Celebrating education and learning, a universal struggle


In the United Nations Agenda 2030, access for all to quality education is the fourth Sustainable Development Goal (SDG). One SDG among seventeen but which governs them all, as the level of education of a population, and in particular of girls, is overdetermining for the development trajectories of a country. A goal that will be celebrated on January 24, 2021, as well as on January 25, 2021, on the occasion of the third International Day of Education.

If the most optimistic scenarios count on a rapid demographic transition – with a peak in the world population reached before 2050 – welcoming nearly two billion additional human beings requires the development of education. However, in this area, nothing has been taken for granted and much remains to be done. Today, more than 250 million children and adolescents are out of school, and over 600 million cannot read or do basic calculations. Over 60% of girls in sub-Saharan Africa do not complete secondary school.

Education has been particularly affected by the Covid-19 pandemic: with 184 countries having closed their schools, more than 1.5 billion students were out of school in 2020, or nearly 90% . The pandemic therefore exacerbates already worrying situations.

Opponents of education who thrive

All over the world, education is the prime target of terrorist attacks. In Conflans-Sainte-Honorine as in Bamako or Peshawar, “to terrorize the school is to attack the Fabrique of the citizen of tomorrow”, in the words of Cyrille Bret on The Conversation on October 23, 2020.

In Pakistan, the Taliban attacked more than 900 schools between 2006 and 2012 , particularly targeting girls’ schools, a grim context for the Nobel Peace Prize awarded to Malala Yousafzai in 2014. In sub-Saharan Africa, attacks on schools have become a systematic terrorist strategy. In Mali, in 2019, more than 900 schools closed their doors and 150,000 students were forcibly displaced. Boko Haram – “the forbidden book” – methodically attacks education to instill fear and undermine the development and emancipation capacities of populations.

The scourge of information disorders is also becoming increasingly effective and dangerous, in democracy and elsewhere. The insurrection of the Trumpist far right on the Capitol on January 6, as well as the regular terrorist attacks in many parts of the world illustrate, in a paroxysmal way, how much obscurantism and the rejection of reason resist.

Opponents of education propagate and consolidate their ideology, through verbal, iconographic and physical violence, and through murder. They oppose emancipation, the freedom to think and express oneself, to science, to the debate of ideas, to democracy.

In this context, the proclamation by the UN General Assembly in 2018 of January 24 as the “International Day of Education” takes on a special meaning: that of a universal struggle. As UNESCO points out, education is not only a human right, but also a public good and a public responsibility. It is development, peace and emancipation, the freedom of all that are at stake.

Contribute collectively to education

Public education and training policies have often been won hard, including in a democracy. We can always improve them. But do we fully appreciate their deeply transforming power? Do we realize, moreover, that we are capable of an unsuspected creativity to constantly reinvent ourselves, in these fields? This global challenge of learning is also that of solidarity, exchange and emulation.

The celebration of learning as invited by the United Nations on January 24 and 25 is not limited to the institutional field: it is a collective, democratic and inclusive celebration. Because we never stop learning throughout our life, everyone should be invited to contribute to the common good through their knowledge, old and new, to learn from their peers and to be a source of inspiration for others.

The pandemic has deeply weakened us, but it has also brought to light our need to “form society”, to (re-) find ourselves. As the philosopher Sandra Laugier explains in the book she co-edited, The power of weak links , the fragility of the links that make up a society also constitutes its strength and its integrative capacity: through conversations, through language, in all its forms, we are able to produce, together, the changes we need to live better.

Let us also be inspired by the youngest who, by learning to make the most of digital tools, by mobilizing for the common good, for the planet, against racism, for equality between women and men, develop new work capacities by common, sharing and solving challenges.

To the example of Malala, who fought for girls’ education in Pakistan, is added that of Sagarika Sriram who, with Kids4abetterWorld , created from Dubai a global platform to connect children wishing to commit to the environment. In Quebec and in France, Voters in Grass has set up an education or citizenship project for middle and high school students.

True learning communities, spontaneous or organized, are born and develop, at all ages. Shared knowledge is a process of formation and transformation of oneself, making it possible to create other conditions of discourse, which form “a public space of resonances”, to use a phrase from the philosopher Yves Citton.

Share our learnings

Celebrating what we have done and what we know how to do is one way, among others, of not, of no longer feeling alone, by creating places of meeting and sharing. Such hybrid “middle grounds”, physical and virtual, one-off or lasting, offer the possibility of gathering, of meeting.

We are all researchers who learn new things every day. Documenting, mapping, evaluating, sharing and transmitting them should not come under an injunction, but rather an invitation to invent new, modern forms of “popular education” because the expectations are real for meet a number of local and global challenges.

From the “mapping” of good practices to the GPS of knowledge, through the pedagogies of collaborative problem-solving “collaborative problem-solving”, design thinking, critical thinking, “learning by doing”, new models of learning and transmission are being explored, from local to international, in schools, universities, companies and associations.

These models promote participatory research, trust science, and rely on experienced know-how, including activists. They are also, reciprocally, objects of study for academic research.

So why not structure the celebrations and create new regular rituals? Applauding the caregivers at the window, as many did during the first confinement, is knowing how to say thank you, together. But this collective gratitude cannot be limited to the symbolic: it is necessary to concretize the public investment in the professions of care, care for others and education.

This requires releasing financial resources to support, prepare, involve and support future generations who are among the main victims of current global crises, as well as all those who, whatever their age, social and professional situation, where they live, need and want to learn and be trained.

The optimistic narrative on education, training, apprenticeships cannot be decreed, cannot be imposed. It is embodied in all good wills and takes shape in inspiring devices. Education is a powerful international soft power.

Author Bios: Francois Taddei is Inserm Researcher, Director, Gaëll Mainguy is Director, Development and International Relations and Marie-Cecile Naves is Doctor of Political Science, Research Associate all at CRI Paris, Center for Interdisciplinary Research (CRI)