By Ria Adams
*This blog post is part of the Jean Monnet Chair of European Media Governance and Integration series
Education – a topic that brings back abiding memories of the past and raises emotional discussions within various groups of people. No matter which social class one belongs to, it is a touchy issue that concerns everybody. Education has always been used as a powerful tool to transmit cultural values, norms and beliefs to future generations. What happens in the setting of institutionalized education reflects the value system of the particular society. Hence, education continues to be in the limelight of politics and influences policy making processes, not only within the European Union, but all over the world.
Being successful within a particular educational system depends on social background, and the unequal opportunities have been studied by many. Pierre Bourdieu for instance reminds us about the impact of social and cultural capital that determines educational performance and how important it is to understand the system in which we are operating. Formally equality exists. The motivational slogans that we often hear vary from ´Just believe in yourself´, ´Everyone has the same chances´ to ´Just try and never give up´. There is a tendency to forget the difficulty of individual paths, depending on their social backgrounds, which determine their choices.
Individuality is being promoted and highly valued within the European Union. Simultaneously education keeps squeezing individual students into a certain mould, created by the unification of educational systems through programs such as Erasmus, Europass or the Blogna Process. The paradox of stressing individualism on the one side and the unification process on the other side, is obvious. Quotes such as; ´Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will think its whole life that it is stupid.´ are circulating on educational platforms, stressing individualism. Yet reality shows that competition that neglects diversity hampers a multivocality in the sector of education.
Western forms of education are characterized by standardized, competitive, productive, goal-oriented and assertive measures, that are developed to meet the economic needs of our capitalistic society. As the European Union is a merger of various different cultures and educational backgrounds it might be worth looking at the topic of education from multiple angles. Adding dissident voices to the policy-making process might result in a broader variety of educational approaches. For example, the indigenous groups of the North (Sami) practiced an educational system contrasting to the western model, where observations, verbal transmissions of knowledge, cooperation and a process-oriented approach were implied. Sustainability and the inter-relatedness of various aspects of life are central elements of indigenous education, which were forcefully silenced for decades. Slowly these differing views on education are getting a voice on European platforms. But the question remains if these voices are only out there for promoting equity or if they are there to be listened to in an attitude of willingness to learn, and to add these perspectives into the conceptual work of educational issues.
A more holistic and inclusive view on education requires an interdisciplinary coalition, which includes cultural, political, educational, psychological, sociological and other related dimensions. Only by connecting the many individual pieces of the puzzle, will the image become apparent. The collaboration of different views and approaches necessitates thinking outside one´s own safe and logical stance, but only by questioning the status quo, can a change of practices be initiated.
Instead of working towards a multi-vocal and multi-faceted educational system within the European Union, the tendency seems to go towards hegemony and unanimity. Dissident voices may appear in politically driven emotional speeches, but the core task of policy-makers is to become more unified and concordant. Whether this originates from superior, post-colonialist thinking of using power, or a fear of getting lost in a multicultural world, are questions searching for answers. In a globalized world, remaining distinctive, in a sense of drawing clear lines between ethnicities and states, seems to be one of the core ideological messages of today´s politicians. But where are these distinct voices in constructing educational policies within the European Union? Social science is one player, but there is a need for more active voices outside the ivory towers of universities to have an effective impact on educational realities.