Learning, Naturally

So much well-founded criticism of our education system has been levelled in various places and by various well- and lesser-known persons that we can confidently take this societal self-diagnosis seriously, despite all caution about fake news. And yet it seems to me that only a minority does, although nothing less than our future is at stake. Nothing new, you may say. Learning is something that simply goes without saying after all.  Of course learning is part of life. Of course we learn throughout our lives. Of course the education system should make our children fit for life. Learning is in our nature after all, isn’t it?

It is precisely this so-called self evidence that stops us seeing the seriousness of the situation: climate change, the energy crisis, migration, social injustice and the dynamics of technological development that threaten to leave us humans behind. As Einstein once said, we cannot solve the problems at the level at which they arose. We therefore need a shift away from the thought processes shaped in the industrial age to a mindset focused on life and sustainability. 

But is the situation really that serious? Since I am fascinated by the process of learning (and all that is available about learning today), I am amazed at the variety of learning forms, concepts, model schools, initiatives, registered associations, scientific publications and more. A many-voiced commotion like the sounds of the instruments of a symphony orchestra before the conductor appears on stage. And here the comparison already ends. No conductor appears. And no one really knows how or what to play together. So the tuning up continues for the time being. And the audience waits patiently.

The term “learning” alone has become a collective term: formal, non-formal, informal, free, self-directed, self-organised, social, immersive, agile, workplace-oriented, generative, interdisciplinary, digital, networked, lifelong and Germanised complex adaptive learning, micro learning. blended learning, e-learning. But we humans are not alone in learning now. We have also brought machines into the equation with machine learning and deep learning. The symbiosis of technology and cognitive processes enables new kinds of learning experiences that could alienate us from reality. All these bear a testament  to dynamism and give hope, but not only.

Hope for learning, education and change comes from a variety of initiatives. At the forefront we find UNESCO‘s Sustainable Development Goal No. 4, which includes learning, and the “Education for Sustainable Development” programme. Furthermore, the OECD with its Learning Compass 2030, various EU programmes for the completion of the European Education Area 2025. But also outside political institutions there is a colourful patchwork of associations, programmes, global and local projects. Some impressive examples are the “Open Education Global” platform and the global campaign “Homeland Earth” of the Austrian Study Centre for Peace and Conflict Resolution (ASPR), which refers to the thoughts on education of the French philosopher Edgar Morin in his book “Homeland Earth”. And in Germany, for example, it is the “Lernkulturzeit” and the “Bundesverband Natürlich Lernen e.V.” that are committed to future-oriented education. The latter even encourages children to be educated outside of school.

So there really is a lot going on. What is there to criticise? This commitment is impressive, inspires hope and is truly worthy of support. So the knowledge is there to reform the education system fundamentally. Lack of know-how cannot be given as an excuse for inaction. Where is the conductor with the score? Personally, I am getting impatient. Conferences, committees, meetings twice a year…. Do we still have that much time? Isn’t there perhaps a more promising way past the Ministries of Education, State Education Authorities etc. – the whole cascade of educational bureaucracy?

Original text: PUE
English translation: BCO

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