The education crisis of the century

The health crisis is taking on an unprecedented scale, partly based on the progression of the epidemic, partly fueled by the virus of fear and death anxiety.

The economic crisis stems from containment, negative consumer expectations, shutdown of production chains, speculative movements in oil and other raw materials.

The financial crisis is fed by these crises; markets collapse in chains, gold becomes (again) the safe haven.

Nothing seems to be able to stop THE crisis!

But what if there was a more serious and more lasting one? The education crisis.

In 2019, according to the UN, nearly 260 million children did not go to school. Conflict areas are particularly affected: around 50% of out-of-school children of primary school age live in these areas.

Four days ago, Unesco listed 13 countries forced to close all their schools, affecting more than 290 million students. The arithmetic is simple: 260+290= 550 million children are out of school due to war or coronavirus and the number will increase. The right of children and young to education no matter who they are, regardless of race, gender or disability is a fundamental right of children (article 28 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child).

The question posed by NGOs, often in vain, becomes – finally – topical: What to do to guarantee their right to education?

It is easy to imagine that the problem does not arise in the same way in Italy, in the UK or Syria or Iraq. On the one hand, organized, developed countries, on the other, countries devastated by wars. And yet in both cases, children on both sides are deprived of school. Some are “confined”, “locked up at home”, others are left to themselves, most often in the street. Inequality before school also exists for children without school. Better to be born French than Afghan.

How can we guarantee the educational continuity for all children? This question is at the heart of the statements of ministers of education in developed countries. This question is most often absent in countries at war and NGOs do their best to replace the failing political power.

What is said today in developed countries affected by the Coronavirus? All those in charge insist on the continuity of the educational activity.

The answer can of course only be digital! This is in any case the guarantee that is hastily given to parents and children. Digital workspaces, digital textbooks, remote conference tools will replace the “traditional” class.

Schools quickly inform parents of the solutions implemented. Here is an example from a french “lycée”;

- Regarding the absence during class, the teachers will use the e-mail and the school learning management system so that the child can continue to work at home.

- Concerning the absence to a school test, the teachers will be able to offer the child a written or oral question when he or she returns.

- Concerning the written exams: the teachers will be able, after the test will have taken place in the school, to send by e-mail the subject to the student.

These solutions seem rather poor. A week ago, we were talking of adaptive technologies, of deep learning, of artificial intelligence and we are back to emails!

But other questions arise: How do we really ensure the continuity of education when schools are closed, teachers poorly trained in the use of digital technology with poor internet infrastructure? What about personalized attention, interaction between students, social mix, educational innovation? Everywhere of course, the closure is presented as temporary. It will certainly be so even if the provisional is already part of a random temporality.

Paradoxically, here are the richest countries on the planet confronted with the questions that the poorest have been raising for decades. How to do without school? How to guarantee equality in school when the school is closed? How to reduce the digital divide, this invisible gap inscribed in the heart of the territories and which irreparably separates connected families from others? Back in 2017, a UN report found that 52% of the world’s population still has no access to the internet. There are so many figures to describe differently the inequality in front of the school which persists and worsens in the Coronavirus crisis!

The Coronavirus crisis is revealing in rich countries what NGOs are experiencing on a daily basis in the countries where they operate: the need to innovate.

Think of the NGO “Libraries without Borders” which brings its Ideas Box to refugee camps to allow children to read and write when schools have disappeared from their daily lives.

What is the ideas box that developed countries in turn need?

©Shutterstock Ververidis Vasilis

©Shutterstock Ververidis Vasilis

What if the Coronavirus crisis was an opportunity to rethink the role of digital in and out of school, to help teachers strengthen the social bond at the heart of their practice and commitment? Digital technology does not create innovation, it supports it by giving teachers, families and students shared responsibility for learning.

We thought that digital was a “plus”, “the icing on the cake”, a luxury item for learners of school age; in any case not an essential aspect of our pedagogies. Nothing was to replace physical presence. This myth is collapsing.

We can, we must know how to educate from a distance. Not by email or through Digital Workspaces, but by giving the educator a central place at the heart of digital solutions.

