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Right to Education as an elementary Human Right: From Thinking to Living it

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The situation of education in general, and of higher education in particular, is not considered as a priority in developing countries. Unfortunately, all development depends on a good education. Many countries suffer not only of the absence of quality education, but also from a lack of accessibility for its citizens. Many of them suffer from not being able to study.

The exercise of citizenship must allow everyone to become an actor of society. To be an actor requires a good understanding of the role, the place and the rights be recognized by everyone. To be an actor means to be responsible in a social and democratic framework relying on values and references shared by all. «The practice of citizenship relies on participation spaces open to all. Otherwise, in many developing countries, as the level of education is very low, citizens do not consider themselves actors of their country’s development. »[1]They block the progress of their country and create other problems in security, the economy, politics, social issues and above all in an increase in unemployment. Indeed, a large part of the population is active, but instead of creating jobs, it is looking for employment. Thus, if everyone looks for a job, the number of openings is small. This has a negative impact on the resources of the State. «The challenges of contemporary societies are mostly characterised by complexity and are part of a global interdependence. In the face of globalization, the education of people to be good citizens must widen its scope from local, regional and national levels to a global dimension ».[2]

According to the document (UNESCO, 2014) UNESCO Education Strategy 2014-2021, approximately 774 million adults, of which two thirds are women, could neither read, nor write in 2011. More than 50% of this adult illiterate population lived in South and West Asia and a quarter approximately in sub-Saharan Africa; 10 countries alone represent 72% of the total. In sub-Saharan Africa, the number of illiterate adults has, in fact, increased by 37% these last twenty years to reach 182 million in 2011. According to these forecasts, the world total will still be of 743 million in 2015, a reduction of only 16% as against the number in 1985-1994 with regard to data on illiteracy (UNESCO, 2014b). It is the aim of education for all (EFA) which is the most difficult to reach.

Although illiteracy is mostly concentrated in the developing and highly populated countries, the problem continues to be pervasive. Developed countries also present large pockets of poverty, in which evaluations show that no less than one adult on five, in other words 160 million persons, have very low literary competencies, being unable to read, write and calculate in daily life (UNESCO, 2012.

Literacy, beyond being a basic competency, is also a prerequisite to access to all forms and all levels of apprenticeship all along life, as well as a base enabling quality education for all.

Being deprived of basic literacy competencies is a factor that leads to being excluded from many aspects of existence, and it covers important dimensions of gender and poverty. Governments and lending institutions are often insufficiently concerned with illiteracy. In the same manner, less than 3% of the national education budget is devoted to literacy and adult education programmes.

Education and life-long training

Education and life-long training are key elements of a strong and reasoned strategy which have become a powerful weapon in a dynamic world obsessed by competitivity. The way we see our neighbours is also part of our worries when we are looking to be inspired by tools and policies that they develop for continuous qualitative and quantitative improvement, of our educational systems, that will lead to a social integration and cohesion of nations (Newgreen, 2002).

Education and higher education are fundamental elements. They allow each individual to build his life, not only on a private basis, but also professionally, and also to contribute to the economic, political, and social aspects of the country in which they live.

To be effective, higher education demands, as a fundamental element, time, a certain slow pace, stability, tranquillity and even a minimum of comfort. Education is one of the most important levers in development. It is also, one of the most efficient mechanisms to guarantee peace and stability of a country. «We live in a rapidly evolving world, increasingly interdependent, in which knowledge and innovation are major development factors ».[3]

Stakeholders in the general environment of higher education

According to Burridge et al, education and higher education are as important as water to ensure life. In light of our research, we have noticed that all the economic, political, and social development of a country depends in large part to education that will impact the general environment of that country, and thus of the entire region. Obviously, education takes its roots at primary school, but we have limited our research to higher education.

In the framework of our research, we have identified certain stakeholders such as the citizens who are directly impacted by war. A well-educated society, capable of distinguishing good from bad, will attempt to avoid certain conflicts so as to live in peace. The Afghan population suffers from a lack of education and this opens the possibility for certain rebel groups to convince young men to undertake acts that are contrary to peace.

Education is one of the important factors in the social and economic development of a country. All the actors of social and economic life, who are stakeholders, suffer the consequences of the absence of penetration of higher education, at best a very low penetration, as outlined by several reports, such as those of the World Bank, UNESCO, and what we also observe in our empirical experience.

