13 SES 03 B, Trust, Uncertainty and Risk in Education
We are living in an era of risk. This is the backdrop for the OECD report “The future of education and skills 2030”. The report identifies three challenges that education must address, namely an environmental, economic and a social. As a conseqence, OECD sees the “[n]eed for broader education goals” and a development of the concept of competence.
In this paper, I ask if the renewed OECD-concept of competence is sufficient as an educational framework in an era of risk. I argue that global risks, such as climate change, requires a normative framework for education. This is found in the tradition of Bildung. I argue that this tradition can give important contributions to education in an era of risk.
Educating for future risks
As OECD points out, agency is an important aim of education:
«Future-ready students need to exercise agency, in their own education and throughout life. Agency implies a sense of responsibility to participate in the world» (OECD 2018, p. 4)
Building on the DeSeCo-project (OECD 2005), the Education 2030 Project develops three additional «transformative competencies» that should enable students to become “change agents”: «Creating new value» by innovative thinking; «Reconciling tensions and dilemmas» by system thinking and «Taking responsibility» (OECD 2018, s.5).
What is missing in the OECD approach, from the perspective of Bildung, is the development of student’s normative relation to the world.
Responsibility - meaning and value
Agency in an era of risk presuppose responsibility. But in the OECD framework, the competence “taking responsibility” seems to be reduced to a psychological skill without normative content: «Central to this competency is the concept of self-regulation, which involves self-control, self-efficacy, responsibility, problem solving and adaptability.» (OECD 2018, p.6).
In the tradition of Bildung, responsible agency is tied to sensibility as the recognition of subjective or aesthetic meaning and value. This means thatresponsible agency presuppose the experience of the world as meaningful and valuable. For example, agency regarding climate change would depend on the experience of nature as meaningful and valuable.
To edcuate responsible agency, a competence approach will be not sufficient. For the romantic thinkers in the Bildung-tradition, the aim of education was “to educate the senses, specifically their powers to perceive the beauty of the world. This faculty could be made more sensitive, refined, and acute.” (Beiser 2003, p. 101). Rational and responsible participation in the world, required a developed human sensibility. In line with this, Schiller argues that «it is not sufficient to educate the understanding alone, It is also necessary to cultivate feelings and desires, to develop a person’s sensibility so that he or she are inclined to act according to the principles of reasons.”(Ibid., p. 94).
In the light of the tradition of Bildung, education in an era of risk needs a broader framework than the OECD competencies. It would also be important to expose and initiate student into the meanings and value of the world. To accomplish this, it is nessecary to focus on the kind of knowledge, experiences and teaching that purport to deepen students sensibility – towards nature, society and the “inner depth” of the self. In turn, this deepened sensibility could enhance responsible agency regarding the social, economic and environmental risks of the future.
Global risks as modern alienation In this paper I argue that in an era of risk, the normative framework of Bildung represents an important extension to OECDs competence approach. A second dimension of this relevance, is related to the idea of alienation. I will try to show the current relevance of Bildung, by interpreting global risks and challenges as a modern form of alienation. Some of the global risks we are facing today represent a form of alienation. A phenomena like the CO2-driven climate change is not inherently threatening to our society. CO2-emissions turn into risks because of the absence of global institutions for emission control. Thus, the risk that these phenomena represent, is that they lie outside the scope of human agency. In this respect, our modern era of risk has some resemblance with the alienated world in the tragedies of Antigone and Oedipus: Agency was obstructed by the uncontrolled destiny. Today, our form of destiny is found in risks like climate change or migration. They display our alienation and our lack of agency - and thus, the need for a deeper unity with the world. As an educational concept Bildung grew out of the need of overcoming alienation and restoring the unity with the world. If it makes sense to see the global risks of today as expressions of alienation, Bildung is still a relevant educational concept: On the one hand, it provides a framework for describing our modern predicament (for example as alienation). On the other, it proposes a solution. This solution is normative, namely the ability to relate to reality in terms of a “We”. This idea connects Kant’s call for the use of universal reason, the romantic’s emphasis on love or Hegel’s vision of Geist. If we are still living in a world containing structures of alienation, the normative approach found in the Bildung-tradition is a relevant alternative to the OECD concept of competence.
"The tragedy of the commons” Hardin’s (1968) article “The tragedy of the commons” may further clarify the relevance of Bildung as an educational concept in an era of risk. The tragedy of the common describes actions that are rational and ethical from the perspective of the individual, but simultaneously harmful to their common world. An example: To go by plane to the ECER-conference is rational and ethical because CO2-emissions from one passenger are negligible. The tragedy lies in the rationality of this action: Rational and good willing individuals may still in sum harm “the common”, the climate. And this harm, because it is a consequence of rational action, seem unavoidable. Thus, Hardin understands “tragedy” similar to Sofokles tragedies discussed above, namely as descriptions of alienation and absence of agency. Hardin argues that many modern risks, like pollution and overpopulation, exhibit this "tragic", alienated structure. Therefore, an educational framework that aims to be relevant in our era of risk, must develop students agency regarding risks with the "tragic" structure. As Hardin points out, the solution to the tragic dilemma, is a moral one. What OECDs competecies offers in this respect, is for example “the capacity to understand the needs and desires of others” and the ability to “think and act in a more integrated way” and learning to be “systems thinkers”(OECD 2018). It is doubtful if this is enough to avoid the tragedy: A competent “system thinker” might conclude that the individual fulfillment of “needs and desires” has negligible effects on “the system” - a conclusion that would cause the tragedy. To enable agency and avoid alienation, a framework based on Bildung might have better chances. Educating the ability of normative, collective thinking, looks like the moral solution Hardin suggests. In an era of risk Bildung is needed in addition to competence.
Beiser, Frederick C. 2003, The romantic imperative, Harvard University Press Hardin, Garret, 1968, "The tragedy of the Commons", Science OECD 2018, “The future of education and skills 2030”. OECD 2005, "The definition and selction of key competencies" (DeSeCo)
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