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Juan Carlos Tedesco: “Achieving educational goals is no longer a distant utopia but a real possibility”

Juan Carlos Tedesco: “Achieving educational goals is no longer a distant utopia but a real possibility”

Mr. Tedesco is an educator, former Minister of Education in Argentina, specialist in educational policy and keynote speaker for the 3rd Board Meeting of the Regional Education Project for Latin America and the Caribbean (EPT/PRELAC), Education for All and Post-2015 Agenda, which will be held in Mexico on the 29th and 30th of January.

• Twelve years after the Dakar Declaration (2000) and less than three years from the 2015 deadline for the Education for All goals, the progress of Latin America and the Caribbean needs to be reviewed. What do you consider to be the main focal points in order to address the pending issues?
I think that the region’s experience shows that the key continues to be a strong political will which considers education to be a priority for the construction of more just societies. This political determination should be expressed beyond purely rhetorical discourse. Political will should be expressed through a pact among all sectors which are committed to achieving the educational goals and assigning the necessary financial resources. The countries of Latin America and the Caribbean are experiencing an exceptional period of economic growth and favorable social and political conditions. Within this context, achieving educational goals is no longer a distant utopia but a real possibility. We should not miss out on this new opportunity.

• The extended EPT/PRELAC Board Meeting in Mexico City is aimed at identifying the new challenges and trends to be included in the post-2015 educational agenda. What issues do you think are important to include in the new post-2015 agenda?
The heterogeneity and diversity of the region make it difficult to identify issues that are common to all countries. However, I think that in the near future we will need to place a greater emphasis on the pedagogical dimension of educational action. Increasing financial resources for teaching materials and expenses (salaries, teachers, subsidies for poor families, infrastructure, equipment, class schedules, etc.) is a necessary condition, but it is not sufficient for improving learning results and disrupting the social determinism of these results. We will need to make a great effort to innovate and encourage cultural changes that allow the poorest sectors of the population to access excellent quality education. This includes anything from teaching-learning strategies to school work organization models, as well as teachers’ values and conceptions about their students’ learning capacities. Research on this issue has shown that the schools and teachers who achieve good results in unfavorable conditions possess a series of characteristics which are fundamental to educational success: confidence in their students’ learning capacities, accountability for results, teamwork, institutional project and a command of pedagogical strategies which help address the challenges to teaching in these social contexts.

At the same time, I think the post-2015 will need to include a greater emphasis on digital literacy and scientific literacy which, along with the traditional yet persistent challenge of reading and writing, define key aspects of basic quality education.

• When talking about 21st-century education, it has been said that there are two challenges, the first of which being the postulate of learning to learn. What is implied by the redesign of education as a mere instrument for the transmission of information and the prioritization of the learning process?
The postulate of learning to learn as one of the pillars of 21st-century education was upheld by the Report by the UNESCO International Commission on Education for the 21st Century, chaired by Jacques Delors, which was published under the title Learning: The Treasure Within. In sum, what it means is that in a society where knowledge is constantly changing, we are required to continue learning throughout our lives. Consequently, schools must transmit information, but this transmission must be related to teaching the students how to learn, because it is something they must do on a permanent basis. Redesigning the educational task with this approach affects not only the curricular and institutional designs, but also pedagogical strategies and the role of the teacher. For example, it implies prioritizing basic training, since only a solid basic training will allow students to adapt to continuous changes in knowledge. From the pedagogical perspective, it implies transmitting knowledge and cognitive operations that are associated with the production of said knowledge (what some authors call metacognition and meta-curriculum). Obviously, all of this supposes significant changes in the role of the teacher, in his or her training and how he or she organizes his or her work. Learning to learn is not an objective that can be achieved by a teacher individually. It requires a long-term commitment, long educational career paths and, therefore, teamwork and a strong collective professionalism by the educators.

• You have said that the second challenge is learning to live together. What role does education play in the process of achieving social order and cohesion, while also maintaining our different identities?
Learning to live together is a requirement of 21st-century education precisely because we are faced with the challenge of coexisting while maintaining our own identities. Within this challenge it is important to distinguish between diversity and inequality. Cultural diversity is an asset, and it must be maintained, but it is necessary to reduce inequality to a minimum. Those who are “different” (indigenous peoples and Afro-descendants, for example) are, for the most part, poor. From this perspective, learning to live together implies using education to promote the generation of deep sentiments of support for social justice. We live in societies where the traditional factors of cohesion (Nation and work) have eroded. Cohesion is at risk of rupture whether due to the spread of asocial individualism, promoted by market ideology in all aspects of society, or due to refuge in authoritarian fundamentalism. In this regard, it is important to highlight that no sense of cultural belonging can be associated with the negation, exclusion or marginality of others.

In this regard, education has a large responsibility and significant possibilities for action. Ultimately, it has to do with using schools and educational spaces to promote learning experiences that allow students to know more about and respect those who are different, in order to develop solidarity and dialogue for the peaceful resolution of conflicts. In this sense, learning experiences can and must have different content according to the different educational levels. I think we need to place more emphasis on this aspect in higher education, where the ruling elites and most qualified resources from the scientific and technical perspective are formed. The incorporation of obligatory social service for all university programs of study is one of the most important recent policies in this field. At the same time, we need to break up the school cliques. Today, although all children attend school, schools tend to be very homogeneous from the point of view of the students (all poor, all rich, all of the same religion, etc.). We must promote learning experiences where there is direct contact with those who are different. In this aspect, sports and the arts can be great allies.

• The key role of teachers is unquestionable, however, support strategies are not always the same. According to your experience, what is the best way to enhance teachers’ work?
I think it is necessary to adopt a systemic approach. There is no single dimension capable of enhancing teachers so that they can assume this key role assigned to them. I think it is necessary to consider at least three dimensions: working conditions, training and career development. It is fundamental to improve working conditions, including not only salaries but also the school conditions, working spaces and didactic equipment. Training is a key issue, in terms of both initial training and in-service training. In this regard, we all know that there is a large gap between teacher training and the actual work requirements. We need to bridge this gap by promoting innovations, associating universities with the commitment to design pedagogical strategies that can be applied in schools, diversifying the types of in-service training through the use of field trips and at-work training. In terms of teacher training, it is necessary to pay a lot of attention to the training of the trainers. Finally, another important dimension is the design of teaching career models, which allow for professional development without leaving the classroom.

  • 21-01-2013