All the stakeholders, in the private and public sectors, feel the low use or the near-absence of technological development, which, however, is an absolute need today so as to avoid an important delay in productivity and thus, competitivity. The different educational levels feel the absence of means to train students in the use of basic technology. We have not identified a theory which outlines the fact that societies in developing countries must remain unchanged.«In the competitive and dynamic environment of the modern economies of knowledge, the educational policies occupy a central place and, if needed, can fulfil the functions that are normally traditionally part of investment such as policies of social protection».[4]

The emergence of the notion of ‘Life competencies’

« The four pillars of a quality education as defined by UNESCO (2000) allows to put the basis of a strategy that could assist to raise this challenge. Unfortunately, this is not the case in Afghanistan and in many developing countries.

Learning to know : education must assist students to acquire the instruments of knowledge, in other words, the necessary tools of communication and oral expression, reading, arithmetic and the art of problem resolution, to possess both a solid general culture and the deep knowledge of a few fields, to understand what are the rights and responsibilities and, above all, to learn to learn.

Learning to do : education must assist students to acquire the know-how and the social and psychological competencies that will allow them to make informed decisions in diverse situations, to manage social relations and relations at work, to access local and global markets, use technological tools, satisfy fundamental needs and improve quality of their life and the life of others.

Learning to be: education must contribute to the flourishing of individual personality and allow them to act with more autonomy, of judgement, of critical thought and of personal responsibility. It must develop all the aspects of a person’s potential such as, for instance, memory, reasoning, esthetical values, spiritual values, physical capabilities and the art of communication. It must encourage a healthy lifestyle, the liking of sports, of leisure, of the appreciation of one’s own culture, the respect of ethical and moral code, the art of making oneself valuable and of defending oneself, and the capacity of rebounding.”

Learning to live together: education must reinforce the know-how at students and the aptitudes likely to help them to accept mutual interdependence».[5]

Result:

According to the recommendations of the Organisation of the United Nations (UN), the international responsibility of governments and political leaders regarding the exercise of the right to education is to find a rapid and lasting solution to this challenge so as to better integrate the international community which check the effective exercise of the right enumerated which check, on the one hand, the application and the conformity with the «United Nations Pact relating to economic social and cultural rights» and on the other «the United Nations Pact relating to civil and political rights.»«One can state that facing the uncertain future and the multiple challenges that post-conflict States experience that have led to irreversible, and often permanently damaging, consequences, education must bring a final advantage to re-establish, through freedom and social justice, the conditions of preventive and balanced management of conflicts. This allows it to progress, while respecting the conditions of sustainable development, towards the expected peace ideals. »[6]

« The knowledge generated by the economy of education may thus assist the governments to optimize their policies through better informed choice, thus contributing the attainment of the objective of a sustained and equitable growth that mobilises all the citizens.»[7]

According to UNESCO’s Education Strategy 2014-2021, the political leaders must study to better exploit the potential of information technologies and communication (TIC) in education. The presence of sustainable infrastructure and financing issues, of the content of quality-insurance, represent, in this field, key issues, just like the question of available means to develop and put in place pluri-dimensional policies in matters of online security and ethics.

Education to citizenship allows to acquire new knowledge that will directly impact the economic, political and social life of the country. «The first function of education is to transmit an inheritance and to teach the ethical principles and the framework of law (national and international) that determines communal living. However, society today more than ever, faces rapid changes and challenges in embedded in complex global challenges. These challenges require societal changes to which a citizen should be able to participate. However, transmission and education are insufficient on their own: the education for citizenship must allow the exercise of new competencies: to enter into complexity, to manage uncertainty, to position oneself, to imagine new solutions and to participate in their realization. »[8]

The general experience of life and the ordinary unfolding of things show that when citizens who live and work in a given society are very well educated, there are less conflicts, for they are able to resolve their problems by discussion, dialogue, and common understanding. The example of countries in which social dialogue is the main governance vector, such as Switzerland, Norway, Sweden, etc, is more than welcome.

A well-educated society can only be a democratic society because it constantly counts on the capacity and the behaviour of its citizens; and each citizen feels important for his country.

If we take the case of Afghanistan today, it is a rich country with considerable natural resources, but the country finds itself in extreme poverty. Our analysis brings two explanations for this situation: the poverty of knowledge, first of all, that does not allow citizens to contribute to the development of the country and to correctly use their competencies and their rights; the poverty of the leadership, on one hand, that concentrate themselves exclusively on the acquisition of power instead of concentrating on the best manner to help the population. As a backdrop, one can see a situation in which the political leaders take advantage of the naivety and low educational level of their fellow citizens to stay in power and to profit from their advantages.  

The conclusions of our research shows that it is impossible to develop a country without prioritising education. To illustrate our working methodology, we have developed a competency matrix to helps Afghanistan become a stable state by developing a distance learning system.

