political revue

Year XXXVI, 1994, Number 1 - Page 10




The Future of Schools in the Age of the Scientific Mode of Production and World Unification
1. Schools and the new challenges
The challenge of the scientific and technological revolution.
All over the world school is at the centre of a process of profound social and institutional transformation. This process began at least twenty years ago, when the first effects of the scientific and technological revolution, and of the internationalisation of the economy, manifested themselves in industrialised countries. The education system inherited from the industrial mode of production and from the nationalistic formulation of education policies is simply marking time in the face of growing unemployment, increased leisure and the importance of the growing circulation of information compared to the production of material goods. The system which in the course of the previous century favoured the progressive mass schooling of industrial societies, affirming a model of instruction subordinated to productive needs and raison d’état, is now proving increasingly inadequate, not only for the generations who are facing the world of work for the first time, but also for those who need to retrain professionally, or to raise their level of education. Faced with this challenge, neither the decentralised and mixed (public, private) school systems (the Anglo-Saxon type) nor the centralised systems (the Napoleonic type) are able to solve the contradiction which has come about between the educational values to which the school is always obliged to refer, and the content which it must import.
The challenge of leisure.
We are entering an age in which a new conception of time dedicated to work and time dedicated to leisure is being established, yet state education policies are still modelled on the basis of the requirements of the Taylor-Ford mode of production.
With the spread of the scientific mode of production, work can no longer be evaluated in relation to man-machine yield per hour.[1] The new touchstone of civilisation has become free time. Production becomes efficient to the extent that it frees man from dedicating himself to material production at the expense of planning, projecting, control and information management. In this context, truly productive employment is that which increases the average level of education and training in society, so as to multiply the opportunities to exploit and improve scientific and technological innovations, and not that which aims at the exploitation of labour. In a situation in which progress in productivity can be achieved without increasing the number of jobs, and in which in any case the more advanced countries cannot compete with the developing countries in mass production with minimal labour costs, school often is the scapegoat for intellectual unemployment. According to this criticism there are too many young people studying with respect to the actual requirements and for the national economies lack of competitiveness. But is it really necessary to limit access to education?
In the first few decades of the nineteenth century, the average worker or peasant succeeded in increasing his productivity by 0.3% every year. At the end of the century, productivity for these groups grew six times as fast.[2] With the current rates of annual increase in productivity (about 3%), it should already be possible in most of Europe to reduce the working week to four days without any diminution of goods produced. If this has not happened yet, it is because politics and the economics have not yet succeeded in adjusting to the profound change in the mode of production which we see today. The crisis in school is thus rooted in the crisis in politics and the economics. While in traditional industrial development, school and education as a rule represented a specific moment, limited in time, in the educational process of individuals, in the current phase of development based on intensive recourse to science and technology, education has become a permanent element in the new mode of production. It must become, in other words, the instrument through which to reconcile specialisation, which is necessary to maintain contact with technological progress (but not really educational in the wider sense), with a solid cultural, humanistic and scientific foundation (which is necessary to refine ones capacities and to cultivate individual creativity). Our society no longer faces the dilemma of whether to accept a general reduction in the standard of living in the name of a better distribution of wealth, choosing to maintain production methods that contradict the necessary search for competitiveness, or whether to promote the wealth and comfort of a minority. The new dilemma of modem society is rather the choice between adapting institutions to the scientific mode of production, seeking to make the most of all human resources, or keeping alive obsolete productive and educational models.
2. From national to continental school models.
Up until some decades ago, the two reference models for national school systems were the Anglo-Saxon type, controlled by local authorities and private institutions, and the Napoleonic type, based on the state school and on rigid administration by the national central power. This distinction is no longer so clear-cut. On the one hand, national education systems are increasingly subject to constraints imposed by international competition. On the other hand, in an attempt to try out new educational policies, the countries in the Anglo-Saxon tradition – Great Britain and the USA – are introducing elements of hierarchical control, while countries in the Napoleonic tradition, like France, are seeking to make use of some local authorities in the area of education. In general the impulse towards the changes taking place in different countries are presented as specific national choices. A rapid round-up of what is happening in the scholastic field in the principal areas of the world is sufficient to realise that in reality these impulses are increasingly the fruit of pressures and constraints created by the new international context.
The revaluation of the centralised organisation of education in the Anglo-Saxon world: the limits of the United States and the British models.
