Towards an Integral Humanism | Reflection Paper for Edmund Rice Education

Education in the Edmund Rice tradition takes place in a variety of contexts. Given the contemporary context of a significant transition for the Edmund Rice networks around the world, there is a need to consider how education responds to contemporary needs within the broad tradition of Catholic education. This tradition is essentially humanist in character and ethos. A range of contemporary paradigms for education are outlined and the contemporary interpretation of the humanist tradition is interpreted against the background of globalisation, environmental concerns and the emerging new consciousness of experience as an integrated, dynamic and holistic reality. This leads to the conclusion that education is challenged to support creative, compassionate and sustainable responses to the perennial task of promoting human flourishing.

Sir Thomas More: Why not be a teacher? You'd be a fine teacher; perhaps a great one. Richard Rich: If I was, who would know it? Sir Thomas More: You; your pupils; your friends; God. Not a bad public, that. (Richard Bolt, A Man for All Seasons, 1969) Professor Karan Singh: “Knowledge increases while wisdom languishes.” (Education for the Global Society,, 2010)

Richard Rich did not become a teacher. Instead, he opted for the path of presumed influence, aligning himself with the interests of power. We know the rest. Of Karan Singh we shall have more later. Thomas More, like Erasmus, was a humanist of the early Renaissance period, a man interested in shaping the world through the application of truth and justice to the social questions of his day. Not for him the blandishments of power or market forces. Edmund Rice’s social vision was cut from a similar cloth. There are many within the Edmund Rice Network who espouse his vision and have chosen education as the fulcrum point around which they leverage their personal actions for a just and more humane society.

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In writing this paper it would be relatively easy to cite any number of documents on Catholic education. Equally, various Edmund Rice legal entities provide precise statements on Edmund Rice education. Invaluable though these resources are, the contemporary context would appear to invite a more fundamental and creative response, one that runs the risk of journeying in unfamiliar territory. The world has changed much since Edmund Rice’s time. We are inevitably challenged to confront the question: how can the Edmund Rice education tradition promote, support and provide a vision of education that is relevant for the contemporary context? This question is all the more acute given the plurality of contexts in which education in the Edmund Rice tradition takes place today. There is no univocal position or response adequate for all contexts. All one can offer is a sketch of the landscape and a reasonably accurate map. The territory of our exploration, then, is a reflection on what might count as a contemporary vision of education compelling enough to evoke idealism and passion. The task of educators, Jacques Delors reminds us, is to “create a universal language that would make it possible to overcome certain contradictions, respond to certain challenges and, despite their diversity, convey a message to all the inhabitants of the world”.1 This paper is an attempt to meet this challenge.

What is education for? In 2008 the Irish Bishops issued a pastoral letter on the role of the Catholic School in Ireland. As a Church document it was like no other document of its kind. It accepted the pluralist context for education on the island of Ireland and made its pitch in the universal language of human rights and social utility. Catholic schools, it said, “seek to transform not only the individual human lives of our pupils but also, through them, the wider society”. Early on in their pastoral letter the Bishops appeal to Jesus the Teacher; he desired that people “have life and have it in all its fullness” (John 10:10). It is this “fullness of life” that Catholic schools seek to nurture; the fullest human flourishing is a key value for Catholic education. The Irish Edmund Rice Schools Trust (ERST) Charter (2008) states this ideal somewhat differently but in doing so provides some content for what “fullness of life” might entail. It declares the promotion of “a full personal and social development” through the provision of Catholic education to be its goal.2

1 2

Delors, Jacques, “Education for Tomorrow”, in UNESCO Courier, April, 1996. Edmund Rice Schools Trust. Education Charter. Dublin: Edmund Rice Schools Trust, 2008, p.2.

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In his address in 2009 for the Irish Catholic Schools Week, Diarmuid Martin, the Archbishop of Dublin, reminded his listeners that education “presupposes and involves a definite concept of humankind and of life” and that Catholic education offers “an integrated vision of life”. The statement situates the biblical and sociological intention within a philosophical assertion. Referencing these statements is simply to identify the humanist perspective as the traditional philosophical bias of Catholic education. In our concern for map-making and the discernment of a universal language (Delors), these statements offer an accessible starting-point. They also indicate that an adequate language about education cannot avoid the abstractions that universal relevance implies. A caution to the reader!

