help people learn to learn by focusing on problem solving and cooperation.”
Rewired and Brookings Institution recent reports agree that planetary crises call for a reassessment of educational goals;
“Transformation means the reorientation of all components of the education system so that they continually contribute to the achievement of a new common goal.”
We know what skills are needed: collaboration, empathy, awareness, future literacy, collective problem solving, critical thinking, and the ability to learn to learn and forget. Many structures are available, including the UNESCO Learn to Change the World program, but most education systems still do not respond to this knowledge.
Transformational structure, youth engagement and radical change
In practice, we know that the world has a lot of experience in making changes. Indeed, at the Learning Planet Institute, which we launched with UNESCO to celebrate and highlight the transformative solutions being developed around the world, we see outstanding examples of programs that promote self-reliance, competence and motivation to learn, act and lead. : future. the world of Catts Pressoir, Escuela Nueva, Dream a Dream and Design for Change are just a few examples of K-12 programs in Haiti, Colombia and India that show that this approach to learning is not limited to the Western world.
In higher education, many universities and government agencies have launched programs that go beyond sustainable education to prepare the next generation to lead environmental, social and societal transformation. These include the Global Futures College at Arizona State University, the ACT undergraduate degree at Cy Cergy Paris, the Center for Sustainability Transition at Stellenbosch University, and the EU Open17 platform.
On a regional and national scale, we also see examples of systemic transformations adapted to local conditions; In Sierra Leone, Transform Learning for All is an ambitious, comprehensive and innovative program that aims to improve learning outcomes, especially for female students. disabled people and children living in remote areas. Another inspiring example is British Columbia's curriculum reform. The “know-do-understand” structure they use;
“He respects the way students think, learn and grow and prepares them for successful lifelong learning where constant change happens.”
Although Singapore regularly tops the international PISA rankings, it is also known for its systematic testing and evaluation procedures, which lead to high levels of anxiety and fear of failure. In 2019, they launched massive reforms in their education system and demonstrated that students no longer need to compete with each other. Instead, they should be encouraged to learn how to learn, collaborate, and develop their creativity. Their example speaks eloquently of the possibility of radical change.
It is also important for us to know how many young people want to participate. The fact that the Youth Declaration on Transforming Education has received over 450,000 submissions shows that young people want to be actively involved in education policy and decision-making as full partners, not just beneficiaries. Building with youth and empowering youth is now recognized by António Guterres as a key principle for building the future. Youth are literally the future, so they should be part of the design.
We must stop preparing young people for a world that no longer exists. Instead, we should all be given the opportunity to learn about our common global challenges, how to evolve and participate in overcoming them. These ideas are not entirely new. In fact, the 1972 UNESCO project “Learn to be. The educational world today and tomorrow,” the report says.
“[People] should no longer diligently acquire eternal knowledge, but should learn to create a body of knowledge that will continue to grow throughout life.”
How to close the gap?
Achieving this transformation has never been more urgent, but it cannot and will not happen without the right political focus and the right tools.
It is imperative that all actors involved in this issue, especially the public and private financial institutions involved in climate change mitigation and solutions, sit down at the negotiating table. Together, by bringing together pedagogical insights and investment in education, we can bridge the critical gap between learning and the environment and bring about the radical systemic transformations needed to meet the needs of youth and our planet.