The end of education- as we know it?

Education in the 21st century is a multi-billion dollar business. It wasn’t always that way. Ancient cultures provided an education based on the foundations of literacy (writing, reading & numeracy) underpinning further studies in languages, culture, religions, philosophies, the sciences and the mathematics of their era. The Islamic world in particular contributed significantly to developments in mathematics and the sciences, yet this was seldom widely acknowledged in the western intellectual traditions from the late Middle Ages through to the mid-20th century. This has changed today with a growing understanding of the interconnectedness of all intellectual traditions and the contributions made to the growth of modern civilizations. The Middle East, the Indian sub-continent (inclusive of the modern state of Pakistan), China, Europe, Greece, Rome and the cultures of the Americas, Melanesia and Polynesia all made significant contributions from a cultural, religious, sociological and anthropological perspective to modern civilizations. Humanity has grown and developed through the combined wisdom of the ages.

Education as a basic human right grew out of the charter of the United Nations, and as recently as 2011 this was reaffirmed in UN resolution 66/137 on human rights, education and training. Three key components of the resolution are worth mentioning here:
1. Reaffirming further that everyone has the right to education, and that education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and the sense of its dignity, enable all persons to participate effectively in a free society and promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations and all racial, ethnic or religious groups, and further the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace, security and the promotion of development and human rights,

2. Reaffirming that States are duty-bound, as stipulated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights,the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and in other human rights instruments, to ensure that education is aimed at strengthening respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms,

3. Acknowledging the fundamental importance of human rights education and training in contributing to the promotion, protection and effective realization of all human rights (United Nations)

These are noteworthy and important because the concept of a 21st century education seems to have been navigated away from such essential ideals upon which the human condition relies for its betterment. The renowned Pakistani writer and columnist, Dr. Shahnaz Khan makes a compelling case on this point when she writes:
“Education is…a fundamental human right, however under capitalism education has been converted into a commodity-just like many other necessities of life-to be bought and sold with the sole purpose of generating profit. This has led to drastic changes in how society perceives the role of knowledge in human life and how it is
imparted and acquired” (Khan)

Today the cornerstones of a 21st century education are defined and understood within the confines of a pre-determined political-economic dialectic. The Partnership for 21st Century Skills makes this very clear:
The partnership for 21st century skills has emerged as the leading advocacy
organization focused on infusing 21st century skills into education. The
organization brings together the business community, education leaders
and policy makers to define a powerful vision for 21st century education
to ensure every child’s success as citizens and workers in the 21st century
…to triumph in the global skills race that is central to economic
competitiveness for the next decade. (21st Century Skills: Education & Competitiveness)

Williamson and Payton’s argument in their handbook on innovative curriculum is not dissimilar to The Partnership for 21st Century Skills claim that a 21st century education is simply about preparing children for work and subsuming even those as young as 3-4 years old into an advanced capitalist work principle:
“It is our aim to supply a critical but practical overview of the drivers
and factors influencing curricula innovations. We look at the most
recent policy shifts, and identify how these situate the work of schools
in larger debates about equipping…people for changing economic
circumstances and conditions. The development of ‘world class skills’
twinned with the contemporary focus on ICT and on heightening
employability for a competitive economy, are all parts of the modern
educational policy discourse…” (Williamson and Payton)

Translated into the ground reality of schooling in the 21st century this means educational outcomes are predetermined before a child gets through their primary and secondary schooling. Their career pathways have been decided and the myriad possibilities of a child’s innate potential; including their ability to expresses themselves creatively and to be innovative have been predetermined. It is education as an end in itself, rather than a means to a greater end. In essence this is called the ‘global knowledge economy’ and its aims run counter to the real purpose of education:
“to gain knowledge, to enrich human life, enhance the intellectual capabilities of people, promote curiosity, and enlighten and broaden minds in order to propel human society towards achieving the goal of creating a just, fair, and equitable world free of prejudices, conflicts, want, hunger, deprivation, oppression and exploitation”. (Khan)

Today isn’t the end of education as we know it-that was yesterday. But, our schools of tomorrow can redress the balance and work towards creating a more just, fair and equitable world for future generations to come. http://www.schooloftomorrow.beaconhouse.net/

References:
Khan, S. International: The News. 29 April 2015. http://www.thenews.com.pk/Todays-News-9-315391-Education-as-commodity. 23 11 2015.
Partnership For 21st Century Skills. 21st Century Skills: Education & Competitveness. Washington: Partnership For 21st Century Skills, 2008. Print.
United Nations. United Nations Human Rights: Office of the Commissioner for Human Rights. 23 March 2011. http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Education/Training/Pages/UNDHREducationTraining.aspx. 23 November 2015.
Williamson, B and S Payton. Curriculum and Teaching Innovation: Transforming classroom practice and personalisation. Handbook. London: Futrelab, 2009. Print.

