Critical Reflections over a slogan used in politics and education

"New production concepts as well as altogether changes due to more systemic instead of tayloristic rationalization measures in the technical as well as in the commercial sector led to an increased need of flexible thinking and acting humans. The complexity and the dynamics of these changes increase steadily, so that the capacity to act and the learning aptitude are permanently put to the test by humans and social systems."
"'Informal learning' designates a learning, which determines 'natural learning' in changing life and work situations, and does not take place in line with standard planned and regulated educational measures (29), therefore curricular not fixed, open, self-determined, hands-on, as a kind of natural learning which is based on reflecting experience. In contrast it is spoken of 'formal learning', if learning is institutionally arranged, structured according to plan and provides a recognized certificate." [TADE TRAMM & LOTHAR REETZ, University of Hamburg]

Knowledge and Education

Knowledge without education? On the way into the learning society of the 21th Century

"Chapter 10 comes to the central thesis: it criticizes the concepts of self-directed learning and flanking concepts like lifelong learning, learning society or constructionalistic learning theory. Further sections are concerned with appropriate changes of the educational personnel, of the participants, which are supposed to use their spare time as qualification time, and of the institutions, where no more education goals, but increased cost recovery is a center stone of concerns. The criticism is summarized at the conclusion of the chapter in six theses (e.g. "education is more than a learning").
The 11th Chapter asks the question "The century of the education only began - how does it continue?" The central thesis of the authors reads as follows: alienation and exploitation in 21th Century will come about via 'lifelong learning'" [C. Rohrer about Hufer, Klaus-Peter; Wedge, Ulrich: Knowledge without education? On the way into the learning society of the 21th Century]

Society of the Future

Head in the clouds: Europe hopes to become the world's pre-eminent knowledge-based economy. Not likely!

"THERE are few things European leaders like better than talking about their plans for turning Europe into the world's most competitive “knowledge-based economy” by the end of this decade. The aim was first laid out at the EU's summit in Lisbon in March 2000 and has been repeated with hypnotic fervour ever since.

To grasp the full absurdity of this ambition, it is worth visiting the Humboldt University in Berlin. Walk into the main foyer, stroll up the steps to the first floor past a slogan by a former student engraved in gold on the wall (“Philosophers have simply interpreted the world; the point is to change it”) and study the portraits of the Nobel prize-winners that line the walls. There were eight in 1900-09, six in 1910-19, four in 1920-29, six in 1930-39, one in 1940-49 and four in 1950-56. The roll of honour includes luminaries such as Theodor Mommsen, Max Planck, Albert Einstein and Werner Heisenberg. But after 1956 the Nobel prizes suddenly stop.

The list of Nobel prize-winners actually understates the university's past glories. In the 19th century, it not only nurtured such world-class intellectuals as Hegel and Fichte, it also pioneered a new sort of educational institution—the research university. And the drying-up of Nobel prizes in 1956 is not the only indication of the university's current plight. It occupies 95th place on the Shanghai list, next to the University of Utah. The buildings are drab, lectures and classes are overcrowded, and some of the best professors have left.

Apologists might retort that Humboldt is still recovering from its time on the wrong side of the Berlin Wall. Yet Humboldt's problems are replicated across the whole of Germany, west as well as east. The highest-placed German university in the Shanghai rankings is the Technical University of Munich, at 45. The ratio of students to teachers at German universities is depressingly high. For some lectures, a thousand or more students pile into the hall. The only count on which German universities still lead the world is the age of its students at graduation, 26 on average.

[... ] [The Economist; SURVEY: HIGHER EDUCATION; Sep 8th 2005]

Knowledge-based International Aid

DO WE WANT IT, DO WE NEED IT? - Rosa-María Torres

"[…] there is little hope that the announced “knowledge society” and “lifelong learning” will bring the expected “learning revolution” and a more equitable distribution of knowledge."

"[…] On the contrary, we are experiencing a major epochal paradox: never before have there been so much information and knowledge available, so varied and powerful means to democratize them, and so much emphasis on the importance of knowledge, education and learning, but never before has the banking education model been so alive and widespread at a global scale: education understood as a one-way transfer of information and knowledge, and learning understood as the passive digestion of such transfer. Many enthusiastic global promoters of “knowledge societies”, “new networking” and “lifelong learning” dream today with a world converted into a giant classroom with a few powerful global teachers, and millions of passive assimilators of information and knowledge packages via telecenters, computers and the Internet."

"[…] The “knowledge-based rhetoric” reinforces the expert and the technocratic culture (“the symbolic analyst”). National and international experts have multiplied and the term has been abused to a point where anybody can be called such or believe he/she is one. The expansion and costs of the international consultancy industry have been analyzed and documented by various studies and for the various regions. The situation is particularly critical in the case of Africa, as highlighted in one of UNDP’s Human Development Reports (UNDP, 1993).
The perverse consequences of the expert and consultant drive in the South are enormous. The expert culture reinforces technocratic and elitist approaches, social participation and consultation as mere concessions to democracy rather than as objective needs for effective policy design and action. It cultivates the separation between thinkers and doers, reformers and implementers, both at the national and global scale. It reaffirms the tradition to locate problems on the implementation side, never on the side of those who diagnose, plan and formulate policies."

"[…] In the age of “knowledge” and “learning”, scientific research on learning -- from the most varied fields: Biology, Psychology, Linguistics, Anthropology, Sociology, Pedagogy, History, etc. -- has begun to show its highly complex nature, mechanisms and processes. And yet, we assist to a tremendous banalization of these notions, particularly by Agencies and by many international and national advocates of the “learning revolution”. Information, knowledge, education, learning are easily confused and often used indistinctively (see Box below). Ignoring current scientific knowledge available on these issues, and in the best tradition of the banking school education model, knowledge and learning continue to be trivialized as a matter of access (to school before, to the computer and the Internet today) and/or dissemination (of information, of knowledge, of lessons learned, of models to be replicated)."

[“KNOWLEDGE-BASED INTERNATIONAL AID” DO WE WANT IT, DO WE NEED IT? - Rosa-María Torres, Institute Fronesis Buenos Aires, Argentina www.fronesis.org]