Few families have not suffered the problems experienced by students and teachers to carry out the course, affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and the consequent period of confinement. And now we look out with uncertainty and concern at the start of the new academic year that is coming.
Reading the book The utility of the useless. Manifesto , by the professor and philosopher Nuccio Ordine , becomes paradoxically and irremissibly a reflection on what is useful. Ordine, relying on classical thinkers, describes the usefulness of what is considered in the first instance as useless.
The value of knowledge
We are interested in highlighting here the value or usefulness of knowledge, particularly in these times when COVID-19 is affecting in a painfully explicit way not only the health of the population and the economy.
At the time of a first attempt to return to normality , the damage that education has suffered at all levels, from childhood to university, has emerged. And that, without a doubt, will continue to suffer at the beginning of the next course.
It should not be necessary to remember the value – the “usefulness” – of teaching. It is not only the means to acquire the knowledge and skills that allow you to function as a person and as a citizen . As Ordine points out, teaching and culture are constituent parts of the “ideal amniotic fluid in which the ideas of democracy, freedom, justice, secularism, equality, the right to criticism, tolerance, solidarity and the common good can undergo vigorous development” .
The Italian thinker is to be thanked for reminding us of the speech that Victor Hugo delivered at the French Constituent Assembly in 1848. His objections, in Ordine’s words, maintained a “staggering topicality” in 2013, the date of the first edition of his work. And they recover it if possible with greater vitality seven years later due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Do not cut back on culture at inappropriate times
The French writer, politician and intellectual argued before the Assembly how damaging and ineffective it is to cut the financing of culture. Particularly at the wrong time, when the country needed, on the contrary, to promote cultural activities and public education.
We are interested in focusing here on the latter, on public education, when – as in that 1848 – it is more necessary than ever – and will continue to be so in the immediate future. At a time when we must protect it with special attention to avoid the risk that society will fall into the abyss of ignorance.
“What is the great danger of the current situation? The ignorance. Ignorance even more than misery, ”cried Victor Hugo, defending educational institutions that have the express objective of“ persecuting, fighting, destroying ignorance ”.
The problems of education that have become more acute
The difficulties that social distancing poses for this new course are already on the table. And they join the structural problems of teaching in Spain, exacerbated by the pandemic.
Based on diagnoses and proposals made by undoubtedly more qualified experts, it is worth recapitulating them:
- Inequalities depending on the origin of families.
- The gap in access and use of digital resources in some households, which increases inequality compared to distance education.
- Some endemic problems like school failure.
- The inequalities in organization, governance and educational models between the different autonomous communities, which have made the deficiencies of the autonomous state in educational matters more evident.
- The weakening of the role of the Ministries of Education.
- The fragile situation of the Spanish universities, gripped by their internal problems, the lack of resources and their little relevance in important public affairs.
During COVID-19, teaching has been relegated in maintenance and development measures, in improvement and recovery strategies. It has not been given due attention in the political and informative agendas, more focused on the debate between life and the economy.
The pandemic has unleashed a huge effort to preserve the health of the population, the country’s economy, the survival of companies and economic sectors, employment and the economy of workers.
There is no recovery without paying attention to teaching
But no society can fully recover from the effects of this pandemic and return to normalcy, at least not more unfair and unequal than the previous one, without paying preferential attention to teaching. If it is true that we do not want anyone to be left behind, we must defend it with all the means at our disposal, just as we have done with health care and with the economy and employment.
It is essential to take care of the imminent educational needs and to respond strategically to the future that arises after the pandemic. Attend not only to the “bread of life,” but also to the “bread of thought, which is also the bread of life.” As Victor Hugo proposed, it is essential and unavoidable to attend to the needs for the study of children and young people.
The imagination, voluntarism and effort of teachers, students and families have decisively contributed to ensuring that the academic year is not lost. But it’s not enough. At least not to face the next, whose progress cannot rest solely on them. Will, effort and institutional coordination are necessary to integrate these elements and enhance them.
The imminent start of the new academic year imposes a close look. But the planning and strategy necessary to tackle the solution to the many structural problems facing education must not be forgotten .
Education also has needs
Many citizens will not be able to enjoy summer vacations this year for health or financial reasons. Therefore, it is time to give a social and supportive response that incorporates education, culture and science, the committed exercise of ethics (s) and work for a sustainable future. The summer break cannot be an excuse; not right now and in this situation.
Just as we have made an effort to raise and expand infrastructures and templates of health centers, we have empowered other equally relevant professions, and we have incorporated the initiative and citizen collaboration to respond to the emergency of life, we must also do it to address the teaching needs.
Let us not fall into a deplorable mistake, neglecting the teaching. Let’s illuminate the postcovid route with the lights of the Enlightenment.
Author Bios: Jesus Rey Rocha is Scientific Researcher in Science, Technology and Society. Institute of Philosophy of the Higher Council for Scientific Research (IFS-CSIC), Center for Human and Social Sciences (CCHS – CSIC) and Emilio Muñoz Ruiz is Research Professor. CSIC Institute of Philosophy; CIEMAT Scientific Culture Research Unit, Center for Human and Social Sciences (CCHS – CSIC)