Facebook’s Disconnect from the World

Face: (noun) the front part of a person’s head from the forehead to the chin, or the corresponding part in an animal. Book: (noun) a written or printed work consisting of pages glued or sewn together along one side and bound in covers. Facebook: verb or adjective? An action or description? No-one seems to know for sure; but the key feature of the nomenclature of this virtual reality world is to “like, dislike or poke” at whatever the claimed 1.2 billion users deem fit to judge as such.
In the week it was revealed that 300, 000 migrants (babies, small children, the elderly and youth) had fled to Europe from the war ravaged middle east (most smuggled out from their respective countries by those who embrace the dark side of entrepreneurship,) and an additional 72 of them had suffocated to death in a truck in Austria, Mark Zukerberg, the front man for his self-proclaimed brave new virtual world, celebrated the somewhat irrelevant claim that one billion users had connected to his online website. He also claimed that soon “the whole world will be connected’.
Forgive me Mr. Zukerberg, but prior to your foray into the world of ‘other people’ we had been connected. Long before the telegraph, telephone and internet people had devised the most ingenious ways to communicate and connect with one another-regardless of the ‘speed’ of such communications. The world was very much connected-more authentically so, I would argue.
First there was speech-the most innovative astounding way we developed as a species to connect with one another over half a million years ago- we went from grunts and groans (sadly back in vogue on Facebook and in online communications and in daily conversation with those who’ve lost the ability to communicate outside of the social media and twitter-sphere) to developing verbal communications which helped shape further more sophisticated, authentic ways of connecting with one another. Signs, symbols and writing also facilitated a wonderful and innovative medium to connect us globally. The oral tradition, smoke signals, ‘the bush telegraph’, cave paintings, architecture from previous civilizations (when ISIS doesn’t blow them up), letters, postal services and newspapers (still in vogue today), and the various developments of transport throughout history which have enabled us to communicate about ‘new worlds’ and to connect with them (often with the complex negative results which we’ve inherited today) have connected humanity.
So, Mr. Zukerberg it is somewhat disingenuous to aspire to “connect the world’ when the world is already connected. But perhaps we should examine more closely your idea of a connected world. It is a world reduced to “a like, a dislike and a poke”, it is a crude reductionist understanding of the needs of human beings to connect authentically, empathically, and genuinely with one another. Even the name ‘Facebook’ connotes a pejorative understanding of people and the way they’ve evolved to communicate with one another. Yet it is peddled by the wealtherati as a means to their end: to make money at the expense of the naive and vulnerable who yearn for meaning in the brave new 21st century world of the digital technocrats.
Truth be told it is difficult to authenticate the actual number of genuine users of the Facebook website. There are duplicate accounts, company and advertising accounts, spammers, and people who’ve set up accounts for their pets (oh yes, we’ve evolved to such a higher order of species that Cecil the deceased Zimbabwean Lion ranks higher than the poor and disenfranchised without a Facebook account).
Cellan-Jones (2012) estimated that there were in excess of 83 million fake Facebook accounts. It would be reasonable to speculate that in the 3 years since that report the exponential increase of fake accounts is anywhere between 90-140 million.
The world forgets that Facebook was founded on a betrayal of friendships. Its founder developed a network initially used to humiliate people-especially young college woman at one of the world’s most prestigious learning institutions. Has it changed significantly today? People require more than a “like, dislike, or a poke” to feel appreciated and valued. The founder of Facebook along with those who’ve embraced its dangerous compliant rules of hyper-visibility and the delusion that we can all be friends forget that there are complex social phenomena and mutual understandings, based on a moral and ethical understanding of what it means to be a human being. These include love, compassion, and empathy without which we cannot develop and maintain close intimate friendships and relationships. Such essential human qualities and attributes ensure that we can delineate between the importance of celebrating one billion users in any one day on Facebook, and the death of 72 war refugees (babies, men women and children) left to suffocate to death in a smugglers truck on a highway in 21st century Europe.

