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