The Americans recently discovered that they had ignored President Jefferson’s warning that “if a State hopes to remain ignorant, free and civilised, it hopes for something which never has happened and never will happen”. In fact, as the American economist Lester Thurow has pointed out, one of the reasons for the recent difficulties of the USA in international economic competition lies precisely in the weakness of its educational system. This is a system that is still strongly decentralised (currently 16,000 educational districts; there were 110,000 in 1924), each of which enjoys a high level of autonomy in that the school board is elected by those living in the district, or nominated from the local authorities, for a short mandate (1-3 years) and decides on the funds to be used for the school collected by local taxes, on the appointment and payment of those who teach, on the type of subjects to be taught in the high schools (the subjects common to all high schools are very limited in number, and students can choose from a myriad of optional subjects).[3] The American model has been based until now on the formation of a highly qualified elite with a university training, neglecting the diffusion of high quality levels of secondary education. This choice, which is consistent with the Taylor-Ford mode of production, based on an organisation of work in which it was sufficient to have a limited number of qualified cadres and technicians capable of directing a much greater mass of people with basically few or no qualifications, is still reflected in the American social make-up.
The United States in fact leads the world as regards the number of graduates and those with post-graduate specialisation degrees, thanks to an enormous spread of Community colleges, which has grown from 532 offering two-year courses with 110,000 students in 1933-34 to 1,219 with five million students in 1983-84. On the secondary education front, while the school-attendance index for 16- to 17-year-olds is very high, the rate of achievement among young Americans remains at a low average level: they have a poor grounding in mathematics and science compared to those who study in Europe and Japan, and a high percentage of young people with no professional training (45% of the employed people according to a survey conducted between 1986 and 1989). In an age in which competition has become worldwide, such a situation could not be sustained for long. Having ascertained that the member states of the American Federation were investing less and less in their respective scholastic systems, causing the US to drop from second place at world level as a percentage of national income spent on education in 1975, to fifteenth place in 1990, the Bush administration was forced to launch a federal plan, project America 2000, to raise the level of education. This programme still foresees the creation of at least 535 model schools, at least one for each congressional district, to obviate the fact that 30% of the qualified work force in the US comes from 1.5% of the school districts. President Clintons electoral programme took up this plan again, emphasising among other things how “in the emerging global economy, everything is mobile: capital, factories, even entire industries. The only resource that’s really rooted in a nation – and the ultimate source of all its wealth – is its people. The only way that America can compete and win in the twenty-first century is to have the best-educated, best-trained workforce in the world, linked together by transportation and communication networks second to none.” The American administration has identified the excessive independence of the member States of the Union and of the local governments in scholastic matters as the bottleneck of the US educational system. At the federal level therefore, the need to assert common national standards and curricula is insisted upon. But the American federal model does not provide for coordination in the educational sector and therefore the question is left up to a test of strength between the administration of the day in Washington and the other levels. The central government starts off as favourite in this confrontation.
Until present the federal governments contribution to school expenditure was minimal (8.7% in 1986 as against a maximum of 10.7% in 1970), while the member states have no spare resources with which to promote a reform of their school systems.
On the other hand, the private sector, though firmly rooted in the world of the US school, has not shown itself capable of taking on the diffusion of a school model of adequate quality beyond those sectors strictly tied to the exploitation of research. Private investment in the field of education has, for thirty years, represented less than a tenth of public investment at the level of primary and secondary instruction, and half as much as for colleges and universities. In the field of education the United States has adopted an intergovernmental approach. For example, the absence of institutional mechanisms meant that in 1989 the Bush plan could not get under way without an education summit with the governors of the member-states (a summit presided over by the then Governor of Arkansas Clinton). It was because of this summit that the governors signed the Bush programme on National Educational Goals for the year 2000.[4] The precedents in this field are not however encouraging. So far in fact, all federal-level attempts at massive intervention in education have failed. The attempt to increase pre-university scientific education at the end of the 1950s in response to the Soviet space challenge was a resounding failure. Equally disastrous was the failure of the social science programme (National Science Foundation) in the early seventies, which was attacked by Republican and Democrat conservatives in Congress and branded as an offence to traditional American values and an inadmissible interference by the federal government in the states policies. The chief limit in the experience of reforming the American school system thus lies precisely at the institutional level, which means that no mechanism is provided to coordinate education planning between the various levels of government. The federal levels attempt to acquire new powers in the area of schools reflects a centralizing tendency within the American federal model which has already been going on for about a century. Around the redefinition of powers in education an important institutional battle is being played out in the US, the result of which however does not appear to be such a foregone conclusion in favour of the power of Washington as at the time of the First World War and of the New Deal, for two reasons. The first is that, with the end of the Cold War, while the federal government does have more financial resources to dedicate to educational policy, it cannot count on a massive mobilization of public opinion on its side and against the lower levels of government by adducing the supreme interests of national security. The second is the entry of the US into the large free trade area (NAFTA). As growing expectations in society for the success of the single American market are encouraged, the same social and productive forces will push for the educational models of the USA, Canada and Mexico to become increasingly integrated, following the example of what has happened, and is happening, in Europe. This prospect makes it more likely that we shall see the beginning of an integration of education systems throughout North America, rather than a centralizing reform at national level of the Canadian, US and Mexican systems. The redefinition of powers in education is thus destined to become one of the principal topics of political debate on the future of federalism in the US.