Some contemporary paradigms A vision for education entails a reflection on its meaning. There are two broad understandings commonly deployed today. Among policy-makers and development agencies the economic model tends to prevail. This approach sees education as a process with specific inputs and outputs. On the basis of a calculus of the relative economic value of each it determines a rate of return on the public financial investment made. World Bank assessments of education systems in the developing world function in this way.3 The second approach sees education as a service for the development of human potential or human capital. Most Western national systems of education align themselves with this latter view of education, although the relationship with the economic system sometimes trumps all other consideration. It is important to state at the outset that while these two approaches may be juxtaposed as polarities, in reality there is an awareness that neither approach excludes elements of the other. The Catholic social teaching tradition tends, on the whole, to have emphasised wealth distribution in the interest of the common good. Critics of the markets and of a too close alignment of education with economic goals will inevitably bias the argument in the

“Our strategic thrust is to help countries integrate education into national economic strategies and develop holistic education systems responsive to national socio-economic needs.” World Bank, 2005 Sector Strategy Update (ESSU ’05) in Concept Note for World Bank Education Strategy 2020, Washington: World Bank, 2010, p2. This document provides a background assessment and a framework for a consultation strategy leading to the development of a new set of investment goals for World Bank actions in the education sector. It incorporates much of the learning from donor experience in recent years. It accepts that the Millennium Development Goals targets for many lowincome countries cannot and will not be met by 2015. It argues for greater flexibility in how system relationships are understood and suggests an openness to wider provider involvement. Remarkably, the theme of education for sustainability is largely absent from its conceptual framework.

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humanist direction. At the present time, in the wake of a virtual collapse of confidence in the ability of the market and financial systems to support a sustainable vision of the common good, this bias risks being all the more pronounced. For this reason, the explicit acknowledgement of wealth creation as a legitimate dimension of development and an equally legitimate purpose of education is an important caveat to enter at this point in our discussion. 4 In many countries, particularly those that are transitioning from a traditional manufacturing to a post-industrial knowledge economy, the development of human potential focuses on the acquisition of the knowledge and competencies (the new word for ‘skills’) suited to the needs of the so-called ‘smart’ economy. Some recent OECD thinking suggests that schools may need to abandon their social purposes in favour of regrouping and revitalising their identities around “a strong knowledge agenda”.5 Many European countries now include the word ‘research’ in the title of their national department for education.6 Among the Asian countries, India, Singapore and South Korea are following a similar path. So, while the ideal of a “full personal and social development” is acknowledged, there is more than a suspicion that the imperatives of the market-place are the real drivers of education in many of the developed economies. Since these same countries have often adopted rigorous accountability and assessment models that inevitably shape classroom practices, it is no wonder that many teachers and pupils are sometimes alienated and demoralised;

This issue has been a constant theme of conferences organised by Professor Michael J. Naughton of the John A. Ryan Institute for Catholic Social Thought at the University of St. Thomas, Saint Paul, Minnesota. Professor Charles M. A. Clark, Senior Fellow at the Vincentian Centre for Church and Society, St. John’s University, New York, has contributed to these conferences. His paper, “Wealth and the Common Good: Perspectives from Economic Theory and Catholic Social Thought” takes up the issue of wealth creation in a review of the “well being” criteria advanced by both Plato and Adam Smith. He argues that wealth creation as a dimension of “well being” can promote the common good. It is noteworthy that Amartya Sen’s proposals regarding development economics derive their legitimacy from a precisely similar assessment of Adam Smith.
4 5

Hopkins, David, Every School a Great School, London: The Open University Press, 2010.

6 The German Federal Ministry of Education and Research states its mission as follows: “Education and research are the foundations for our future. The promotion of education, science and research by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research represents an important contribution to securing our country's prosperity.”