Matrix of the competencies of a citizen

CompetenciesCriteriaSituationToolsEvaluation
  Active citizen    Positively participate in his individual development which will impact later, on different scales, such as family, clan, tribal, ethnic and national, and even in light of the entire country’s development, instead of concentrating on his personal interests.    Live together and contribute together to one’s own development as well as that of the country.  Education is the primary source to become an active citizen, positive and understanding.  Living together without conflict Societal progress.      
Know one’s own importance and valuesBe capable of undergoing auto-evaluation, to understand its importance, oneself, one’s values and those that still require development.  Use positive values for oneself and for one’s family; allow all members of one’s family to optimize their capabilities.Schools, universities and the professional environment allow us to be with others and to understand well our values and those of others.Non-violent communication. Personal evolution.
Know one’s rights as well as those of othersUnderstand the importance of one’s fundamental rights as well as those of others.  Mutual respect, whatever the age, gender and/or belief.EducationAvoid violence and live in peace.
Capacity of expressing oneself  Aptitude to develop and defend oneself in a calm and legal manner.  Express oneself without wounding others and make the situation more complex.  EducationRespect others.
Consciousness of power  Understand one’s own values as a citizen, as well as the importance of voting rights.In exercising one’s voting rights, elect deserving persons so as to stabilize the country’s political and social situation.  EducationAppoint leaders according to their and competencies that have a positive impact on the country’s management.
Equality and freedom  Understand the importance of equality as well as truly expressing his claims depending on the situation in which he finds himself.  Rule of lawEducation Citizen’s behaviours that can degrade or improve the situation.  Live in peace and in freedom. Express oneself without fear in the mutual respect.
The possibility of taking responsibilitiesAssume responsibilities for one’s family and in society and understand one’s own contribution.  Be active in social, economic and political life when one wishes to do so.Give the chance in equal proportions to all citizens without any exclusion.Participate in socioeconomic developments.
Incidence on Human RightsDistinguish between good and bad, and become conscious of one’s acts against others.Be capable of understanding sanctions and consequences when one breaks the rules of law.  Education and the application of laws in an equalitarian manner.Respect of law and fundamental freedoms Avoid all sorts of conflicts.
Understand, in a basic way, at a small scale, the phenomena tied to globalisation.  Become conscious of the changes in other parts of the world.Each country develops first of all because of the sum of individual actions.Ensure diversity of the country thanks to the contributions of different nationalities.Understand the economic, political, social situation of other countries, and apply to oneself the positive elements, if necessary.
Importance of the familyUnderstand that the family is very important and that women play an important role in the family well as in society.Each member of the family plays an important role for himself as well as for economic, political and social development of the country.EducationRespect the choices and the points of view of each family member to avoid conflicts and violence.
Use (tools) of the new technologies of information and communication (TIC) in an interactive manner (language, technology).Instrumental competency.Une, in one’s activities, of adequate technologies to facilitate tasks; if necessary, transfer best practices.EducationFaster and more efficient results.
Interact in heterogeneous groups.Social competencies whatever the religion and(or the beliefs. Transcend the differences.  Participate in social life in one’s city, village, town, etc.EducationBe capable of working in groups, whatever its origins and/or beliefs.
Act in an autonomous and consensual manner.  Personal competency for all that concerns the decisions of daily life.  Assume the responsibility of one’s decisions.Education  Work individually if necessary, with the proposed solutions.
Knowledge, know-how, social skills and life planning.Know one’s past, concentrate on the present and create one’s future.Concentrate on the future rather than concentrating on useless subjects.Education  Have a life vision, according to one’s capacities.
Exemplarity  Be an active and contributing citizen thanks to one’s actions.Motivate others so that they also become active in life.Positive action of citizens.Show to others the importance of citizens to one’s country.

Conclusion

We have noted that it is very difficult, and even impossible to respect the citizenship norms or the establishment of democracy or the respect of human rights in a country without putting the accent on the competencies of active and understanding citizens. We have observed that in many countries, there are conflicts between politicians (points of view on political ideology), but they manage to discuss, to negotiate and to obtain power through democratic rights, for they are citizens. The lack of reflection of citizens in the choice of their leaders and their policy in developing countries is the source of numerous conflicts, including civil wars. Hence the importance of insisting on the apprenticeship of citizenship, which allows populations to be in charge of their destiny by actively participating in the life of the nation. This is why education must prioritise the development of the citizen’s competencies, such as the knowledge of oneself, of its importance and its values; the knowledge of the one’s rights and those of others; the ability to express oneself; the knowledge of one’s power; equality and freedom; the possibility of assuming one’s responsibilities; the primacy of human rights; the understanding of the phenomena linked to globalization; the centrality of the family; the use of new technologies of information; the knowledge, know-how, social skills and life planning; empowerment and exemplarity.

