Intervention to Unesco's 35th General Conference
by Msgr. Francesco Follo
Permanent Observer of the Holy See to Unesco
Mr President of the General Conference
Ladies and Gentlemen
At this crucial time for the lives of millions of people made fragile by the financial, economic and social crisis affecting the whole world, one can only be glad to see UNESCO abide by its founding intuition and seeking to participate more effectively in the humanization of all mankind and the education of the poorest. The means chosen today is that of safeguarding and increasing UNESCO’s educational budget, particularly the programme « Education for All ».
However, is it enough that UNESCO should limit itself to define some priorities, even praiseworthy ones such as Africa, that poor and forgotten continent, or the promotion of women ? If UNESCO wants to be able to foster the universality and effectiveness of the ethical norms for the development of all people, particularly the more disadvantaged, through education, it is necessary, as in other debates, that it should dare to engage in a more fundamental reflection on the universal need for the respect of the human being and for the type of education this implies. For the weakness in the multiplication of priorities which currently defines education is that it reduces its philosophical and ethical problem and development to some purely technical issues. Only an essential reflection on « integral education » and on the anthropology it implies should lead us to indicate what is effectively humanizing for the whole of mankind, particularly for the poorest and the women.
But what is meant by « integral education » ? By this expression we refer to the acception used in 1993 in the final document of the World Conference on Human Rights organized by the United Nations, where the question was to « direct education towards the full development of the human personality and the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. » This is a type of integral education capable of forming autonomous individuals who respect the freedom of others. Along this line, as we know, the defence and promotion of the right to education, which UNESCO has made into its main concern, regards not only the possibility to cultivate oneself, to develop one’s talents and use them for participating in public life (that is, social and economic life), but also the capacity to become truly human and fully enjoy the dignity inherent to each and every human person. Thus the stakes are not just on an intercultural type of education, where children and adolescents of different ethnic origin, races, cultures and sexes may learn mutual respect through a dialogue -- even though the aim of intercultural education takes seriously any ethnically motivated wants or obstacles that may get in the way of equality and justice. Integral education must also include the learning of communal life, that is, solidarity. This is achieved through learning responsibilities.
A second acception of « integral education» is not very far from the one advocated by the ONU. This education project is aimed towards building the person in the integral unity of its being, through teaching and training to form « criteria of judgment, determining values, points of interest, lines of thought, sources of inspiration and models of life » . According to this education project, « in the context of globalization, it is advisable to form subjects capable of respecting the identity, culture, history, religion, and especially the sufferings and the needs of others, in the awareness that all of us are truly responsible for all ».
In this context, it is crucial to offer young people a school education as a service that may not be limited to the individualist and institutional aim of obtaining a certificate. The immense advantage of this education project is that it has already been implemented throughout the world, and is loaded with a whole history, as well as power of imagination and creativity. Despite some real financial and political difficulties, this project is intended as being co-responsible for the social and cultural development of the different communities and peoples, including the Catholic school, taking part in their joys and hopes, their sufferings, their difficulties and their commitment for an authentic human and communitarian progress. Within this perspective, we must mention the precious contribution offered by this type of integral education in serving the spiritual and material development of the more disadvantaged. Such experiences as that of the brothers of the Christian schools in Cameroon with the EVA programme (education to life and love to avoid AIDS) show the whole extent of integral education : it is a question of transforming young people’s sexual behaviour in conformity with the general directives of global and regional action, whilst bearing in mind each psychoaffective, social, cultural, religious and family context.
So that such an integral education may allow children and young people not only to acquire a moral and spiritual human maturity but also to engage in the trasformation of society, the Catholic Church invites to a profound reflection on the anthropology that sustains it. « We often forget that education always implies a certain conception of man and life. The alleged neutrality of the school system often means that any religious reference is pushed away from culture and education. Conversely, an adequate pedagogical vision is needed in order to move onto the firmer terrain of purposes, minding not only how but also why, overcoming the error of an aseptic education and providing the educative process with that unitary character which prevents dispersion in the diversity of knowledges and acquisitions and places the person at the centre, in its global, transcendental and historical identity. » Man cannot be educated when, for example, his anthropology is reduced by seeking its origins in a conception whereby he is nothing but freedom, decision and subjectivity, as separated from transcendence and truth. A human being cannot be educated when the equality of individuals cannot be articulated in their cultural and sexual differences. As we have often observed, difference is a fact, whereas equality belongs to the norm. Therefore the difference principle has not the same status as the equality principle. No one thinks of equality as a fact.
In the cultural territory of the West, thinkers are often incapable of understanding equality within difference ; equality between the sexes is one example of this difficulty. But the same thing could not be said of the Bible or the message transmitted by the Church. The founding text contaning « the fundamental truths of anthropology », as noted by Pope John Paul II in Mulieris dignitatem §6, is the Book of Genesis : « God made man (the human being) in his own image and likeness, male and female he created them ; » (Gen. 1 : 27). The definition of a human being is only perceivable in the two sexes together: « the man and the woman to the same degree, both being created in God’s image ». Christian faith then nurtures the certainty that no one could deny to a human being, man or woman, the constitutive value which God has granted to each one and will never take away. Faith guarantees human rights by its reference to the divine love which founds us and keeps creating us anew.
In conclusion, this integral education, which represents man’s access to his full humanity, is a difficult but necessary way, « a primordial need in the fight against poverty », so that the economy may be at the service of man. Education is a priority, but it must be integral because « scientific or technical information is not enough to educate men and women to be responsible for their families and at all levels of society » .
Integral education is like an open building site, tough but necessary.
- An open bulding site, because it must be an event, a systematic approach helping to experience education like a dialogue with other persons (past and present) and cultures, not just as instruction or apprenticeship based on set data.
- A tough building site, since it implies a critical approach as to the selection of taught knowledges and how to relate to them. The different subjects do not just present notions to be acquired but values to be assimilated and truths to be discovered.
- It must have a critical approach as to the interpretation of the fundamental values of secularized Western societies. A person’s right to receive an adequate education according to free choice must be assured.
- Finally, a critical approach should also be applied to the social nature of the learning space. The global educative community is called to promote the target of a school as the place of integral formation through interpersonal relationships and responsibility.
- It is also a necessary building site : the trend of thought on integral education takes on especially the contradiction, obvious in political life but little considered in education, between identity tensions and discriminations on one side and the values of communion within the social and political body on the other. Such a trend can thus nurture today’s abundant reflections on the education to citizenship.
Thank you for your attention.
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