Culture and society
About a world-centered education
Highlights from an interview with Gert Biesta

What are we talking about in this article?

With Gert Biesta we address some of the themes presented in his recent book World-Centred Education: A View for the Present, recently published in Italian by Tab Edizioni.

Biesta’s reflection is pedagogical and political at the same time, as it proposes an idea of educational action which has direct action on the world as its ultimate goal.
Beyond a training communication centered on the mere transfer of notions, and on the balance between education and learning, the idea proposed by Biesta is that of an “existential” training, with the aim of helping students to establish full relationships with the world, to build the tools – experiential, cognitive, relational – to try to live well “in” and “with” the world.

Field of Intervention

Culture and Society

From a long time, the sAu Research Center has been committed to valorising an idea of non-hegemonic knowledge but as the construction of a common good. That is / must be the result of a collaboration between socio-cultural and economic fields that – until now – have been kept strictly distinct.

The title of the book is quite intriguing. What exactly does ‘world-centred education’ mean?

«I call the notion of world-centred education first of all a rhetorical intervention in a rather old tendency in discussions about education to either argue for education that is knowledge- or curriculum-centred and education that is child- or student-centred. Both options, that keep coming back, are obviously one-sided. World-centred education is first of all meant to have a different direction in our educational thinking and doing, to begin with the fact that as educators we need to bring children and curriculum together in order to equip them for their life in and with the world – the natural world, the physical world, and the social world. But there is a second layer in the argument, because many discussions in education now argue that education should focus on learning. The ‘gesture’ of learning, however, is always one that goes from the one who wants to learn to the world ‘outside’ of them. The risk is that this always turns the world into an object of our learning, our sense-making, our interpretation, our knowledge construction, and so on. However, I also try to argue that the world is not simply or just an object for our learning and sense-making. The world, natural, physical and social, is real and puts limits and limitations onto what we can want from it and can do with it. So there is a very different question to raise in education, namely what the world is asking of us, and more specifically what the world is asking of me. This is not the gesture of learning but the gesture of what I would call teaching or, more precisely, of being taught. That is a further way in which the world should be in the centre of education».

The book

World-Centred Education
A View for the Present

The volume addresses the issue of the harmonious development of subjectivity. In your opinion, what are the main educational mistakes our western society makes with regard to our ‘children’?

«Actually I don’t argue for harmonious development of subjectivity, because that idea is still one that puts children and their development in the centre. In the book I take an existential approach, which means that I do not focus on how individuals develop or grow, but on what it means to live one’s life in and with the world, bearing in mind that as human beings we are undetermined beings – we have to make something of our life. And what we ‘make’ of our life is not totally in our own hands, but always takes place in dialogue with the world, natural, physical, and social; a world that provides us with opportunities and limitations, with challenges and possibilities.

The lifelong challenge to exist as subject of one’s own life, and not just as object of all kind of forces and demands from ‘elsewhere,’ is where education has important work to do. As educators we cannot decide for our students how they should try to live their lives, but I do argue in the book that our duty is to give the new generation a ‘fair chance’ at their existence as subject of their own lives.

When we begin to look at our current times from this angle, we can ask to what extent the societies we have, the political systems we have, but also the economies we run are providing the new generation with such a fair chance. In the book I argue that the contemporary ‘impulse society’ has little time for and interest in this – it just wants us to desire more so that we buy more, rather than raising serious questions about what actually is desirable in our individual and collective lives. So I would say the biggest mistake – or concern – is that in contemporary society there is little interest in the difficult question of human freedom and what it means to live our lives well. But I also think that schools and other educational institutions have less and less time for these questions. They push young people to become independent learners, for example, but already predefine learning in terms of particular outcomes and texts. So I also worry how education itself is becoming – or already has become – un-educational».

How important for you is the active involvement, the engagement of the subject in the actions of transformation of our reality

«Perhaps I should first of all mention that in the book I’m trying to push back against too much activity and too much transformation. I actually think that the ecological crisis is the result of too much activity and trying to control the planet, rather than, say, try to listen to the planet, try to find out what limits and limitations should be respected. So I am trying to find a better balance between the active and the passive. This is the main reason why I use the word ‘subject,’ because ‘subject,’ for example in grammar, is not only the one how acts, but ‘subject’ also means to be subjected. And I think that this double meaning captures much better our human condition, and that the challenge is to find a balance between activity and passivity, between action and passivity».

Who did you intend to address by writing this volume?