Each of these elements include, criteria, situations, tools and parameters to evaluate the citizen’s competency matrix which must serve as a learning tool of citizenship.

For a country to be able to develop economically, politically and socially, the political leaders must give priority above all else to an action plan on the competencies of citizens. This contribution will make it easier for the present and future leaders. If that is not the case, the government will transmit poverty from generation to generation.


[1] Education à la citoyenneté mondiale : https://www.education21.ch/fr/edd/approches/education-a-la-citoyennete-mondiale

[2] http://www.globaleducation.ch/globallearning_fr/pages/BA/BA_Re.php

[3] Stratégie de l’UNESCO : L’éducation 2014-2021.

[4] http://www.eenee.de/fr/eeneeHome/Economics-of-Education.html

[5] Colloque international Education, violences, conflits et perspectives de paix en Afrique, Yaoundé, 6 au 10 mars 2006,

Milène Trabelsi et Jean-Luc Dubois

[6] Colloque international « ducation, violences, conflits et perspectives de paix en Afrique, Yaoundé, 6 au 10 mars 2006,

Milène Trabelsi et Jean-Luc Dubois

[7] http://www.eenee.de/fr/eeneeHome/Economics-of-Education.html

[8] Charly Maurer, L’éducation à la citoyenneté, Fondation Éducation et Développement, 2008, 4

Prof. Dr. Djawed Sangdel, professor of Leadership and Entrepreneurship President of Swiss UMEF UNIVERSITY – GENEVE

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New Social Compact

Anatomy of right-wing populism

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Twenty-five years ago, Fareed Zakaria introduced the concept of illiberal democracy: he revealed how some legitimately elected governments undermine liberal democratic principles by eroding the rule of law and the protection of fundamental freedoms. He predicted that this new form of regime would significantly damage the status of our democracies if not appropriately challenged. After almost two decades, the 2014 speech of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán marked the official birth of illiberal democracy in modern Europe, with a discourse that echoes the 1997 article. Except that it is the exact opposite of what Zakaria hoped to hear.

Orbán’s rhetoric and attitude are supported and endorsed by several populist leaders across Europe and beyond. What the Hungarian PM represents is the result of a long democratic recession that Larry Diamond estimated to start in the early 2000s in continents such as Asia and Africa. It appears that it is now the turn of Europe, as we can deduct from the rising popularity of multiple anti-establishment and nationalist parties across the continent. Despite populism not being exclusively a right-wing phenomenon, most of its support in the EU is represented by radical right parties that are often Eurosceptic.

This aspect is also confirmed by the outcome of the last European Parliament election in 2019. The results indicate a nationalist trend and a shift from the centre-right to the far-right within the populist vote: the relative populist electoral strength was highest in two European parliament groups, namely Identity and Democracy (ID) (including Salvini’s League and Le Pen’s National Rally) and the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) (including Brothers of Italy and Law and Justice in Poland), which are both very critical of the union and formed exclusively by right-wing (or even far-right in some cases) populist and nationalist parties. These two groups, albeit not achieving the brilliant results they were expecting, have won 135 seats in the European Parliament, and their main parties happened to be very strong nationally. Considering that the historic European People’s Party (EPP) and the Socialist and Democrats (S&D) have lost 65 seats combined from the previous election, it is not a bad outcome overall for right-wing populism.

In 2017, Bridgewater’s populism index in developed countries revealed that this phenomenon was at its highest rate since 1930s. In addition, the think tank Timbro estimated that more than a quarter of European electors vote for authoritarian populist parties, with Poland and Hungary among the four countries with most support. Political scientist Cas Mudde observed instead that the average support for these political forces is the highest since 1940s, with over 20% since 2010. Slightly different estimations are calculated but nevertheless this shows to what extent have these parties grown in recent years. One might consider these factors as alarming, since many scholars claim the expansion of populism and nationalism could eventually topple liberal democracies and favour authoritarian regimes, as already occurred in history.

What do we mean by right-wing populism?