The elitist nature of British schools has been revealed as inadequate both with regard to the challenge of the scientific and technological revolution, and from the economic point of view. For example it has led to such an escalation of the costs that families must sustain to guarantee a decent education for their children at the best independent schools, as to induce the central power to occupy itself directly (through national policies) or indirectly (through special terms and study grants) with seeking a more balanced relationship between the central power, local authorities and private schools. The competition between public and private schools, fed by a race for the selection of a privileged elite, which tends to expel the young from school rather than to push them up the levels of education, is still very fierce. Annual publications classifying the performance of the various schools keep debate on these themes alive in the national press. The league tables in the Financial Times annually rank the first 1,000 schools in the country; in order to afford these, many British families take out long-term loans, and entrust themselves to specialized agencies to arrange early financial plans. This system however is beginning to show serious limits, given that for some years now the state schools have begun to score higher than independent schools and that the number of children who benefit from exemptions or reductions even on private school fees has reached a quarter of the total. In the wake of the economic crisis of the 1980s, a first reform was started which, while preserving a decentralized structure (104 Local Education Authorities), sought to improve the educational system by shifting it towards more centralized policies, particularly in post-secondary education. But on the threshold of the 1990s Great Britain still recorded the lowest percentage among industrialized countries of students in upper-secondary schooling, and the extreme freedom of choice between various curricula meant that in 1987 more than half of the students still did not study a second language, more than a third did not study physics, and so on. Exclusively privileging the higher levels of education had not proved efficient with respect to the new, more specialised and flexible, production processes, which required both a sufficiently widespread standard of general education and more levels of professional and vocational training. With the passing of time the deficiencies of this reform became so obvious as to necessitate a further reform at the beginning of the 1990s (the previous one dating from 1988) which, contradicting a centuries-old British tradition, provides for the introduction of national curricula and a new organization of vocational training based on credits and national qualifications (National Vocational Qualification), on the French and German model. It is from this viewpoint that the government is seeking to reduce the influence of the local authorities, promising finance only on the basis of the number of students which individual schools succeed in attracting, and seeking to remove control over schools from local authorities by putting alongside them new councils which are to cooperate directly with industry. Thus, even in Great Britain a redefinition of priorities in training is under way, increasingly oriented towards the exclusion of large numbers of young people from secondary education, and a redistribution of powers with regard to schooling to balance the overweening strength of private schools by giving greater importance to state schools.
The birth of the new continental European Franco-German model.
In Europe the development of the process of integration and the progressive demilitarization of the member-states, which since the end of the Second World War have no longer had effective sovereignty either in the military field or in foreign policy, have accelerated the convergence between school systems which had for decades remained impermeable to one another. The gradual creation of the single market and the coming into force of the Treaty of Maastricht have laid the foundations for delegitimising the principle of power being exclusive to anyone level of government in the field of education. From this point of view France and Germany represent the two most important points of reference and convergence. In France, where school organization continues to be centralised, there has been a process underway since the mid-1980s which is attempting to bring together regional and local government in educational policy. The great challenge facing the French system, whose most prestigious qualification is still the Baccalaureat, is analogous to that of the Anglo-Saxon world: to raise the level of secondary education in quantity and quality. The objective is that the secondary school certificate, or equivalent qualification, should be achieved by 80% of a generation by the year 2000. To attain this objective, France is encouraging more diversified school strategies on the ground, which also give local authorities more of a role in the policies of guidance, training, and diffusion of new technologies. The strong points of this policy, which aims to combat unemployment by advancing general standards of education, are on the one hand the traditional lycée-type educational system, and on the other hand the new (for the French model) vocational training which recent governments intend should re-absorb into the educational system all those young people who do not enter university as well as all those who, while being incorporated into the world of work, need to retrain. In this connection France passed a law in 1991 recognizing workers right to training, obliging companies to invest a small percentage of profits (1%) in training programmes. The quantitative changes in progress are considerable. In 1990 57% of a generation had achieved the secondary school certificate or equivalent qualification, in 1992 over 60% (in 1987 this percentage was 43%, a situation close to that estimated for Italy at the beginning of the 1990s).