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the moral purpose that generates aspiration and inspires commitment is absent. 7 Attempts to recover a moral purpose are only now being envisaged.8

What counts as the development of human potential? Countering an understanding of human development measured exclusively in economic terms, the Nobel prize-winning Indian economist, Amartya Sen, has advocated a more holistic perspective, one that takes account of the enabling freedoms and capabilities that make human development possible. 9 Chief among these enabling freedoms is access to basic education. Sen’s work and his subsequent influence on development economics laid the basis for the index of human development currently used by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). It marks a departure from the almost universal reliance on Gross National Product (GNP) as a guide to a nation’s progress in human development. More significantly, Sen’s linking of development with human rights and fundamental freedoms challenges a one-dimensional approach to the evaluation of human potential. According to the human development paradigm, education is a process in which people participate freely and avail of opportunities to liberate their own inherent human potential so that the human flourishing that is each person’s right can be realised. A seminal document for this vision of education was a report entitled Learning to Be, published by UNESCO in 1972. Edgar Fauré, a former French Minister for Education and UNESCO member, wrote this report. 10 It was the first substantive review of education at the global level. It was also the first document of its kind to challenge the then prevailing view that education and schooling are one and the same process. Although accepting the

The continued underperformance of the UK state system of education against international criteria is a cause of concern for policy-makers. Given the dominance of the economic paradigm this concern is amplified because of perceived competition in a globalised market from highperforming, high-achieving education systems in South Korea, Malaysia, Singapore and Sweden. In addition, the decreasing cost of technological “new media” solutions suggests an argument in favour of an abandonment of the schooling model of education completely. In this regard the series of lectures sponsored by the Learning Skills Foundation in 2009 posed fundamental, even provocative, questions. Cf. Hopkins, David. “Are schools still relevant?”. Why Educate: a series of Lectures addressing fundamental questions of education. London: The Learning Skills Foundation in association with THE INDEPENDENT, 2009.

Recent Blairite New Labour education reforms in the establishment of new academies in deprived urban contexts, the support for faith-schools, and the search for social cohesion suggests that this may be the case.

9 Sen, Amartya. Development as Freedom. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999. Fauré, Edgar et al. 1972. Learning To Be: The World of Education Today and Tomorrow. Paris: UNESCO.

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relationship of education for labour market requirements, Fauré expanded the concept of education to include lifelong education, a concept that we now accept as a commonplace. While this concept is linked to labour mobility, it also crucially distances education from a purely instrumental assessment of relevance and acknowledges the lifeoriented interests of the learner. In 1996 Jacques Delors was commissioned by UNESCO to write another report. The Delors report, Learning: The Treasure Within, has been widely and deservedly influential. 11 A devout Catholic in the French Thomistic tradition of Jacques Maritain, Delors developed his vision of education on the basis of a holistic understanding of the human person. His influence on the Commission members is largely credited with ensuring that the spiritual and cultural dimensions of human development were explicitly acknowledged. Building on Fauré’s earlier work, Delors saw the emerging threats to human development in global terms, in an accelerating globalisation with its impact on local cultures, in the clear threat to the environment and in the continuing phenomenon of low-intensity warfare in different parts of the world. The Delors Report proposed a new and essentially humanist paradigm focused on learning rather than knowledge transmission.12 Thomas More and Erasmus would have approved. In his report he outlined four principles that ought, in his view, to inform any educational project or system. He outlined four domains in which learning takes place: • Learning to Be (how to be yourself and create a life project) • Learning to Live Together (living with differences, creating new forms of social participation) • Learning to Know (using knowledge tools for the common good) • Learning to Do (acting productively and entering the world of work)

Delors called these principles the Four Pillars of Learning that are essential for underpinning a vision of education for the 21st century. These principles represent a shift from an instrumental perspective to an existential and communitarian worldview. The full flowering of the human potential of the person in a community setting is the primary purpose of education at all levels.

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Delors, Jacques et al. 1996. Learning: The Treasure Within. Paris: UNESCO.