First and foremost, before getting into the details of right-wing populism, an overall definition and brief explanation of populism must be provided. Mudde defines populism as an “an ideology that considers society to be ultimately separated into two homogeneous and antagonistic groups, ‘the pure people’ versus ‘the corrupt elite’”. Populists also believe that all members of the ‘pure’ group have the same aims and abide by the same principles, hence they do not accept a pluralist society consisting of diverse needs and concerns. Some of them also claim that this perceived faction of ‘the people’ comprises only of one ethnicity, class and religion.

Populist parties no longer seek out compromise and consensus through tolerant and democratic practices, but instead try to overthrow what they believe is a corrupt and broken system. In this way they undermine democratic institutions such as courtrooms and media, while attacking any aspect of society that opposes the common will of ‘the people’. They also refuse the search for a balance between the needs of the majority and the minority, as they claim that disregarding the interests of the majority is a violation of democracy, thus supporting “a form of democratic extremism or, better said, of illiberal democracy”.

Moreover, the cult of the leader is crucial in the populist world. This may sound obvious because a charismatic figure is always needed in politics in order to move masses and influence opinions, regardless of the political party. However, populist leaders declare they embody the will of the people and often appeal to the worst instincts of the population, manipulating fears and anxiety to increase their support. As politics is not only made of rational thinking, but also emotions and sentiments, they interpretate fear and desperation with (sometimes false) claims and simplistic solutions to contrast complex issues.

Populist groups are usually considered ‘catch-all’ movements, meaning that they follow the popular support rather than choosing a specific side. However, it could be discussed that this wide definition of populism is reductive. In fact, French economist Thomas Piketty deems it as a generalisation and refrains from using this word since there is a variety within that group: any party criticizing the current establishment is labelled as ‘populist’ without differentiating the diverse forms of this phenomenon. For instance, right-wing populists are usually hostile to immigration and minority rights, whereas left-wing populists are often culturally inclusive.

It could be further discussed that the argument about the people versus the elite tends to be overused as we have cases in which the political system is widely corrupt, and thus brings to legitimate concern and popular discontent to demand for more transparency and equality, such as in Greece, Spain and Italy. The movements that have emerged in these countries (Syriza, Podemos and 5 Star Movement respectively) showed a different approach to politics in comparison to prominent right-wing populist parties, as they have not undermined or taken over democratic institutions when elected to govern their respective countries.

Nonetheless, the majority of European populist parties have right-wing tendencies. This type of nationalist populism (also defined as ‘national populism’ by British academics Roger Eatwell and Matthew Goodwin) is mainly based on xenophobic and protectionist sentiments, in addition to be against the neo-liberal establishment. Right-wing populist parties tend to regard nationality as a rigid and unmodifiable homogenous identity (mistakenly connected only to ethnicity), and they are therefore against any form of pluralism, whether it is based on culture or sexual orientation. Although some national populists consider themselves patriots defending their sovereignty, it could be argued otherwise. Italian scholar Maurizio Viroli observes in his book that the terms ‘nationalism’ and ‘patriotism’ are often misused: while the former mostly reflects a protectionist and isolationist approach (rather than sovereignty), the latter is also based on the respect of other cultures.

Furthermore, most right-wing populist parties are willing to live in a democratic context, but they are against the liberal values of present-day democracies, such as media freedom and minority rights. As a matter of fact, they believe they represent the true nature of democracy, which focuses on the needs and interests of the majority that felt excluded and neglected by the ‘corrupt elite’ in recent years. Nevertheless, by emphasising the importance of the majority at all costs, they end up discriminating who is not part of ‘the people’, hence appearing to be a regressive and undemocratic response to a legitimate concern.

What are the causes of the global rise of populism?

Political scientists Ronald Inglehart and Pippa Norris suggest that the rise of populism is mainly due to economic inequality, which was partly caused by phenomena such as globalisation and austerity. The shift from the industrial age to what Piketty describes as a “globalised era of hypercapitalism and digital technology” has created high levels of inequity around the world. Piketty also argues that the concentration of wealth is disproportionate because the ratio of economic growth is lower than the so-called ‘return on invested capital’, hence much of the resources end up in the hands of a microscopic part of the population. Indeed, the latest Credit Suisse report indicates a great disparity in the world, with 1.1% of the population owning almost half of the global wealth (45.8%), and the bottom 55% of the population possessing only 1.3% of the total resources.

While globalisation had its own advantages (such as giving work to millions of people in emerging economies), it has also displaced many low skilled jobs and produced economic stagnation in developed countries. This has resulted in an ever-increasing wealth gap; this disparity, in turn, has created underserved communities who began to distrust the global system. Already twenty years ago economist Joseph Stiglitz (in his book Globalization and Its Discontents) warned us that rising inequality would pave the way for the rise of anti-establishment parties, such as nationalists and populists.