Wealth in an Age of Narcissistic Over Consumption

One of the more bizarre rituals of western capitalism is the group of people who burst into applause as a bell rings to start trading at the NYSE. They aren’t looking at anything in particular-there’s no curtain call-just a group of traders on the NYSE floor beginning their day to trade stocks, shares, commodities and lots of bad debt. Few things better symbolize narcissism than people standing around clapping and celebrating the excesses of advanced capitalism in an age when the syndicated capital of the wealthiest 1% of the world will see their portion rise up to 50% in 2016. The average human being shares in only 1/700th of the fortunes of the world’s grotesquely rich. In addition 1 in 9 people go hungry, while 1/7th of the world’s population live on less than $1.25 dollars a day. (Byanyima, 2015).
Microsoft, Hewlett-Packard Co., Apple, Google Inc., Amazon.com Inc. and Pfizer Inc. are among a number of US companies who collectively hold in excess of $1.95 trillion in nontaxed off shore profits; while at home, in the United States, the minimum hourly wage is $7.25 per hour.
The disparity between the super-rich and the rest is staggering and is unlikely to swing in favor of the 99% anytime soon. The chasm which exits between the rich and poor is also evident in the developing world. India is home to 156,000 millionaires and it is estimated that by 2018 the number of extremely wealthy people will double. (Barhat, 2015). India has sent a mission to Mars and holds the elite Formulae One motor racing event annually, yet 70% of India’s population live in the rural areas of the country and are poor. There are limited health facilities (the government spends as little 1% of its GDP on health care services) and 50% of Indians don’t have proper shelter; 70% don’t have access to decent toilets; 35% of households don’t have a nearby water source; 85% of villages don’t have a secondary school and over 40% of these same villages don’t have proper roads connecting them (Poverties.Org, 2013).
Like so many accounts of glamorized wealth, Barhat’s report (2105) understates the plight of the poor and disenfranchised in India in preference for a voyeuristic account of the narcissistic over consumption of the super-rich. In doing so he unwittingly affirms Marx’s claim that:
The ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas, i.e. the class which is the ruling material force of society, is at the same time its ruling intellectual force. The class which has the means of material production at its disposal, has control at the same time over the means of mental production, so that thereby, generally speaking, the ideas of those who lack the means of mental production are subject to it. The ruling ideas are nothing more than the ideal expression of the dominant material relationships, the dominant material relationships grasped as ideas.” (Marx, 1976)
As a system advanced capitalism subordinates people to profit, and of course I realize that I’m not the first to make that claim. Big business has long asserted it owns its customers and through the practice of extending credit to consumers and keeping them in debt, they not only own them, but enslave them through all kinds of small print agreements. People are born into debt and die in debt. The concept of a mortgage translated from the French literally means debt until death.
There’s no dignity afforded to a global population co-dependent on the credit-debt cycle as a means to survival in their day-today lives. Nor is there any dignity through subordinating free thought to the advertising gurus who manipulate our minds to buy more stuff. This view is supported through Apple Inc.’s recently recorded profit of $18bn, the largest recorded profit of any company in the post-industrialist age. This was made possible for two reasons. Firstly, through outsourcing-that somewhat shady and unethical idea that labor is cheaper in the developing world. Apple’s off shore operations (esp. in China) mass produces its products in factories akin to the industrial houses and sweat shops of the 19th century. And secondly, by millions of consumers who clamored for its latest iPhone. The specifications of its new product weren’t dissimilar to its previous ones-yet through slick advertising designed to subtlety manipulate the mind, and a globalized consumerist culture which brands all of as human capital-people thought they needed it either as an essential tool for communication or as a status accessory.
It seems we are all in love with money and stuff, and the acquisition of more of it is at the expense of our human dignity. And we know that the course of true love never did run smooth. Recently the daughter of the CEO of Korean Air had one of its commercial jets return to the departure gate after a flight attendants served her nuts in a bag rather than a bowl. The accounts of her rant and how she made the flight attendant kneel in front of her to apologize have been widely reported in the media. More recently it has been reported that Conrad Hilton, the not so great grandson son of the heirs to the Hilton hotel chain caused mayhem on an international flight, assaulting flight attendants and calling passengers in economy class peasants. If we take time to think and reflect on their behaviors and the course of human history, the economic and social future for all of us, looks very bleak indeed.