The idea of education as “learning to learn” is one of the contested concepts in education. Conservative theorists tend, on the whole, to prefer a knowledge transmission model. This point of view was best and most persuasively represented in the best-selling book by Alan Bloom, The Closing of the American Mind (1987). To be educated is to know the canon of Western culture. Many conservatives remain unhappy with the “learning society” model.

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What is new in this presentation is the understanding of community in the second of the four principles enunciated - learning to live together. While the local community remains the primary context, there is a recognition that education renders a service at the global level. This is an attempt to resolve the “mobility-attachment” dilemma that often arises in debates concerning the relevance of education to local situations. Does education ultimately promote mobility to meet labour market needs at the expense of supporting a “sense of belonging”.13 Education in the 21st century plays a role in facilitating living in a world increasingly multi-cultural and pluralist in its day-to-day reality. This, in itself, is testimony to the emergence of a new global consciousness.14 We are only now beginning to appreciate the relevance and significance of this for education.15

The Four Pillars of Learning: Ayrton Senna Foundation

In the southern hemisphere, New Zealand has applied this holistic and humanist perspective to a radical re-thinking of its national curriculum for education. What is interesting in this approach is the abandonment of the traditional subject-centred curriculum focus. Instead, a set of key competencies defines the curriculum structure.

Deforge, Yves. Living Tomorrow ...: An inquiry into the preparation of young people for working life in Europe. Strasbourg: Council of Europe, 1981, p. 35.

Zhou, Nanzhao, “Four ‘Pillars of Learning’ for the Reorientation and Reorganisation of Curriculum,” 2005. Bangkok: UNESCO.

In the Irish context, because of significant inflows of newcomer children into the education system, learning how to incorporate respect for other cultures, ethnicities and faiths has become a major topic for education conferences across all sectors of education. This will be a lasting legacy of the Celtic Tiger years.

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These key competencies are identified as follows: • Thinking: Thinking is about using creative, critical, and metacognitive processes to make sense of information, experiences, and ideas. • Using language, symbols and text: Using language, symbols, and texts is about working with and making meaning of the codes in which knowledge is expressed. • Managing self: This competency is associated with self-motivation, a “can-do” attitude, and with students seeing themselves as capable learners. • Relating to others: Relating to others is about interacting effectively with a diverse range of people in a variety of contexts. • Participating and contributing: Participating and contributing is about being actively involved in communities.

Towards an alternative paradigm: a new consciousness Since the Delors report there has been a remarkable and on-going emergence of a new global consciousness. A new paradigm has slowly begun to take hold. The Renaissance view that “the human is the measure of all” (Protagoras) has been challenged, in the first instance by the ecological movement but also by systems thinkers (e.g. Ken Wilber, Peter Senge) and biologists (e.g. Fritjov Capra). Although new, many would see the roots of this new consciousness in the philosophies of Hegel and Blondel, both of whom interpreted development as the evolution of modes of human consciousness. The emerging paradigm persuasively suggests that it is no longer adequate to consider the development of human potential in exclusively humanist terms (in the narrow sense of this term). Human development, we now know, takes place within the larger system of natural processes and ecosystems. Human development cannot be considered except in the context of its relationship to the natural world. This new consciousness rejects the dominant Cartesian and Newtonian mechanical worldview and its attendant radical separation of the human subjective experience from the direct experience of the observed world. Increasingly, contemporary thinkers challenge us to see reality as a unified living system in which all reality participates. It is within experience itself that we live, move and have our being. We experience reality holistically. In part, this new consciousness has been prompted by the expanding knowledge of the universe provided by astrophysics and the study of its implications for the stories of our

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origins by scientific and evolutionary cosmology. This emergence of a new paradigm continues to be informed by insights derived from ecology and spirituality. As one reflects on this new consciousness as it enters the various fields of knowledge, it becomes difficult to see how thinking about education can ignore the insights and learning that the new paradigm clearly offers. Indeed, some of this new thinking is already present within education through the work of alternative education pioneers within the Green movement, who in their practices seek to evoke among young people a deeper and more sensitive awareness of how the human world is embedded in the natural world.

