Sebastian Berger, Executive Director of the Global Student Forum, joined us to discuss how to activate the recommendations from UNESCO’s Future of Education report during a session at the recent LearningPlanet Festival.

As a spokesperson of such a large group of key stakeholders, we were keen to hear Sebastian’s perspectives on the practical steps needed to deliver the radical changes required to transform education and the short version of his response can be captured as three simple requirements:

The need to democratise education, the need for far-reaching changes in curricula and study programs to deliver quality climate education, and adequate funding of education, including the payment of teachers.

We encourage you to dive deeper into what Sebastian had to say, either via the transcript of his presentation at the Festival below or via our video replay.

And if you’d like more information on the UNESCO report check out our easy-to-read summary of its major points and recommendations.

Over to you Sebastien!

Extract from the participation of Sebastian Berger, Executive Director, Global Student Forum, during the ‘Co-creating the Futures of Education’ session at the 2022 LearningPlanet Festival

The constituents in my organisation represent the secondary and tertiary level students who make up a substantial part of young people around the globe and therefore hold many stakes when it comes to the question of what we want, in the wording of the UNESCO report, a new social contract for education to look like.

What the UNESCO international commission has succeeded in doing is to present a comprehensive and very critical analysis of the multidimensional crises that we are facing. I would like to try to speak to some of these that correspond with the issues at the core of the discussions that we are having within the international students movement, between regional and national student unions within our membership. 

The first one relates to democracy. The COVID-19 pandemic has undoubtedly exacerbated democratic decline and given rise to this recent spring of authoritarianism with shocking attacks on academic freedom, institutional autonomy and freedom of expression in all parts of the world.  We agree with the report that education has a distinctive role in preparing young people to be active citizens,  fostering commitment to fundamental values, to human rights and democratic discourse.

To live up to this crucial responsibility we need to democratise education itself and I think this process of democratisation needs to start at the local level, in schools and universities, by meaningfully involving students and their unions in institutional governance and policy making. We can be listening and acting upon the concerns expressed by learners and giving them a real chance to co-shape their educational realities. I think by doing so education systems are installing an organic genuine belief in the power of democracy itself.

Active citizenship education cannot take place without an active commitment to support and work with existing representative union structures of students. The same can be said for teacher unions whose history of defending democracy is not in question.

Secondly, we need to urgently act upon the greatest threat humanity has ever faced, the environmental catastrophe.

We stand behind the scientific community so we consider climate education to be an integral and necessary central aspect of quality education. Learners, as well as teachers, must urgently be equipped to do their part to address the climate crisis and shape democratic inclusive and socially sustainable communities in delivering quality climate education. 

We believe this requires far-reaching changes in curricula and study programs that can only be achieved by fundamentally redesigning learning and teaching strategies. That should also involve learners and education for sustainable development in school and university curricula as a cross-disciplinary and a core subject for everyone so that students do not only achieve climate literacy but can be supported to carry out sustainability initiatives throughout their educational journey.

Finally, education funding is the make or break factor for most of the brilliant recommendations. According to the United Nations, education accounted for only 2% of the average stimulus spending in most countries during the pandemic. 

66% of low-income countries have been forced to cut education budgets while only 33% of high-income countries have had to do the same, so as always, the increased economic pressure is hitting the global South, the most vulnerable, the hardest.

Education financing has been inadequate for decades and much more funding is required to overcome the important points addressed by the report – the digital divide, the necessary modernization of learning environments, of schools of universities, training and education, and the adequate payment of teachers. It costs a lot of money to ensure equity to access, to realise learning opportunities and therefore social mobility at large.

Allow me to state that I think there is enough money in the system  – we know that governments always find money to spend on the military, the police, security surveillance, and recently a lot in corporate welfare – so in our opinion to put this proposed new social contract for education into effect we need a broad coalition of actors working together achieving momentum to publicly fund its implementation while being guided by the overarching aim to not leave the most marginalised behind.

Through its 199 national member unions from 121 countries, the Global Student Forum represents the independent and democratic voice of more than 100 million secondary and tertiary level students around the world and therefore an important part of the global population concerned by the future education and learning.