The debate over whether or not to use cameras in classrooms in Greece, as well as the large-scale debate in the universities of most countries about the scale at which practices such as distance learning should be consolidated over a long period of time, are just some of them. aspects of a major debate on the future of education that only triggers the extraordinary measures taken to tackle the pandemic of the new corona.
In fact, these discussions raise real questions about the future of education in a transitional period, questions that are not about emergencies but about how we perceive the form, content, and purpose of the education system.
We realized the urgency of such questions before, through the successive findings of the educational system crisis, even if this was often done through the distorting lens of the sometimes “moral panic” about the supposed lack of basic knowledge of students (although the average level of literacy and skills increases in each generation) or the selective use of statistics such as PISA measurements (not adapted to the particular characteristics of individual educational systems) or even worse the anecdotal and impressive presentation of “chaos in universities” images.
The real school crisis
A discussion that has not taken place on the scale that belongs to it is the one that concerns the real crisis of the school today. With this, we do not want to underestimate the important work that teachers do with appetite and passion or the fact that the real performance of students is important.
We are mainly referring to the inability of the school to simultaneously adapt and resist a reality where students receive a storm of information and where the elements that are supposed to be its primary priority, such as placing it consistently in a historical and social environment. , the ability of total analysis and the ability to think critically, are repelled by the public sphere. We ask students to produce well-written essays at a time when we believe that a candidate for prime minister should be able to explain in a televised debate in ninety seconds how to deal with unemployment.
The same goes for all problems that do not start with education but cannot be left out of schools. We occasionally discover offences, e.g. in technical education, but we never discuss why we allow social abandonment zones to be formed primarily and secondarily.
At the same time, the serious discussion about curricula, textbooks, the possibility of enriching subjects and becoming more attractive in essence is constantly being postponed. As for the teaching staff, we underestimate the negative impact of the fact that for years no permanent appointments have been made and at the same time schools are still relying on the work of teachers who face an extremely precarious condition.
The limits of “reforms”
At the same time, in higher education, there is no real assessment of the successive “reforms” that have already taken place or are being carried out. Here, too, various kinds of “moral panic” preceded, such as the ever-repetitive position that the main problem of Greek universities is the infamous “lawlessness”, a concept that is often misleading, as it is used to cover a range of completely different situations, from mass students and political interventions to simple delinquent behaviors. Only the construction of an image of “generalized dissolution” overlooks e.g. that in the same period of the supposed “mess” the research performance of Greek universities has been significant, while the very phenomenon of brain drain demonstrates the real level of their graduates.
In fact, it is precisely the phenomenon of the mass flight of Greek university graduates abroad that shows the real problem in Greece in recent years: a low-growth economy and a low-expectation society that is unable to make the most of its valuable productive resource, namely highly trained and educated scientific staff.
In this context, focusing on issues such as imposing a time limit on obtaining a degree (since the demagogic notion that the problem of universities has been “eternal students” for years, while reality does not show such a thing) seems at least a waste of time. and forces.
Respectively, the focus, often on the verge of demagogy, on issues such as the form of student assemblies or the frequency and duration of their mobilizations also seems to underestimate the existence of living and sometimes militant social and political processes in universities. of their overall educational role.
On the other hand, the mass conversion of TEI into universities, although strategically necessary in terms of the need to form a relatively uniform higher education space, was not accompanied by such support mainly from staff who will prevent the possibility of continuing to have higher education in many speeds.
The future is not teleconferencing
The period of pandemic brought a flourishing of distance learning practices. A compulsory solution that prevented an academic year from being lost is, for some, the future of the educational process.
However, despite the great convenience that online digital platforms can offer in educational practice, they can hardly replace lifelong learning: the immediacy of communication, constant interaction, the ability to respond to requests.
In fact, often behind the views that glorify the virtues of modern forms of distance learning, there is a certain perception of the educational process: with an emphasis on the relative mechanical reproduction of the curriculum and with a high degree of standardization at the expense of the critical approach.
This is obviously not to be underestimated by the very important role that digital platforms can play in teaching and how they literally open new horizons in terms of lesson enrichment and access to the material. But at the same time, it highlights the need to address the existing “digital divide” that still exists in society and the need to ensure that broadband access is now a fundamental social right.
The real investment in education
The invocation of the need for “investment in education” is one of the most common commonplace public discourses. This, however, does not diminish its importance. Of course, in order for any investment in education to take place, it is necessary to have an investment outside of education. Because it is obvious that a country in economic crisis and with investments mainly in areas of low added value can hardly use its scientific potential or give it a perspective within borders. The same is true of a country that has faced the issue of staffing the public sector (a space that primarily needs graduates and scientific research support) mainly in the light of the reduction in budgetary costs, at a time when the pandemic has shown that what may be imagined one moment “excess staff” the next can prove to be the factor that makes the difference.
On the contrary, if we really go for a “change of example” in terms of economic development, with an emphasis on getting rid of mass tourism and the identification of investment and real estate, high technology and high added value, research, knowledge and culture, as in the new forms of social economy, then the investment in education, at all levels, acquires special significance. Moreover, in an age of multifunctionality and often indistinguishable boundaries between scientific knowledge, technical competence, communication skills, and a holistic social approach, it is clear that an old-fashioned technocratic concept is not sufficient as it highlights the essential necessity of a wider range of disciplines.
Such an investment in knowledge and in the future cannot be a matter of “market forces”. Not because there is no room for synergy between education and the economy. On the contrary: in order for education to play its role, it needs that investment in infrastructure, human resources and capabilities in order to unfold the educational and research work that only the State can offer. And in this age of support, which requires the necessary confidence in the ability and creativity of people who keep the education system upright at all levels, it is more than necessary and more important than the perception that what is needed is another. “reform”.