Nothing can replace the teacher – there are 69 million teachers missing by 2030 to ensure primary and secondary education for every child in the world – and digital innovation must do nothing but strengthen its very “presence” when he is physically absent.

Problem: teachers mostly restrict the use of digital solutions to their private communications and social life outside of school. Many immediately put digital out of their daily teaching lives. As for children, the abuse of digital leads to the same conclusions as those observed for young “dropouts”: aggression, anxiety, loneliness. According to a recent study published in JAMA Psychiatry and by a researcher from the John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Health. ( « teens who spend more than three hours a day on social media are more likely to report high levels of behaviors that may be indicators of mental health problems compared to adolescents who do not use social media at all. »

What should educational continuity look like when there is no school?

  • To a motivated, respected teacher who is capable of animating a distance course in an intuitive way by not reproducing the traditional model of the course “one against many” but of the course “each with everyone”;
  • To mobilized and united families pooling digital resources and educational attention;
  • To children who seize the chance to learn with others in an interactive way;
  • To an education system that accepts to assess differently;
  • To “Edtech” solutions that are designed by and with teacher to replicate an innovative educational experience, not a pale copy of a shared workspace specific to companies’ meetings.

Tomorrow when the Coronavirus crisis is over, educational practices will have evolved. We will know that we can do without school as we knew it. We will also know how to do it better with school. We will finally know why countries which have no schools are in dire need of our help.

A real reason to hope? Innovation is on our doorstep and innovators are ready.


The ten viruses of Coronavirus

My daughter Inés is a biology researcher at Imperial College.

Our weekly breakfast this morning in London was dedicated to…coronavirus. I asked her how we could get out of this collective hysteria. How we could rationally interpret what is happening from a scientific point of view.

On the one hand, there is a public health problem with a new virus that is highly transmissible by traditional means. We know how to predict and map epidemics. We know how to calculate morbidity. We don’t yet know how to stop this virus, which needs to be studied urgently.

Tens of thousands of vulnerable people, invisible victims of life, are dying worldwide. We seem powerless. But science needs time. A vaccine only develops after testing periods.

On the other hand, coronavirus may be much more harmful than what we are currently seeing. Beyond the lethal respiratory risk of a very dangerous and unknown disease, much more dangerous viruses may quickly jointly develop with our withdrawal from the social sphere.

the plague

The first virus is that of racism: Let’s avoid all contact with Chinese, Koreans, Iranians, Italians. As the number of infected patients grows, the virus of racism becomes global: let’s reject each other!

The second virus is fear: Mistrust and rejection of “the other” settle in the hearts of our families. Where were you yesterday? Who did you see? Due to social distancing and protection measures, we don’t kiss anymore, we don’t greet each other anymore. Will we ever again?

The third virus is that of denunciation: So-and-so coughed; so-and-so had a fever and said nothing; so-and-so have been seen walking outside . No matter the reason, you are (we are all) under scrutiny.

The fourth virus is that of withdrawal and abandon: I’m not risking helping others. We raid the supermarkets. Protective masks are being sold on the black market. We close the borders. Sad memory.

The fifth virus is that of the apocalypse: We are back in the days of the Black Death, the Spanish flu (which had nothing to do with Spain). We’re all going to die….it’s written in the Bible!

The sixth virus is that of conspiracy: The Chinese have spread coronavirus to better plunder the world’s wealth.

The seventh virus is that of greed: greed of stock markets and companies which, in a mix of speculative wave and legal fears, “take a position” or “take positions”; greed of the media and influencers who seek an audience at all costs.

The eighth virus is that of despair, of hopelessness, whereas barely an hour ago artificial intelligence promised us the wonders of transhumanism!

The ninth virus is that of ignorance, rumour and misinformation, which travels at the speed of light in a global world and sweeps away everything in its path, starting with intelligence.

The tenth and last (?) virus is inhumanity, which, in a few weeks, threatens to overthrow the most developed world humankind has ever known.

Are we facing a public health challenge or a social and educational catastrophe? Choose the virus you like best…or RESIST (and read/reread The Plague!).