Education within a Living Systems Paradigm Moving beyond the Cartesian-Newtonian paradigm towards a living systems model of reality is initially a challenge for the biological sciences. Its implications, however, are percolating gradually with dramatic effect throughout virtually all domains of thought: in the social sciences, in architecture, in theology and in spirituality. 16 Equally, there are educators who no longer view knowledge as compartmentalised and limited to the outcomes of scientific investigation. They advocate an openness to the richness and diversity of knowledge found elsewhere: in indigenous cultures, in the religious and spiritual traditions, and in the various cultures of the world. A new appreciation of the rich insights from the Eastern spiritual and philosophical traditions, for example, has begun to influence both the content and processes of education. It is not unusual for a European teacher to use Buddhist meditation techniques in classroom management, to cite but one example. Education today is opening itself to the rich diversity of experience. It is no longer determined exclusively by the interests of a particular worldview, whether religious, economic, political or ideological.

16 In his Schrödinger Lecture at Trinity College, Dublin, 1997, Fritjov Capra, the author of The Web of Life note this widening impact of living systems theory on our way of perceiving reality: “Since industrial society has been dominated by the Cartesian split between mind and matter and by the ensuing mechanistic paradigm for the past three hundred years, this new vision that finally overcomes the Cartesian split will have not only important scientific and philosophical consequences, but will also have tremendous practical implications. It will change the way we relate to each other and to our living natural environment, the way we deal with our health, the way we perceive our business organizations, our educational systems, and many other social and political institutions”. Accessed 10/5/2010.

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Towards an integrated perspective: questioning the certification model Dr Karan Singh was a collaborator with Jacques Delors in the drafting of the 1996 UNESCO report. He grew up in pre-independence India, attending some of the best schools and universities. Singh is deeply committed to a humanist and systems perspective. An advocate of a more holistic and integral perspective on education, he believes that the paradigm shift inspired by systems thinking must find its place in the way we think about education. “Any educational policy to be effective today must also be holistic. We can no longer divide education into different levels, or the human personality into various compartments”.17 Profoundly conscious of the precarious situation of the natural and human environments, he argues strongly for a form of education focused on universal human values and committed to a holistic vision of education. He identifies the following as the premises for holistic education in the 21st century: • That the planet we inhabit and of which we are all citizens is a single, living and pulsating entity; • That the ecology of the planet must be preserved from destruction; • That equitable and just systems of consumption must replace consumerist greed; • That love, compassion, charity, friendship and cooperation must characterise human relationships; • That the world’s religions must engage in a continuing and creative dialogue to overcome the exclusivist mentality that divides them; • That illiteracy worldwide must be eradicated, especially for females in the developing world; • That holistic education must be directed towards supporting a sustainable and integrated way of living on a harmonious planet.18

Growing up in India it is not surprising that he is critical of what he calls the certification model of education. In British colonial India there was investment in education. However, this investment was directed, in the main, towards providing the Indian colonial system with reliable middle and lower level administrators, clerks and technicians (e.g., in the Indian railway system). This form of education relied heavily on the passing of exams to

Singh, Karan. Integral Education. Web article accessed at action=education&subaction=edu_integral on 2/5/2010.

Singh, Karan. Education for the Global Society. Web article accessed at http:// on 10/5/2010.

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enter the public service and to ascend the ladder of career advancement within the system. It is often referred to as a certification model of education. It is a view of education that remains alive and well in many countries in the developing world. Singh questions its unreflective assumptions, especially its unquestioning support for the notion that the passing of examinations counts for education: “It is not enough to look upon education simply as an academic endeavour which enables young people to pass examinations and then get gainful employment, or remain unemployed, as the case may be. It is much deeper, a much fuller undertaking.”19 The implication of his indictment of the certification model is clear. Even in the context of the provision of education in a country like India, a failure to critique the implicit values and practices of the certification model may well short-change the students who are meant to benefit from the education system. This ability to engage in the critique of education systems is often lacking in countries where reliance on development aid stifles alternative points of view. Unfortunately, in many developing countries secondary education systems in particular, themselves legacy systems from a colonial past, tend to adhere to the certification model uncritically. 20 This tends to hinder an openness to emerging and alternative points of view. The innate conservative bias of education systems exacerbates this absence of openness. No less than is the case for educators in the so-called developed world, those working in the developing world are also challenged by emerging insights and wisdom. It would be wrong to assume, for example, that what we are learning from the ecology and living systems movements do not apply in the developing world. Today there is widespread and increasing access to information and the exchange of opinions. According to the World Bank, in developing countries, the number of Internet users grew by an estimated quarter of a billion people between 2000 and 2005, most of them young people (Word Bank 2007). 21 Banjul, Berlin, Beijing and Boston are today connected by a shared global experience and a common culture promoted by the Internet.