In Germany the school system hinges on the Länder, but the power of coordination at the national federal level is comparable more to the French system than to the Anglo-Saxon one. It is worth dwelling a little on the structure of the German school in order to highlight its specific characteristics. Once their primary education is finished (4 or 6 years depending on the Land), young people can choose to follow a course of studies (Gymnasium) which leads to the secondary school certificate (Abitur). This however does not confer the right to enter university automatically, because since 1973 competitive entrance has been introduced in many faculties, so that applications to enrol must be made through a specialised national agency which decides on eligibility for the various universities. If they do not enrol at a Gymnasium, young people can follow classical-type courses (Hauptschule) or technical-vocational schools (Realschule). Up until the end of the 1980s the latter choice involved two-thirds of each new generation of the German Federal Republic (at the end of the eighties 82% of secondary school pupils followed these courses). Thus the core of the German training system followed by the great majority of young people consists of the so-called dual system, which represents a transition from school to work organized by both sides: the school system proper and the working world, represented by companies and public and private employment organizations. This relationship between school system and working world boasts long traditions, and draws on the figure of the master craftsman (Meister). Until some decades ago the dual system channeled students from the moment of their entry into the secondary school system along two parallel courses: one which allowed for university entrance and the other which did not. Following the reforms carried out in 1974, the dual system allows access to the Berufsakademie, which leads to a post-secondary certificate equivalent to a short degree. The crisis in large companies, which had an important role in financially supporting this system of training, the progressive orientation of the juvenile population towards the system of studies offering university entrance, and reunification with the German Democratic Republic, whose scholastic system was centralized and not really geared towards professional training, are however posing also in Germany the problem of a reform of the school system (which has in any case seen the number of young people entering the forms of apprenticeship provided for in the dual system in the former West Germany drop from 765,000 in 1984 to 600,000 in 1990).
Italy is in a very backward position as regards the number of university graduates (76 graduates per thousand in 1987, as against 128 in West Germany, 159 in France, 223 in Japan and 241 in the US), as regards the number of students with post-secondary school qualifications (the reform which is providing for this is very recent), and finally as regards those with a secondary school certificate (49% of each generation obtains a secondary school diploma or equivalent qualification, against 95% in Japan, 64% in France and 80% in Germany). The prospect of the single European market after 1992 and of the completion of European economic and political unification have obliged Italy to introduce a short degree; they are forcing it to undo the reform of vocational schools with a view to remodelling itself on the German dual model, in order to be able to assimilate the vocational qualifications obtained in Italy with those of other countries in Europe; they are obliging it to tackle the problem of the reform of the whole upper-secondary school system, in a way which draws heavily on the French lycée system. At the organisational level the crisis of public finances is bringing into discussion the centralized model of the Italian school: the Ministry for State Education is no longer able to handle the financial and bureaucratic administration of the whole system. The centre is tending to free itself from the day-to-day tasks of management and to concentrate, as indeed France, Germany and Great Britain are trying to do, on planning, coordination, support, verification and evaluation.
The impulses towards transformation of the Asian centralized technocratic model.
