(being continued from 30/01/17)
A Greek noun again, êthê meaning customs and a Greek adjective ethicos, meaning arising from habit, gave birth to the word “Ethics”, which is the branch of philosophy concerned with what is morally good and bad and the development of criteria, rules and judgements about what is good and right.
Aristotle, who authored the Nichomachean Ethics, believed the study of ethics was necessary in order to improve our lives. In his view as well as in the views of his teacher, Plato, the supreme goal in life was a good life. The two of them regarded ethical virtues as a mix of complex emotional, social and rational skills. The study of ethics was meant to improve our lives, and therefore was primiraly concerned with our well being.
II. The Purpose of Education
In antiquity, education was reserved to the upper class, to the leisured ones, and in the following centuries, with the exception of Charlemagne who, in 800 AD, opened schools to all, nobles and peasant alike, education was the privilege of members of the religious orders or a privileged few. In the 19th century, education took on a new dimension, a revolutionary one. Ancient education systems, that had existed in many different forms, for centuries, even for millennia, all around the world, became part of this movement that was going to revolutionize education and extend vastly the reach of its benefits.
As a result of the American and French revolutions and the democratic and nationalists movements that followed around the world, as well as a consequence of the industrial revolution, the concept of mass schooling began to take shape. This concept started in Europe first and aimed at the education of the citizen, to promote attitudes and behaviors consistent with the political systems but also the skills needed to develop the human and economic capital of the nations. Mass schooling was then adopted worldwide, especially after the demise of colonial regimes. It became a sine qua non condition of any modern democratic society where schools were created to socialize and educate children and prepare them to become productive citizens of their respective nations. Schools were meant as the crucible of new national identities, as the tool to establish modern looking nation states that often not only neglected but also negated regional identities. Patois or dialects and minority languages were ignored or forbidden in order to forge a uniform national identity. Schools were meant to pass on the national heritage. Not only did schools play a major role in cementing national identities, but they were also an agent of social change meant for the collective good regardless of gender, religion, ethnicity or language, which meant serving the hierarchy of the labor market and being a tool of social promotion.
While education over the past century was seen as key to achieving an informed citizenry and as a mechanism to distributing human capital inside national borders, with a high correlation between the level of education and eventual professions, mass schooling succeeded to achieve mass literacy. By the middle of the 20th century, children were fully enrolled in elementary education in wealthier nations. Poorer nations followed suit in the second half of the 20th century, with the many exceptions we know of, but the intention and the drive were present in nearly every nation.
With a delay of 20 or 30 years, secondary education was added to primary education and today, everywhere in the world, we see a substantial growth of higher education promoted by local governments and international agencies.
Today, while there are distinctive national specificities, on the whole, education systems show more similarities than differences. The differences are more at the level of practice than atpolicy level. Principles of education are closely related worldwide.
Governments have the political and fiduciary control over the national and regional education system of their respective countries. A very significant part of national budgets go to education all over the world and education, everywhere, is considered a national priority.
As far as the majority of educators are concerned, their education system is a symbol of their own national identity and therefore they only think about education inside of their own national boundaries. The French are a good example: le baccalauréat is as much a symbol of the Republic than its motto of Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité. I have to say that this nationalistic view of education is slowly changing and that inside of the European Union, many joint projects are being developed between countries.
While there are differences in instruction, focus or quality, between different schools systems, they all share the same goal: to prepare young people for their duties as citizens, to give them a profession and to serve as an agent of upward mobility. Still all over the world, to this day, family background and meritocracy come in the way of upward mobility, despite governments’ efforts to promote equal access to education. The successes and failures of mass schooling is a conversation in and of itself.
The 21st century is now introducing another revolution in education, a revolution that is forcing schools to look beyond their national borders. Education, while still serving national interests, has now become more and more a global enterprise. The requests and tensions on national systems are not only coming from inside the nations, but increasingly from the outside, from the global forces of the marketplace and the media. By now, education systems only tied to the formation of nation-state citizens, workers, and consumers are becoming obsolete. Schools are addressing in their own ways the academic, cultural, economic and political issues of the 21st century and its globalization phenomena.
