Education for Constructive Change

Credit: UWC
  • Opinion by Jens Waltermann (london)
  • Inter Press Service
  • Jens Waltermann is Executive Director, United World Colleges (UWC) International

The newly launched Davos manifesto on the universal purpose of a company in the fourth industrial revolution and the Business Roundtable in August call for leaders and companies to shift their attention from solely focusing on shareholders to including stakeholders.

Yet, we have spent the past five years discussing the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). And now we only have a decade to reach them.

Whether it is the need to increasingly work together across industries, sectors and borders or to broaden the role of business as a contributor in society, it is clear that tomorrow's leaders need to be educated differently.

The world needs citizens who are empowered to act, who see that they have a role to play in reaching the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Students from very different backgrounds, who have lived, studied and solved problems together.

We need students who will become entrepreneurs, social entrepreneurs and leaders. We need to educate responsible leaders.

Education is the tool to create constructive change and here are three reflections on how:

Education needs to focus on the questions that will start conversations

Students can ask many thoughtful questions, wherever they are empowered to do so. Questions that challenge and expose inaccurate assumptions and all too easy answers, questions that create serendipitous learning, and questions that lay the foundations for difficult conversations.

Education is uniquely placed to instill the right mindset for this and create places for meaningful conversations between students from different backgrounds. In our divided world of black and white perceptions and statements, we can teach students to think critically, to appreciate diversity and to build bridges across differences.

By encouraging students to ask questions and ask why, they will challenge what is around them. With the transition to the circular economy, we need to not only pick plastics from the beach, but teach students to ask why the plastic got there in the first place.

What is wrong with the current system? How can the products not only be reused and recycled, but designed so that the materials never leave the cycle? By asking questions like this, I am certain that we as educators will spark creative thinking amongst our students, and create change makers for the future. Perhaps even social entrepreneurs today.

Education must engage students outside the classroom

Boycotts and sanctions in the political and economic space must not affect the education of our children. As much as conflicts may arise in politics and business, education needs to lay the foundations for tomorrow's peace building.

And classroom education is only one part of the puzzle: what happens when you create an environment where students help elderly people at the local nursing home, support slum children to attend school in India or even carry a paralyzed fellow student to the top of the mountain on the school's annual hike?

Or when social entrepreneurship is encouraged and the students invent a method to recycle plastics from the ocean? This sort of education holds the fabric of society together. We must not let that fabric tear, but rather strengthen it by weaving creativity, action and service into education.

Education must embrace cultures and celebrate diversity. Every day.

By asking questions to a student from another country, studying history next to a refugee or enjoying each other's music, you learn the true value of being different. In a world of soundbites, slogans and superficial statements, we need time together to converse, question and understand. We need to put faces to abstract questions and events around the globe.

I see students graduate from our schools, go on to university and later take on jobs in governments, businesses or in civil society. With the challenges that we are facing we need public private partnerships, people who can work together, not just because they have to, but because they know the value of bringing very different people around one table.

So, as children that were initially portrayed as apathetic continue to march in the streets, speak at the UN and put pressure on the world's leaders to act, we must ensure that we continue to foster their efforts with a shift in education that arms them with a strong sense of purpose and the skills to facilitate constructive change.

That will equip them as better citizens and as the responsible leaders we need as we enter into the next decade. The last decade to reach the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

© Inter Press Service (2019) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service