The Asian model merits a separate discussion, centred fundamentally on the Japanese model and on the Chinese one, which founded the centralized tradition of their school systems on the theorization of the strict interdependence between education, industrial development and security, starting from the second half of the last century in Japan, and at the beginning of this century with Sun Yat-Sen in China. In Japan, attending the schools of major prestige and of greatest quality certainly depends on the effort young people put into studying and passing exams. But this is not enough: this meritocratic system is not synonymous with equal opportunity to study offered to all. In fact one cannot attend an important university if one has not followed a very expensive school career, starting from nursery school. In general it is necessary to have a mother who is a graduate or who has a secondary school certificate, who has left work – the percentage of Japanese women who worked between the ages of 30 and 34 was 51 % in 1989, against the western average of 62 to 72% – who helps the children through the difficult school career and in the inferno of tests and exams (Shiken Jigoku) (even though not all surveys agree on the emphasis given to the nightmare climate reigning in Japanese schools, at least as regards primary education); it is better to be a boy, because the division of work between boys and girls is still so accentuated that in 1989 the girls enrolled at university still only represented 15% of the total. Secondary schools and universities are so stratified that only the schools with the greatest prestige guarantee entrance into the big Japanese corporations with the possibility of a career. This structure does not aim at the expulsion of young people from the school system, indeed the percentage of those gaining a secondary school certificate or equivalent is the highest in the world (95 % of every generation), but tends to channel young people into very precise professional and social roles. The success and limitation of this system is represented by the almost total subordination of the school system to the aims of the world of industrial production and to national policies. The predominance of the technocratic model has meant that technical and scientific subjects have largely overtaken the humanities, and has given importance to the work of high-school graduates in industry. The latter are still keeping up with university graduates in terms of salary to the point that, while in the USA between 1979 and 1987 the earnings of high school graduates dropped considerably, in the same period Japanese high school graduates saw their earnings rise by 13%. The extreme centralization of the school system has maintained rituals (such as raising the flag at the beginning of lessons, and pupils in uniform) and standard textbooks throughout the country, and tends to develop a strong group spirit and feelings of national loyalty. On the other hand the system of national certification of studies remains under the strict control of the Ministry of Labour, which certifies and encourages high standards of education and/or training for all trades and professions. Thus, even to be a hairdresser, shop assistant or normal worker, one must follow a two year post-secondary school certificate course, because to the Japanese way of thinking it is always important to give a sense of professional pride to the people who do these jobs, a sense of belonging to a category which carries out an honourable and socially useful profession. In Japan at least 50% of a generation of high school graduates entering the labour market must follow professional training courses. In response to recent signs that people were becoming restive under this system, the state has tried to create less traditional post-graduate schools so that “young people should discard all that traditional schools have taught them, because we ask them to develop and emerge as individuals and not as automata” (Matsushita school).
An analogous system as regards hierarchical school organization and the high value placed on the formation of group spirit and the spirit of sacrifice, also applies in China, Taiwan, and South Korea. It should not be forgotten, moreover, that in all these countries the educational system begins precociously to stimulate to the utmost a child’s learning capacities: children are required to know several thousand characters by the end of elementary schools.[5] This has been shown to be particularly effective in stimulating a greater ability in Asian adolescents, compared to westerners of the same age, to learn mathematical processes and technical-scientific subjects. But the transformation which even Asian societies are moving towards is attacking the hierarchical and technocratic principles on which these education systems are based. And even for Japan and China the time has come for a reorganization of schools, which must take account, for example, of increased educational levels among the female population and of a growing openness in these societies to cultural and other exchanges with the rest of the world. All this has come about in a climate of an increasing refusal on the part of the population to accept the subordination of educational objectives to the needs of industrial production.
3. Educational institutions and political institutions.
No national school system today succeeds in guaranteeing the transmission of culture, training for the new professions and promotion of scientific education adequate to the requirements of the new society. This situation, as we have seen, is bringing all countries to start profound scholastic reforms which are moving towards a greater integration of national educational systems in a broader international and global educational network. We are, in other words, entering a new phase in the history of education, in which the powers of various levels of government in scholastic matters, and the characteristics and functions of school, are once more coming into discussion. In the past such transformations have already been seen in the history of education, particularly western, at the level of cities, regions or states. Today we are on the threshold of the creation of a world education system.
From urban to national education.