The fly Thunberg and the elephant

A few days ago in Davos, President Trump invited us to be wary of these prophets of doom that herald the end of the world. A few weeks earlier, he had advised Greta Thunberg to relax and go to the movies. Interesting obsession as that of the king of the world for the smallest of his subjects! In 2016, Yuval Noah Harari used the parable of the fly and the elephant in connection with terrorism: “Small, weak, the fly is incapable of moving even a cup. So, it finds an elephant, enters his ear and buzzes until enraged, mad with fear and anger, the latter ransacks the store. ”

This is how, according to Harari, the Al-Qaeda fly led the American elephant to destroy the porcelain store in the Middle East. Will the Thunberg fly cause Trump and all climate skeptics to self-destruct or will it lead Trump and his friends to trash the planet?


all rights reserved -

all rights reserved –

It will certainly take a lot of little flies to enter the ears of all these leaders who strive to deny, minimize or disguise the impact of their policies on the climate. In this regard, it is interesting to put into perspective the role of young people in climate alert. The strikes of schoolchildren have shown the mobilization capacity and the concern of the young generations.

What should be the next step? The French Minister of Education, Jean-Michel Blanquer, reminded at the launch of the Learning Planet initiative (UNESCO-CRI) that students should not be taught to fall into pessimism (unintentional convergence no doubt with the President Trump!) But, on the contrary, make young people actors of the environment and call them to action, in particular on biodiversity around their schools.

It definitely takes a lot of courage for all the Gretas in the world to think that one day they will be taken really seriously, as full-fledged citizens, capable not only of acting but of deciding instead of adults on what we must do to protect the planet and not just the school garden.

The participation of young people in climate action is not an educational issue which will be resolved by decisions worthy of the manual of the Junior Woodchucks. It is a political subject which calls into question the balance of powers and the manner of exercising it and therefore requires political decisions.



Can we still educate for the world as it is?

Recently a controversy opposed environmental NGOs and the BNP Paribas bank regarding the bank’s investment into fossil energies. The CSR director tried to close the controversy by explaining: “we finance the world as it is.”

If we do so, then how can we reasonably expect to change it? The same could be asked for education: are we educating children to live in the world as it is in the same way we (the banks) are financing the world as it is? in other words, can we still educate for the world as it is?

This question resonates with the latest actions undertaken by young people all over the world against climate change or feminicides. Aren’t young people claiming for being educated / financing a world as they want them to be?

(all rights reserved)

(all rights reserved)

Our incapacity to listen to them is certainly deeply rooted in the practices of BNP Paribas and all other banking and political institutions, i.e. using people’s deposits and votes to finance the world as it is.

Martha Nussbaum once said (Cultivating Humanity, 1998) that “we produce all too many citizens whose imaginations never step out of the counting house”. How do we step out? According to Nussbaum, we need Socratic citizens who are capable of thinking for themselves and arguing with tradition. It goes back to key questions raised by Margaret Mead back in 1969 (Culture and Commitment): Can I commit my life to anything? Is there anything in human cultures as they exist today worth saving, worth committing myself to?

In their Capability approach theory, Sen and Nussbaum stated that freedom to achieve well-being is a matter of what people are able to do and to be. Young people think the same. In a recent poll a 51 percent of Americans ages 18-29 said their generation can change the world. The same result was registered in France.

This is certainly a good moment to listen more carefully to what young people say and more importantly do (or can do).  One of the key principles of child participation, elaborated by Roger Hart, was that the highest level of child participation (*) should be “Child initiated, Shared Decisions with Adults (Children’s Participation, 1997). This is what Greta Thunberg and her friends worldwide are claiming for.

(* At this level of participation, banks shouldn’t be authorized any longer to finance the world as it is…)

“Legions of idiots”

Do you know the difference between a liar and a bullshitter? According to the sociologist Eva Illouz in an article published in Haaretz, “a liar lies because he cares about the truth not being known, whereas a bullshitter […] does not care about the truth, because he knows that whatever he says, true or not, will make an impression on the listener.”