Hoppers, W. (1998). Teachers’ Resource Centres in Southern Africa: An Investigation into Local Autonomy and Educational Change. International Journal of Education Development, 18 (3), 229-246. Hoppers has observed that in Africa the education system in the colonial period was designed to socialise children into Western values and orientations. The school remains aloof from African society and is unconnected with its concerns and issues. World Bank. Concept Note for World Bank Education Strategy 2020. Washington: World Bank, 2010, p.2.

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A contemporary vision of education is challenged to see its task in terms of promoting a more integrated understanding of what it is to be human against the backdrop of our new sense of interconnectedness and our developing awareness of the need to live sustainably on this planet. Understanding the implications of this vision for the content and processes of education is entirely relevant for the reform of education in developing countries. Jeff Sachs’s Millennium Villages ( project, for example, has incorporated this conclusion in its approach to rural education.

New Paradigms in Education: the Developing World Context It is estimated that more than 113 million primary school-age children are denied the chance to go to school in the developing world today. Well over 60 percent are girls. In 1990 UNESCO launched The Education for All campaign prompted by the lack of access to education for many children in the developing world. The United Nations Dakar Framework for Action (2000) challenged the developed world to increase development aid for education and promulgated a set of quantifiable goals. These Dakar Framework goals are: • expanding and improving comprehensive early childhood care and education, especially for the most vulnerable and disadvantaged children; • ensuring that by 2015 all children, particularly girls, children in difficult circumstances and those belonging to ethnic minorities, have access to and complete free and compulsory primary education of good quality; • ensuring that the learning needs of all young people and adults are met through equitable access to appropriate learning and life skills programmes; • achieving a 50 per cent improvement in levels of adult literacy by 2015, especially for women, and equitable access to basic and continuing education for all adults; • eliminating gender disparities in primary and secondary education by 2005, and achieving gender equality in education by 2015, with a focus on ensuring girls' full and equal access to and achievement in basic education of good quality; • improving all aspects of the quality of education and ensuring excellence of all so that recognized and measurable learning outcomes are achieved by all, especially in literacy, numeracy and essential life skills.

Clearly, the need for basic education provision in the countries of the developing world is paramount. Many from the Edmund Rice Network are directly involved in meeting this need in schools, community initiatives and education projects in different parts of the world.

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In the intervening years since Dakar there has been a growing realisation that not only are many countries falling short in meeting its goals but that there is also an urgent need to reflect on the appropriateness of the form of education provided to children and young people in the developing world. Some are beginning to question the kind of education provided, even at the basic level in primary schools.22 Local communities often fail to see any correlation between the education provided and the reality of their own day-to-day lives. Sometimes the teaching is not even in their own local language. At best families and communities in southern Africa, for example, are ambivalent about formal education. Education for what? Schools continue to offer a programme of general education that continues to be unrelated to local circumstances or needs. Chimombo puts it well when he says: “... the school will continue do the inevitable: to encourage a drift of youth and talent to urban areas, and to divorce young people from their communities and cultures.”23 If this is the outcome of basic education provision, one must most assuredly begin to ask questions concerning the content and processes of basic education in rural contexts. Many are convinced that the drift towards the cities and urban centres is not sustainable as a response to economic and social problems. How many more Kibera slums does the world need. The context for secondary education appears to be as problematic as that of basic education. Economic analyses based on rate-of-return analyses suggest that the return on investment in secondary education by African countries is low, except in the case of schools with high selection criteria. 24 However, as Universal Primary Education (UPE) takes hold, the social demand for access to some form post-primary education increases. Analysts agree that the labour market prospects in Africa for the graduates of lower secondary education are markedly better than those with none. The view that resources should be focused on lower-secondary education and that access should be expanded is beginning to take hold in the donor community. At the same time it is paradoxically acknowledged that public funding for increased access to post-primary education is not available. Non-formal structures to provide lower secondary education may be the answer. The Honduran Educatodos initiative, funded by USAID, may provide a model of a community-