In the eleventh and twelfth centuries the task of providing a broader secular education was undertaken on by the cathedral schools (particularly in France), under bishops and abbots; these, starting from their embryonic forms in the sixth and seventh centuries, spread rapidly to satisfy the need for learning and scholarship in the period of lively economic and intellectual activity which followed the European renaissance of the tenth century. In almost the same period, under the impulse of the social forces of commercial Europe which were leading students to seek appropriate professional training, a completely new educational institution was born, the universitas: this was typically corporate in character, and its chief aim was not to impart all knowledge, but only that part of knowledge useful to specific professions.[6] This organization of the education system proved insufficient on its own to meet the growing needs first of Italian renaissance society and then of European renaissance society. Thus there began to spread, starting from the cities, some permanent scholastic institutions, not reserved only for nobles: these were organised into different levels of instruction from small boys up to adults, and based on the teaching of humanistic culture for practical ends. European cities, unlike oriental ones, thus began to integrate into their urban fabric a new structure and a new function. In addition to the city walls, which were built for defensive purposes, the shops and squares, which were indispensable for carrying on commercial functions, and religious buildings, European cities began to include buildings specifically for public education. Up until the nineteenth century, that is until the advent of the Napoleonic state and the spread of the industrial revolution, scholastic institutions remained substantially under the control of civic institutions. But by the end of the nineteenth century, the majority of children in Europe and America were already studying the history of the birth of their nations and of their national heroes and were learning to write, read and speak the national language. This type of instruction became widespread, during the same period, in the Balkans and Russia. In the twentieth century, with the spread of the nation-states control over the upper levels of secondary education – above all in continental Europe a class of leading cadres was formed, educated to be loyal to the national power and national interests.
This educational model began to enter in crisis in western Europe at the end of the Second World War, but became more established however in the USSR and in the US until the end of the Cold War. Today it survives in Asia, and in the educational systems which the states born of the disintegration of the ex-Soviet empire are trying to organize.
The end of the age of national education.
With the progressive loss of military and economic sovereignty in European countries, and with the profound social transformations introduced by the scientific mode of production, the national character of education has become an obstacle to overcome on the road to forming a new type of citizen. In less than fifty years, the dominant figure in advanced society has changed from being the peasant to the worker, from the worker to the technician, and from the technician to the student: today the European Union numbers over sixty million students and four million teachers. For this reason too, the European Union has indicated the creation of the European citizen as the chief objective to be followed by the schools of the European Union. An objective clearly in contradiction with the educational systems which for years developed with a view to forming good English, German, French and Italian citizens, but which obviously cannot reduce themselves to merely replacing national education with European nationalistic education. The increased heterogeneity of society, increasingly multiracial, multireligious, multilingual, the economic mobility and the birth of professional profiles which by now only make sense if they are recognized internationally, present every school system with a choice: either to close in on itself in defence of anachronistic national and/or local traditions, or to accept the challenge of a cosmopolitan education. In the past, when the protection of fundamental human rights was not yet guaranteed constitutionally in the majority of countries, the first road was followed by all those minorities in a city or a nation who sought, through the institution of independent schools with a predominantly denominational character, to defend traditions, language and religion. Examples of this can be found in the Anglo-Saxon world, in the schools which emerged in American cities in the nineteenth century on the initiative of groups of immigrants who wanted to safeguard their Jewish, Catholic, national or other origins, or in the most expensive British independent schools, which were established and developed to maintain the elitist training of a minority of society.[7] The nation state, mythologizing the history, linguistic tradition and common origins of the populations who lived in it, extended to the national community the educational systems which had been typical, up until the last century, of only small minorities or elites. The definitive victory of the nation states in affirming in the scholastic field the exclusivity and superiority of their respective national cultures is, as the historian Hobsbawm has shown, a relatively recent phenomenon, and in practice coincides with the national administrations winning control over secondary education towards the end of the last century. The internationalisation of the production system and the revolution in the communication of information, now available to all in virtually the same moment, has torn away the nationalist veil which had prevented recognition of the limits of the education system founded on the exaltation of national culture and scientific discoveries and on the exaltation of national monolingualism. Today the mission of the school can no longer be seen as the transmission of a national or sub-national ideological, linguistic or cultural creed. The mission of the school is increasingly identified with the task of balancing a cosmopolitan training with the need to connect and harmonise school and educational policies from the town to the international level.[8]
The age of cosmopolitan education.