Now the lofty ideals that created mass education and access for all in all nations have to address the challenges that a much enlarged and interlinked world present to them. Education systems have to work cooperatively to develop productive citizens with national and global responsibilities, with a national identity as well as a cosmopolitan one. Citizens who are able to move fluidly between languages and cultures and engage with questions of power and justice at their local, state, and transnational level.
According to Rung Kaewang, Secretary General of Thailand Office of the National Education Commission (2001),“Education in the globalization age should therefore be the balanced integration between global knowledge and indigenous knowledge”.
This approach was already described 20 years ago by one of the former Director Generals of the International Baccalaureate, Roger Peel:
“The honesty of the IB stems from the fact that we require all students to relate first to their own national identity – their own language, literature, history and cultural heritage, no matter where in the world this may be. Beyond that we ask that they identify with the corresponding traditions of others. It is not expected that they adopt alien points of view, merely that they are exposed to them and encouraged to respond intelligently.”
This challenge of a high order is one that the International Baccalaureate Organization has taken on for nearly 50 years. The IBO first served international schools around the world educating the children of international executives, diplomats and local cosmopolitan elites. More recently, state schools in various countries of the world have approached the IBO to offer its rigorous academic programs to local students and help prepare them for the global world in which we live. While in some international schools, international mindedness was often effortless, or taken for granted as just being a part of the school context, in the national schools, with a diverse or homogeneous population, the IB has had to find ways to encourage effortful, mindful and conscious modes of thought to promote not only tolerance but a celebration of cultural differences to prepare its students to successfully navigate the multicultural world they live in and to become productive global citizens.
And this is where the IBO has had to develop programs more and more inclusive of international perspectives, and is still working hard to do so. The IB has been on the forefront of moving away from rigid institutionalization of disciplines and developing critical thinkers, constantly challenging teachers and students to examine their underlying assumptions and beliefs. Here are the seven attributes that Howard Gardner sees as being prerequisite for preparing students for this century:
• Understanding of the global systems
• Capacity to think analytically and creatively across disciplines
• Ability to tackle problems and issues that do not respect disciplinary boundaries
• Knowledge of and ability to interact civilly and productively with individuals from quite different cultural backgrounds – both within one’s own society and across the planet
• Knowledge of and respect for one’s own cultural tradition(s)
• Fostering of hybrid or blended identities
• Fostering of tolerance
Howard Gardner, in Globalization, 2004
I want to reflect with you on the kind of ethics that students will need to share in the global context they live in, and how they will acquire the values that will allow them to function productively and happily in the times ahead of them, to have not only the knowledge but also the values that will give meaning to their lives. I strongly believe, as did the Greeks 25 centuries ago, that the business of education is to educate good citizens.
Several years ago, I came upon the writings of an American, Rushworth M. Kidder, the founder of the Institute of Global Ethics, who has published several books on ethics, including interviews on the topic of shared global ethics from people around the world, and produces a weekly newsletter on ethical issues.
School teachers, because they have such an influence on young minds, are some of the people he worries about the most. As an example, he describes “a school committee meeting where someone proposes that we teach character and ethics. And no sooner is that said than somebody else in the back of the room stands up and says, ‘But whose ethics will you teach?’ It’s a question intended to squelch further discussion. What is behind it is this notion that there is no ethical commonality–and that, if you dare to teach ethics, you are imposing your values on my child, and I won’t have it!” Accordingly, in the western world, many educators have resorted to a values neutral education, refuse to defend a particular point of view and are rarely willing to take a moral stand. When Kidder states:
“Ethics is not a luxury or an option. It is essential to our survival”
I agree with him. And to the question: “whose ethics?” I will reply that if you have a good knowledge and understanding of other cultures, there is no doubt that you will be able to identify common moral elements among them and that it is our duty as educators to teach students the ability to make ethical decisions, decisions they can live with according to their own moral values.
And this leads me to the third part of this presentation to the role of ethics in international education.
(TO BE CONTINUED)