The 2008 financial crash further deepened the economic gap: the main consequences of the so-called ‘Great Recession’ have been high levels of unemployment, growing inequality and impoverishment of the working and lower middle classes. Moreover, in the aftermath of the financial crisis, the austerity policies implemented by the European Union, including tax raises and spending cuts, exacerbated the situation. The austere measures were in fact not combined with effective social protection systems, hence degrading the conditions of workers as well. This circumstance thus led the EU into an identity crisis, which we are still experiencing today with the rise of several Eurosceptic parties. 

Some might discuss that this is connected to the decline of liberal democracy, as the European Union is mainly based on liberal values. Mudde observes that the crisis of democracy results from the failure of the liberal establishment in the political system, and not from several external challengers trying to undermine it. In fact, he also claims that “contemporary populism is an illiberal democratic response to undemocratic liberalism”. The fact that the liberal system could be or become undemocratic is not unrealistic as it sounds, especially if we consider that in history liberalism was not always applied in democratic contexts, such as in many European countries in the 18th and 19th centuries.

The democratic crisis was also caused by the deterioration of traditional parties that lost touch with the lower middle and working classes, which have stopped trusting a system that has sold them false promises and has not met their needs. As a matter of fact, the level of trust towards parties across the EU has been in a declining trend in the last decade (just over 20% in 2019). This is also demonstrated by factors such as lower electoral turnout and decreasing participation in political activities, but also by the growing interest towards non-traditional parties. This aspect is critical because once you cease to identify in a political movement, you automatically find refuge in national identity, ideology or religion.

Furthermore, the advent of right-wing populism has cultural determinants as well: the 2015 migration crisis has indeed displaced millions of asylum seekers and economic migrants, many of which coming from Muslim countries. Their religion is a key aspect because right-wing populists have increasingly exhibited xenophobic attitudes towards Islam, which is seen as a civilisational threat, particularly after 9/11 and the rise of ISIS. Whereas there is no justification for such discriminatory behaviours, raising a question about EU’s handling of the migrant crisis may be a legitimate concern. According to Article 79 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, the union “shall develop a common immigration policy aimed at ensuring, at all stages, the efficient management of migration flows”. It could be discussed whether some member states have not put enough effort and resources to cooperate and find a common solution, but it is also true that the EU could have anticipated the crisis by implementing appropriate immigration controls and reception systems. In fact, Mudde acknowledges that migration policies were often “undemocratic in spirit”, meaning that they were not the outcome of collective discussions and decisions taken together with the population. Hence, right-wing populist parties have exploited this crisis to criticize the EU with improbable scapegoats: for instance, describing migration from Africa and the Middle-East as an invasion or claiming that NGOs and liberal institutions are plotting for an ‘ethnic replacement’ of the European people.

Conclusion

As a result, right-wing populists (or at least most of them) reject liberal democratic values rather than democracy in its entirety: those values that are entrenched in the EU and other international institutions. However, the populist response does not seem to respect EU fundamental goals and values, nor basic democratic principles. The main issue is the approach used to criticize the liberal system. Populist movements tend to appeal to the fears and anxieties of the voters to attack the elites, which are perceived as always corrupt and distant from the population. This cannot be accepted as a fair argument, because, as we cannot generalise that all populists are fascists or xenophobic, then we cannot assert that the so-called elite is all corrupt either. As a result, neither the growing populist sentiment nor the liberal establishment are to be completely eradicated, but rather challenged and improved through collective discussions and decisions.

Moreover, the rise of right-wing populism is not the consequence of a single issue, but it is driven by a combination of mutually reinforcing economic and cultural aspects (from unemployment and wealth inequality to racism and xenophobia). These factors are the result of a series of events that affected our society in the last decades, such as globalisation, the Great Recession, the 2015 migrant crisis and the decline of traditional political parties. It would be thus too simple to only blame the vulnerabilities of the liberal establishment or the opportunism of populist leaders, as both approaches have had negative repercussions on the public.

On the one hand, populists have gained popularity due to genuine issues that liberal institutions have failed to deal with. On the other hand, they have also promoted ‘culturally exclusive’ behaviours (racism, xenophobia etc.) through demagogy and propaganda, often accompanied by the spread of disinformation. Nonetheless, the liberal system has perhaps not effectively dealt with crucial challenges and has showed weaknesses that exacerbated the socio-economic crisis we are witnessing, hence allowing right-wing populist parties to flourish. The more the people have felt left behind by the system, the more they have found refuge in national identity and intolerant ideologies. Therefore, the first step to take in order to explain and fight populism would be to bear responsibility for the inequal policies implemented through the years that have left many communities marginalised and prone to vote for anti-establishment parties. A card that does not seem to have been played well (or at all), since right-wing populist parties are increasingly on the rise in many countries around the world.