It is a frequently-neglected fact that educating people is a difficult process. As Kant has noted, “man can become man by education alone. He is merely what education makes of him. It is worth noticing that man is only educated by other men, and by men who in their turn have been educated. Were some being of higher nature than man to undertake the task of our education, we should then be able to see what man might become. It is however difficult accurately to estimate man’s natural capabilities, since some things are imparted to man by education, while other things are only developed by education. Were it possible, by the help of those in high rank and through the united forces of many people, to make an experiment on this question, one might even by this means be able to gain some information as to the degree of eminence which it is possible for man to attain. (But ... those in high rank generally care only for their own concerns, and take no part in the important experiment of education.)”[9] The scientific mode of production is finally forcing people and institutions to occupy themselves more and more with the “experiment of education”, on pain of risking the decline of civilization. But this is still happening more in consideration of the present world than of the future world and of the destiny of mankind. In this connection, Kant notes how parents usually bring their children up with a view to them taking their place in the present world, and only so that they should succeed. On the other hand, Kant adds, he who rules the state takes education to heart only from the point of view of the transformation of subjects into docile instruments to pursue their own plans. “Parents think of home, the princes of the State. Neither the ones nor the others have as final objective the universal good and the perfection for which mankind is destined and they are gifted. And yet the concept of an educational plan must have a cosmopolitan bent. Does this perhaps mean that the universal good is an idea which can harm the particular good? By no means. Because even if it may seem that it is necessary to sacrifice something to it, thanks to this idea one also works better for the present good. Good education is the true source of all the good in this world.” These intuitions may finally become reality as a result of the need for all people to take account of the value of cosmopolitanism in an era in which the global dimension of problems, in particular those of ecology and of peace, daily takes on very visible and dramatic connotations.
As regards content, there is now an almost unanimous consensus on the fact that we must adapt the average level of education of all citizens to the degree of advancement of the great cultural disciplines.[10] This implies that new generations should learn to have simultaneously a physical and biological image of the world they have inherited and of that which they will leave to future generations; that they should have a vision of the historical process from the point of view of the human species as a whole, and not of any particular national tribe; and finally, that they should acquire a basic knowledge of the mechanisms which govern individuals political and economic behaviour and the elements through which they can retrace the difficult path followed by mankind to create a rational vision of the universe in which it lives. As regards institutions, since education must become the instrument through which all the citizens of a state must learn to cooperate with the citizens of other states, rather than to hate and fight them, school will be one of the principal fields of application of the coordination of national policies.
4. Education, citizens rights and the European federal constitution.
National markets and economies are now part of a single global market. School systems must either acknowledge this new reality or be destined to turn into temples for passing on a culture that is an end in itself, and a mediocre vocational training. From this point of view Europe represents the most advanced laboratory for the transformation of education systems. With the coming into force of the Maastricht Treaty, not only have specific legislative powers been assigned to the European Parliament in the area of education, but, with the recognition of the right to European citizenship and to free movement, the preliminaries have been set for the reciprocal recognition of educational qualifications by all the member countries of the European Union. It is from this point of view that such apparently contradictory phenomena should be analysed as the progressive loss of importance in the legal value of national educational qualifications, and the affirmation of the need for greater freedom in teaching and for a broader sharing of scholastic powers between different levels of government. The Maastricht Treaty has created in Europe a juridical context unique in the world as regards cooperation between different institutional levels in the field of education. Alongside the powers of the member states of the Union, and within them, of the Länder in Germany, the Local Authorities in Great Britain, the Regions in Italy, the Departments in France etc., for the first time the possibility of the Community “contributing to the development of a quality education” at the European level has been recognised. Limited legislative power has been assigned to the European Parliament, even through a complex procedure, to be shared with the Council and the European Commission in the field of education, training, research, and technological development. Hence the way has been paved for recognition of the principle according to which several levels of government within the Union can have powers in the scholastic field. The Treaty has, in other words, recognized the validity of the idea behind the article already present in the draft Treaty of Union promoted by Spinelli and adopted by the European Parliament in February 1984, according to which concurrent powers must be exercised in the educational field by the Union and the member states. The member states have thus renounced part of their sovereignty in the scholastic field. However there is not yet a European federal constitutional framework which guarantees citizens against an intervention on the part of the same states to unilaterally modify in their favour the framework of powers in the scholastic field. The fact is that, for the moment, the European States have found themselves forced to include education