References
Barhat, V. (2015, January 27). BBC World: Capital. Retrieved from BBC World News: http://www.bbc/capital
Byanyima, W. (2015, January 19). Oxfam: The Power of People Against Poverty. Retrieved from Oxfam International: http://www.oxfam.org/en/pressroom/pressreleases/2015-01-19/richest-1-will-own-more-all-rest-2016
Marx, K. (1976). Capital, Vol. 1. London: Penguin.
Poverties.Org. (2013, June). Effects of Poverty in India:Between Injustice and Exclusion. Retrieved from Poverties.Org: Reasearch for Social & Economic Development: http://www.poverties.org/poverty-in-india.html

The Pope, Politics and the Seductive Power of the Free Market

In an opinion piece written for The Nation, a Thailand broadsheet newspaper, Bloomberg columnist Ramesh Ponnuru argued that Pope Francis misunderstands the power of the free market. He goes further and lambasts the Pope for commenting on politics, economics and other problematic social issues which are the negative side effects of free market capitalism, claiming that the Pope is misguided when it comes to offering a point of view on the social ills of the free market era and the general decline in democratic freedoms throughout the developed world. He goes so far as to say that the Pope’s thoughts and comments are “frustratingly vague, imprecise or poorly considered” (Ponnuru, December 21st 2013). Clearly he hasn’t read the full text of the Apostolic Exhortation: Evangelii Gaudium.
Ponnuru isn’t the only ‘free marketeer’ to criticize the Pope for his forthright comments on the growing inequalities in an age of unbridled wealth and riches throughout the world. In the November 2013 issue of the right wing Australian Magazine Quadrant, Mervyn Brendle argued that “there are moments when the new Pontiff can sound very much like a spokesman for the Occupy movement, but his philosophy and goals are likely to go beyond the mere propagation of slogans” (Brendle, 2013). Brendle goes on to further discredit the man by arguing that prior to being elected Pope, the former Archbishop of Buenos Aires Jorge Mario Bergoglio was a conflicted fascist/ leftist leaning Jesuit radical; and likened him to the leader of “a secret order characterized by obedience, intellectual rigor and ascetic discipline—the Jesuit virtues—but whose intellectual influences were a mish-mash of Lenin, the mystic Romanian philosopher Mircea Eliade and the sixteenth-century Jesuit missionary to China, Matteo Ricci” (Brendle, 2013).
For those who hold advanced capitalism as their overarching secular pseudo-theological view of the universe a Pope with a social conscience can be very disturbing and very threatening (China bans religion for this very fundamental reason-to avoid anyone expressing or using their social conscience to challenge or disagree with the mantra that ‘socialist greed is good’).
Yet it is the right time to have a leading world Statesman comment on the malignant cancer of greed which attacks the body politic of humanity today. Barrack Obama attempted this but has been held captive by his own country’s inert and ineffective political dialectic, and has made little progress since the massive economic depression triggered through the greed and dishonesty of the financial practices of banks, traders and investors in 2008. And other Western political leaders have long forgotten about the concept and usefulness of having a social conscience; they never utter more than a word or two about the plight of the poor, dispossessed and alienated in their countries and in other Nation States throughout the world.
The new Pope is right to condemn greed and excess. He is right to comment that the death of a homeless man is completely disregarded while a 2% downturn on the stock market makes headlines. He is right to argue in Evangelii Gaudium that “Human beings are themselves considered consumer goods to be used and then discarded (Bergoglio, 2013). He says that we have created a “throw away” culture which is now spreading”; and that “we have created new idols. The worship of the ancient golden calf (Ex. 32:1-35) has returned in a new and ruthless guise in the idolatry of money and the dictatorship of an impersonal economy lacking a truly human purpose.” He goes on to explain how “ethics has come to be viewed with a certain scornful derision… In effect, ethics leads to a God who calls for a committed response, which is outside the categories of the marketplace.” (Bergoglio, 2013).
Pope Francis has reminded the world in Evangelii Gaudium that the old aristocratic version of Christianity inherited from the Byzantium era, and upheld in all of its corrupt splendour by his predecessors, lacks relevance in 21st century Christendom, and that living the Gospel virtues, as taught by Jesus will bring us into conflict with a rampant advanced capitalistic, free market with little regard for those with no ready cash on hand. The Pope challenges us all to think more deeply about our priorities and about what is right and wrong in the world and take a stand. I for one am glad of this timely reminder of how to live a more relevant and virtuous life.

References
Bergoglio, J. (. (2013). APOSTOLIC EXHORTATION EVANGELII GAUDIUM. Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana.
Brendle, M. (2013, November 6th). Pope Francis, Liberation and Integralism. Quadrant, pp. 12-18.
Ponnuru, R. (December 21st 2013). Pope Francis Misunderstands the Power of the Free Market. Bangkok: The Nation.