Chimombo, Joseph. ‘Issues in Basic Education in Developing Countries: An Exploration of Policy Options for Improved Delivery”. Journal of International Cooperation in Education. Vol. 8. No. 1 (2005) pp. 129-152.
22 23 24

ibid. p. 143.

Holsinger, Donald B. and Cowell, Richard N. Positioning Secondary School Education in Developing Countries. Paris: UNESCO, International Institute for Educational Planning, 2000.

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based, lower secondary education that appears to be both successful and sustainable. 25 It also has the merit of being embedded in and respectful of the local culture. The United Nations Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) has also had success with an Education for the Rural People (ERP) programme in a number of countries around the world.26 Models for community-oriented basic and post-basic education programmes are, therefore, theoretically valid and have been shown to have some success in the field. They may have some relevance for Edmund Rice Network personnel who are interested in developing models of education that are sustainable and embedded in their communities. While controversial, the Millennium Villages ( model also merits further consideration.

Education for a Sustainable Future for All We are living in a new time, one profoundly marked by a new consciousness not only of the threats to our human home but also of the immense capacity of human ingenuity and creativity to make intelligent choices for the common good. It is this conviction that underpins the recent efforts to reorient education away from a preoccupation with economic development towards creating a sustainable future for all. David Orr, an early pioneer of education for sustainability, puts it well: The plain fact is that the planet does not need more "successful" people. But it does desperately need more peacemakers, healers, restorers, storytellers, and lovers of every shape and form. It needs people who live well in their places. It needs people of moral courage willing to join the fight to make the world habitable and humane. And these needs have little to do with success as our culture has defined it. 27 Some twenty years after these words were written we need little further convincing of their truth. If the global financial implosion and the virtual collapse of some national economies has taught us anything, it is that the economics and the power of the market cannot make the world a better place. Only a global mobilisation of compassion, creativity and a commitment to the common good can generate the collective energy to shape a better world. This new world cannot be a version of the globalised corporate world that brought
Spaulding, Seth. Recent Research on the Impact of Alternative Education Delivery Systems in Honduras. Washington: Educational Information Resources Centre (ERIC) ED 470 510, 2002.

Gasperini, Lavinia. “Education for rural people: a crucial factor for sustainable development”. Rome: FAO, 2003; FAO. Challenges and Responses, Education for Rural People. Accessed at http://, 10/5/2010. A key feature of this programme is its incorporation of indigenous learning and a concern for ecological sustainability in its approach.

27 Orr, David. “Six myths about the foundations of modern education, and six new principles to replace them”. The Learning Revolution. Winter 1991, p. 52.

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us to our knees. It needs to be a new way of living together, a new world imbued with a global ethical consciousness and shaped by the creativity to make intelligent choices. Education is key for creating a sustainable future. Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) requires us to adopt a holistic, integrated and interdisciplinary approach to developing the knowledge and skills needed for a sustainable future. It also involves the adoption of moral perspective that embodies the values, behaviours, and lifestyles that will make sustainability possible. According to UNESCO, Education for Sustainable development (ESD) is about learning to:! • respect, value and preserve the achievements of the past;! • appreciate the wonders and the peoples of the Earth;! • live in a world where all people have sufficient food for a healthy and productive life;! • assess, care for and restore the state of our planet;! • create and enjoy a better, safer, more just world;! • be caring citizens who exercise their rights and responsibilities locally, nationally and globally.28!