Where does bullshit comes from? In a report commissioned by the Rand Corporation, Truth Decay, Jennifer Kavanagh and Michael Rich mention the role of social media platforms allowing anyone to become a source of information. They conclude that there is an increasing blurred line between opinion and fact.

Umberto Eco wrote about it in 2015 : “Social media gives legions of idiots the right to speak when they once only spoke at a bar after a glass of wine, without harming the community … but now they have the same right to speak as a Nobel Prize winner. It’s the invasion of the idiots.”

We increasingly live in a world in which, according to Stephan Lewandowsky in an article about the post-truth era (jointly written with Ullrich Ecker and John Cook), it is not expert knowledge but an opinion market on Twitter that determines what is right and what is wrong.

These legions of idiots are everywhere. According to the Wellcome Global Monitor 2018, 28% of Americans and 33% of French do not agree that vaccines are safe. In a 2019 Eurobarometer survey, it was found that nearly half of people in Europe believe — incorrectly — that vaccines often cause severe side effects.

Legions of idiots

Legions of idiots

So, who should we trust?

We already know about the continuing decline in public trust in institutions such as the government and the media. But scientists are also seen as untrustworthy. In an article, Cary Funk wrote  that although many more people reported to the Pew Research Center in 2016 their trust in information from medical scientists, climate scientists and food scientists than information from industry leaders, the news media and elected officials, no more than about half of people hold strongly trusting views of scientists in any of these domains.

And the same exists in school, where it is more and more difficult to argue about objective facts and topics despite having data and evidence that have been produced in a scientifically proven way. Luana Maroja, Professor of Biology at Williams College, explained in an article the hard time she has in fighting “biological denialism that exists about nearly any observed difference between human groups, including those between males and females. Unfortunately, students push back against these phenomena not by using scientific arguments, but by employing an a priori moral commitment to equality, anti-racism, and anti-sexism.”

Can we be optimistic about the future of knowledge? Let’s hope that those millions of students around the globe that participate in marches against climate change and trust scientific facts are strong enough to defeat these legions of idiots.

Happy birthday to children’s rights?

How can we “celebrate” another year the anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child? Nine chilean teenage girls do it on stage on our behalf and denounce the violation of children rights in Chile … and all over the world.

“Lissette Villa was 11 years old when she died of suffocation because a 90-kg caregiver sat on her for minutes. Tania Águila died at age 14 when her boy friend crushed a stone on her head. Florencia Aguirre was 10 years old when her stepfather choked her with a bag, burned her and buried her in the woodshed of her house.”

These were some of the cases that prompted the La Re-Sentida Theater team to create Paisajes para no colorear (‘Non coloring landscapes’), a work in which a group of female adolescents tries to make visible the vulnerability to which they are exposed by being “women” under age in a male-dominated society.

Paisajes para no colorear © GAM – Centro Cultural Gabriela Mistral i Compañía de Teatro La Re-Sentida

Paisajes para no colorear
© GAM – Centro Cultural Gabriela Mistral i Compañía de Teatro La Re-Sentida

These girls force the spectators to listen to their experiences of daily violence in their school, in their homes, in their cities in Chile and South America. No one remains immune. When at the end of the play, the audience stands up and burst into applause, each of us  is also rethinking how they behave in their daily lives with children.

For years, we thought that UNICEF and all children NGOs were speaking for them. No one listened. Did anyone speak?

These girls – and all the girls – are changing the rules. They will speak for themselves and for all the girls. They will become – in their own words – ‘the stars of an unrivalled cultural revolution.’

And this revolution is already happening. Last October, Chilean children took the streets to protest the government’s announcement of an increase in the price of public transportation but also of all the other violation of human rights taking place in the country. At the same time petitioners – aged between 8 to 17 –  have filed a legal complaint against 5 countries, bringing the climate fight to court as it constitutes a violation of child rights.

And the others will follow. In Afghanistan where at least 546 boys from six schools have been abused by their teachers, in the US where 13 million children are living below poverty line, in Yemen where 2 million children are out of school.

Youth are no longer ready to wait “to be involved in the “governance” of  the settings of their everyday lives.”  They are standing for their rights.

Here and there and everywhere.

Happy birthday!


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