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New Social Compact

Education needs a transformation. The same holds true with how we monitor our commitments

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Image source: educationcannotwait.org

Education is the key to unlock our development challenges. Yet, millions of children and young people are left behind, unable to fulfil their potential and prepare themselves for the future. In many countries, the pandemic has struck off the modest gains of the past 20 years for the generation most affected by school closures, with long-term consequences. This week, the Transforming Education Summit  comes to an end. The world’s education leaders have gathered over the last few days in New York, invited by the UN Secretary-General as part of Our Common Agenda, to debate solutions to put education back on the right track. 

The Summit has come at a time when, according to UNESCO’s latest figures, there are an estimated 244 million children and young people across the world still deprived of any form of formal schooling. Over 600 million children and adolescents are either not completing basic education or do not acquire basic skills that would help them prepare for the future. With only seven years to go until the deadline to reach SDG 4, the global education goal, they are lacking the support to access a high-quality and fulfilling education. Compounding the problem is the fact that governments in the poorer countries appear to be cutting their education budgets

The Transforming Education Summit marks a key moment. But as leaders declare their determination to improve education in their countries, we must review how to translate these words into the concrete targets, so that these promises do not ring empty, and how to monitor progress towards them. While the Summit has debated solutions to make schools safe, healthy, connected and green, countries should express the level of their ambition through national targets for each of these commitments to spur action from now to 2030. 

The issues rising to the surface during the discussions and consultation around the summit are all critical. One in six children live in areas impacted by conflict that also destroys their education opportunities. Schools are being bombed and children and teachers are killed daily. Only last year, the UN Security Council adopted a resolution on the protection of education in conflict zones. But more must be done to protect the education of affected children and young people. 

The compound effects of COVID-19, a war in Europe that disrupted grain production and exports, rising inflation and a looming economic recession, mean that the world is edging closer towards a food crisis. When schools closed their doors with little to no notice due to the pandemic, millions of students were cut off not only from their education, but also from one of their principal food sources. An estimated 39 billion school meals have been missed since April 2020. It is not only children’s physical development that was impacted. Without food, children simply do not have the energy to concentrate, and their education outcomes are therefore significantly worse. 

Another, equally significant impact of the pandemic was bringing learning from classroom to home. Laptops, computers, and iPads replaced pencils, erasers and pens as back-to-school essentials– for the lucky few: because this shift was reliant on all children having access to the technology required to learn from home. Unfortunately, with two-thirds of 3–17-year-olds unable to access the internet at home, this was far from the case. These children were left behind in systems whose efforts to catch up with the times simply failed them. As with many crises, this also predominantly affected children in disadvantaged homes and communities. The pandemic shed light on the foundations of education systems, which fuel exclusion and inequality. 

Finally, with almost two billion people affected by floods, droughts and storms every year, these devastatingly real consequences that climate change is unleashing on our planet are already being felt, though not equally by all. Climate change disproportionately impacts the most vulnerable and marginalized communities in the Global South, whose education opportunities are also poorer, further compromising their ability to adapt. At the same time, education systems in the Global North and in countries contributing most to global warming are yet to demonstrate how their schools will serve their climate change mitigation efforts.

Agreeing to the actions is one step, monitoring them is crucial to provide accountability and drive ambition. UNESCO has started a process where each country sets their own realistic ‘benchmarks’ in the road to achieving SDG 4. About 90% of countries have heeded this call and established national targets which they reasonably believe can be reached by 2030, in the hopes that this will accelerate progress. We encourage countries to also set national targets for 2025 and 2030 against each of the global initiatives to be tabled at the Summit. These will represent the transformation countries want to see. 

The follow-up mechanism after the Summit, based on national target setting, will be critical to convert leaders’ statements into improved education results for children and youth, as this call for action implores countries to do. The solutions to be agreed at the Summit must be appropriately monitored if we are to come out of this global education emergency. 

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New Social Compact

Our Case for Investment in Education is Our Case for Humanity

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A 14-year-old girl works on a school assignment at home in the Central Java Province of Indonesia. © UNICEF/Jiro Ose

As world leaders gather at this year’s UN General Assembly and work to make good on commitments outlined at the Secretary-General’s Transforming Education Summit, we are calling on all of them to put education – especially for the 222 million crisis-impacted children that are in need of urgent education support – at the top of the international agenda.