The challenge of educating for sustainability is not restricted to western societies. It has a particular relevance for the developing world. A key cross-cutting concept for education for sustainability is the call for education to be culturally appropriate and locally relevant. 29 This new vision for education, one that carries forward the humanistic perspectives of the past, understands the implications arising from the insight that the human world is embedded in a living system. This living system comprises not only natural ecosystems but also the human ones generated by culture, history, language and economics. As the provision of basic education expands in the developing world it is crucial that the vision of education for sustainability informs its delivery. Local communities must be the focus of any such enterprise or project. It is not simply and merely the development of literacy. It is about the development of the potential to participate meaningfully in a sustainable human, natural and economic community. It is the embracing and protection of the web of life at the local level. To provide for the sustainability of local communities there is a need for basic education to reorient itself beyond the understandable preoccupation with literacy towards the development of critical-thinking skills, the skills required to organise and interpret data and
28 29

UNESCO, Education for Sustainability. Accessed at Note the earlier remarks concerning community-based access to education.

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information, the skills to formulate questions, and the ability to analyse the issues that confront the community. This is the kind of education that empowers. It can no longer be about ascending the certification ladder. For any educator to continue to see education in certification terms is to betray fundamentally the moral perspectives of an Edmund Rice vision for education. ESD encompasses a vision that integrates environment, economy, and society. Reorienting education also requires teaching and learning knowledge, skills, perspectives, and values that will guide and motivate people to pursue sustainable livelihoods, to participate in a democratic society, and to live in a sustainable manner.30

Conclusion So what does the landscape of education look like in these first years of the 21st century? Clearly, there are challenges relating to education issues such provision, equitable access, structures and policies. Many of these challenges lie within the remit of national governments. However, what this paper argues is that education providers and actors can change the mindset that informs how they carry out their mission. Broadly speaking, this paper suggests that Edmund Rice education lies within the humanistic tradition espoused by Catholic education. However, this model of education must now open itself to the new perspectives arising from our awareness of an emerging planetary, cosmological and environmental consciousness. In light of the threats to the planet, it cannot be presumed to be business as usual. Retreat behind the walls of certification models, knowledge economics, or religious fundamentalism is ethically irresponsible. Instead, we argue, the times call for a concern for a new moral purpose and a new humanism. This new moral purpose takes seriously the need to see human flourishing in relation to the plurality of cultures and beliefs, a respect for diversity and a commitment to live sustainably. The earlier caveat that living sustainably does not exclude an economic perspective is recalled here. Indeed, such a perspective is inherent in the concept of sustainability. Edmund Rice established a bakehouse in Waterford as well as a school. This is often, and rightly, interpreted as an example of his pragmatism and his concern for the poor. Today,

“What is ESD?” Web article accessed at on 12/05/2010

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we can say that it represents much more than that. The bakehouse was an adaption of his schooling model to local circumstances. Taken together with the Mount Sion tailoring shop, we can say that his approach suggested creative responses to sustainable living in the contexts of the late 18th century. It was not simply a charity response. Edmund Rice’s later backing of the entrepreneur Charles Bianconi in his establishment of Ireland’s first transport network affirms his understanding of the relationship between economic and social well-being. There are lessons still to be learned from this constellation of initiatives. It remains a challenge for all to work out how education can be both local and global, how economic and sustainability needs can be served, how scientific and indigenous knowledge can be integrated, and how learning to do and learning to be can be integrated. It is a challenge worth our best efforts. Finally, let us take heart from the many men and women around the world who are willing to engage wholeheartedly in placing education at the service of creativity and compassion. That is what “fullness of life” is all about.

Dónal Leader cfc Synge Street, May 16th, 2010.

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Spaulding, Seth. "Recent Research on the Impact of Alternative Education Delivery Systems in Honduras." Washington: Educational Information Resources Centre (ERIC) ED 470 510, 2002. World Bank, "2005 Sector Strategy Update (ESSU ’05)" Concept Note for World Bank Education Strategy. Washington: World Bank (2020)/ Zhou, Nanzhao, Four ‘Pillars of Learning’ for the Reorientation and Reorganisation of Curriculum. Bangkok: UNESCO (2002).

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