among those policies on which it is now necessary to share sovereignty, but claim at the same time respect for their responsibility as regards the content of teaching and the organisation of the education system, as specified in the Treaty of Maastricht. However it takes no account of the responsibilities which other levels of government, like the regions or the towns, already have, or could assume. This ambiguity has already emerged in the course of the debate on the ratification of the Treaty, when the regional governments of the German Länder rightly expressed their fears of a reduction of the powers which they already have in the scholastic area. The Treaty of Maastricht has thus posed a problem, that of coordinating scholastic policies, without succeeding in solving it. If, as by now seems obvious, the national authorities are destined to see their role in the scholastic field reduced, is it to be hoped that in parallel fashion the Union gradually extends its powers in the field of education? Or should an extension of powers at several levels of government be hoped for? The Union does not at present have any instrument available to decide either way, a constitution not yet having been adopted which defines the fundamental rights of individuals as regards teaching and education and which establishes the rules for emending democratically, and not through intergovernmental agreements, the obligations of the member states and European institutions towards citizens.[11] “Natural rights are those which appertain to man in right of his existence. Of this kind are all the intellectual rights, or rights of the mind... which are not injurious to the natural rights of others.” Thus Thomas Paine, already an active supporter of the American Revolution, expressed himself in 1791, in defence of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen approved by the French National Assembly in 1789. As in the time of Paine, so today Europeans are faced with the problem of creating a new common power to conserve their rights. Is it a contradiction to seek to affirm rights through the institution of a new framework of power? According to Paine, the answer is negative, in that “the natural rights which are not retained, are all those in which, though the right is perfect in the individual, the power to execute them is defective.” The development of the process of European unification has put Europeans face to face with the fact of no longer being able to retain their own intellectual rights in a purely local, regional or national context. In this sense the rights of Europeans can now be fully guaranteed only by a federal European constitution. But the conservation of these rights is, as we have seen, also increasingly linked to the type of reform of the school system which will be undertaken. From this point of view, what is new in the Maastricht Treaty with regard to concurrent powers in the scholastic field, can not have all the hoped-for effects unless it is included in the European constitution, while at the same time extending it to all levels of territorial government present in the Union. Only if this happens can the regional and local powers be given their due. In fact it is illusory to think that the reform of schools can consist of a simple reform by the Ministry of Public Education where this already exists (as in France and Italy), or in its introduction where this is not even extant (as in Germany, or indeed at European level). If it is true that the new mode of production and the regional processes of integration impose a greater coordination of scholastic policies, this can be achieved by instituting in the first place mechanisms – controllable and transparent – to verify the diffusion on the ground of adequate of teaching instruments and the effective raising of education levels. These mechanisms are not comparable to centralised management and control; on the contrary, they could be part of devolved scholastic agencies distributed across the territory. In fact, with the prospect of a diffusion and sharing of scholastic powers to all levels of government, the circulation of information on the quality and the type of education available in the various territorial contexts, which is practically inexistent (because useless) in a system of public education based on national directives and administrative hierarchies, becomes the fulcrum for planning scholastic policies. The age of the exclusive management of schooling, only at the national, regional or local level, is definitely over. We now need to create institutions capable of reconciling the need to coordinate scholastic policy with the safeguarding of the independence of the various levels of government. In this sense the battle for educational reform coincides with the battle for institutional reform and, more precisely, with the battle to speed up the overcoming of the national dimension of the state by a federal supranational dimension. To the extent that the world, and primarily Europe, where this transition is now within reach, will be able to set itself on this road, school may really be able to contribute to responding to the challenges of the new mode of production and the globalization of problems.

[1] Radovan Richta, in Technischer Fortschritt und industrielle Gesellschaft, Makol Verlag, Frankfurt am Main, 1972.
[2] Robert Reich, The Work of Nations. Preparing Ourselvesfor 21st Century Capitalism, Vintage Books, A Division of Random House, Inc., New York, 1991.
[3] Vittorio Capecchi, “Scuola e formazione professionale in Giappone, Stati Uniti e Europa”, in Scuola e città, n. 4, XLIV, 1993.
[4] Tim Beardsley, “Trends in Science Education - Teaching Real Science”, in Scientific American, October 1992.
[5] Harold W. Stevenson, “Learning from Asian Schools”, in Scientific American, December 1992.
[6] James Bowen, A History of Western Education, Methuen & Co LTD, London, 1975.
[7] Ronald K. Goodenow & William E. Marsden, The City and Education in Four Nations, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1992.
[8] Francesco Rossolillo, Il problema della democrazia nella scuola, I problemi della lotta politica nella società moderna, N. 7, Pavia, February 1973.
[9] Immanuel Kant, Education, trans. Annette Churton, Ann Arbor, The University of Michigan Press, Ann Arbor Paperbacks, 1960.
[10] José Ortega y Gasset, La missione dell’Università, Naples, Guida, 1972.
[11] Norberto Bobbio, L’età dei diritti, Turin, Einaudi, 1992.



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