Investing in education means investing in humanity. It means investing in a peaceful and prosperous future. It means investing in human rights and our global promise to deliver on the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030, especially our goal of quality education for all (SDG4).  

From a 50,000-foot perspective, investing in education means investing in strong nations and in resilient economies for generations to come.   

As the UN’s global fund for education in emergencies, Education Cannot Wait (ECW) launched our Case for Investment and 2023-2026 Strategic Plan during this year’s General Assembly.

Our case for investment is our case for building peace where there is war, prosperity where there is poverty, and hope where there is despair. Our case for investment is our case for realizing 222 Million Dreams for the children and youth impacted by conflict, climate change, forced displacement and other protracted crises.

From our very human vantage point, this support is ensuring refugee girls like Bchiote and Janat Ara are able to go to school to develop to their full potentials and become productive contributors to their society. ECW works through a holistic, whole-of-child approach. It’s not just about books and classrooms – because all too often education goes beyond learning in crises: education is also lifesaving and life-sustaining. This is why ECW interventions embrace a broad spectrum of support, ranging from providing safe and protective learning spaces to mental health and psycho-social support; from providing school feeding to helping build disaster preparedness in the face of the climate crisis.

Addressing the Education Crisis

Today we have a perfect storm of a global education crisis coinciding with a global funding crisis. The solution is to scale-up funding to education. From there, all else can be achieved. Without education, all else is elusive – whether it is human rights or the sustainable development goals. It all starts with an education.

It’s hard to believe that even today, education in emergencies and protracted crises only accounts for approximately 2% to 4% of global humanitarian funding. And while we have seen a noticeable positive trend in commitments, funding appeals have skyrocketed to more than US$2.9 billion in 2021, compared to US$1.4 billion in 2020. The value of 222 million children and youth enduring conflicts, climate disasters and forced displacement is priceless and never too costly. They are our investment in humanity – theirs and our own.

The world is getting hotter, more crowded, more violent and more inhumane by the minute. By investing in education, we are removing the dark veil of inaction and inequality that has stripped millions of the world’s most vulnerable children and adolescents of their basic human rights.

Most concerning, we seem to be back-sliding on our commitments to ensure quality education for all. When ECW was formed in 2016, approximately 75 million crisis-impacted children were in need of educational support. Recent analysis indicates that number has nearly tripled to 222 million today, including 78 million who are out of school entirely.

The COVID-19 pandemic has only deepened the global learning crisis. In 2020 and 2021, 147 million children missed over half of in-person instruction, and as many as 24 million learners may never return to school, according to the United Nations.

Transformational Approaches

As we grapple with war in Ukraine, the spectre of famine across much of the Sahel, armed conflicts, massive displacement and the truly apocalyptic impacts of the climate crisis, we are faced with tough choices in aligning humanitarian, development and private sector funding.

As a crosscutter that delivers returns far beyond the classroom, education has a tremendous return on investment.

For every dollar spent on education we receive $2.80 in return. And the World Bank estimates that “limited educational opportunities for girls and barriers to completing 12 years of education cost countries between $15 trillion and $30 trillion dollars in lost lifetime productivity and earnings.” 

We must take a transformational approach in our delivery of this support.

One-off responses are no longer enough. Working in silos is no longer viable. Now it is about speed and quality. It is about crisis-sensitive development approaches to education. With US$1.5 billion, ECW can provide 20 million children with holistic education supports. This doesn’t just mean building schools, it means taking a holistic approach and bringing all partners together to providing protection and psychosocial services, gender equality, teacher training, learning materials, school feeding programmes, tests and exams showing advanced learning outcomes, early childhood education and an array of supports that provides whole-of-child solutions to a whole-of-society problem.

Through its leadership of the G7, Germany has stepped up to put education first in its humanitarian spending, with over €300 million in funding to ECW and significant contributions to our partners across the globe.

This support has solidified ECW’s position as a model for UN reform. To date, we have mobilized close US$1.1 billion through our donors, allowing us to reach 7 million children in just five years of operation, and more than 30 million through our COVID-19 responses.

The private sector is joining in. The LEGO Foundation recently announced significant new funding to Education Cannot Wait and other key education initiatives.

Others must stand and be counted. In the 21st Century we stand at a crossroads. We have choices to make.

Do we invest in the young generation or do we ignore their most fundamental right to be educated? Do we invest in the 222 million children and adolescents whose only hope left is that of an education, or do we leave them behind?

The choice we make will determine the future for generations to come. Let us make the right choice. Fund education. Invest in humanity.

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