«I hope that it is interesting for anyone who is interested in education. My first audience, so to speak, are educators – people working in educational practice, educational scholarship, educational policy, and so on. This is my first audience because in my view there are so many problematic trends and developments in contemporary education that make education un-educational or even anti-educational. So my main ambition is to articulate what education is supposed to be about. 

But I also see the book as important for much wider discussions about the relationship between education and society, and for how society sees the school. My worry, as mentioned, is that we have a society that wants a lot from the school, but has little patience for ensuring that in schools, colleges and universities children and young people do get a fair chance at their own existence as subject – in the world and with the world. Rather than that they are only pressured to score high on exams, or become self-directed learners, or all kind of other rather meaningless trends in education».


We recently participated in a research project funded by the Italian government on a sample of Italian schools (ISCED 1 and 2): one of the main critical issues that emerged is the lack of communication between teachers, parents and students (children), which testifies the lack of cohesion of these contexts. What is your experience in this regard? What type of communication – from your point of view – can be generative of innovations and solutions to the problems identified and of involvement for the students?

«This is of course quite a complicated question, particularly without knowing the details and the context. So let me say a few words about participation and student involvement. The topic connects to world-centred education because, as mentioned, the notion is meant as an alternative to two ‘fashionable’ options, one of this being child- or student-centred education. There are extreme forms of this, which argue that children and young people should not be told what to do in schools but should have total freedom to ask their own questions and pursue their own interests.

One educational problem with this is that students may have quite problematic interests or quite worrying questions, and simply to say that it is good education to let students do what they want to do is therefore problematic and actually not helpful. Here I would say that the task of the educator is always to raise the question whether what children and young people want or desire is worthwhile, that is, whether it’s going to help or hinder in living their life well, with others, on a planet with limited capacity to give us everything we would like to get from it. So at the very least I would say that students deserve to be interrupted by educators so that they can gain a perspective on and judgement about what they want to pursue or what they desire.

But I also think that it raises questions about what the school is for, and here I would emphasise that for me the school is a place that should open doors, that is, focus the attention of students on the questions they are not asking – often because they didn’t know they could ask such questions – or the things they are not looking for – often because they didn’t know they could be looking for them. 


Migrant children’s participation and identity construction in education and healthcare – PRIN

The online archive project and realization

The research project proposes solutions – products for the training and self-evaluation of professionals – to strengthen the participation of migrant children in educational activities in educational and healthcare systems (school in hospital), contributing to breaking down linguistic, social, cultural and communications that distance teachers, doctors and healthcare workers from students, young patients and their families. 

For the project, the sAu Research Center developed an application of the Atque Integrated System for the documentation and sharing of audio-video research materials.

Now of course as educators we do not want to tell students what to want or to do or to think, but we should help them to come into a relationship with what they want or desire – and not just be a slave of their desires. For these reasons participation is quiet a tricky notion in education, and what I do with world-centred education is to offer an angle from which we can ask these questions, that is, when participation is educational and when it turns into its opposite.


Biesta’s words, sometimes provocative, propose a way of looking at education which, going beyond a hierarchical and transmission perspective, from teaching understood as the simple transmission of notions, nevertheless recovers the fundamental gesture of teaching, as “indication” towards an external reality that sets limits and asks for solutions. Education, then, is not limited to learning, but takes on a broader, existential role. It addresses the very meaning of our life in the world – starting from that of young people who attend school – and of the relationship with our history, our society, our culture – so that our experience takes on that level of awareness that – today more than ever – seems to be missing.


Alessandra Anichini

Alessandra Anichini has been working on digital textuality since 1994. Thanks to her work for Indire, she have explored the relationship between book production and new textualities, pursuing a research interest that attempts to reconcile attention to digital innovation with history, favouring a cultural perspective that takes education into account.

Eugenio Pandolfini

Ph.D., Researcher and founding member of the “scientia Atque usus” Research Center for Generative Communication ETS; Consultant at Lab CfGC Researcher of the Department of Political and Social Sciences of the University of Florence

Gert Biesta

Gert Biesta is Professor of Public Education at the Center for Public Education and Pedagogy, Maynooth University, Ireland, and Professor of Educational Theory and Pedagogy at the Moray House School of Education and Sport, University of Edinburgh, United Kingdom.

He has recently held visiting professorships at the University of Agder, Norway and Uniarts, Helsinki, Finland. Since 2023 he is a member of the Education Council of the Netherlands, the advisory body for the Dutch government and parliament on educational matters.