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Today we look at the role of education in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. My guest is Parfait Eloundou, professor and department chair of development sociology at Cornell University and member of the independent group of scientists writing the Global Sustainable Development report. I spoke with Parfait during a break at the UNESCO Global Education Meeting held in Brussels in early December.

In our conversation, Parfait calls wealth inequality, demographic changes, and parental choices the perfect storm of inequality. Education plays an important role in overcoming this social trifecta of disparity.

We also discuss the assumption of meritocracy in education and the lack of a class analysis in the SDGs.

Citation: Eloundou-Enyeque, Parfait, interview with Will Brehm, FreshEd, 143, podcast audio, January 7, 2019. https://www.freshedpodcast.com/parfait-eloundou-enyegue/

Will Brehm  1:28
Parfait Elondou, welcome to Fresh Ed.

Parfait Eloundou  1:46
Thank You.

Will Brehm  1:48
So, here we are sitting in Brussels at the global education meeting and I just want to start by a very general question: How would you define sustainability? What does sustainability mean to you?

Parfait Eloundou  2:00
Oh, that’s a very interesting question. I mean, sustainability, I’d say is taking the long-term view on development and paying attention to a different kind of standard, not just immediate goals, but the extent to which different nations and the world as a whole can sustain whatever we are trying to accomplish. And you can think of sustainability along two dimensions. One is the environmental side, which is preserving the natural life systems. And the other is the social sustainability that you can keep keep societies in sync, in harmony, you can maintain the social contract, keep everyone engaged, keep institutions viable, and so forth.

Will Brehm  2:51
So what role does education play in the understanding of sustainability in terms of the environment, but also the social side, where does education fit into that picture?

Parfait Eloundou  3:02
Broadly speaking, you can think of education as an institution that is designed to transmit knowledge, values, and therefore to reproduce and to innovate. And so, education is therefore a mechanism for societies to project themselves into the future. By passing on the skills to the current generation, you give yourself as a society the means to survive, and to thrive as you move on. And so, there are different things that you want to pass on, and allow for change in innovation at the same time, and so these things include, again, as I said, the skills, the technology, the values, the knowledge, values of citizenship, values of stewardship, etc. And so, education is really vital as a mechanism for reproduction and for projecting yourself into the future.

Will Brehm  4:01
Is, in your opinion, education a panacea to some of these problems that face the world of climate change, or, you know, the decline of the social contract or of the rise of nationalism, or all the different social ills that we see, environmental ills that we see in the world is, in your opinion, is education, sort of this panacea?

Parfait Eloundou  4:19
Well, panacea is a strong word, but education is very much a powerful instrument. It cannot be a panacea, because the relative importance of it is going to vary from one place to the other, or the different forms of education, they’re going to vary, and so there will be times when education is the most potent forces for transmitting skills. But you can also have societies that are organized in ways that would pass on skills and technology and know-how, outside of a formal education system. But if you consider the today’s world, out of all of the possible institutions that you can rely on to advance the SDGs as we think of them now, I think education is really a very strong candidate and that’s why I was excited to be here and to see how not only we can revamp, revive rural education, but also to see how it links with other institutions and societies.

Will Brehm  5:25
You know, one of the things that I sometimes get confused about with the Sustainable Development Goals is, on the one hand, there is this effort to achieve economic growth as a way of taking more people out of poverty, increasing material benefits to people around the world. But a lot of that growth requires the burning of fossil fuels, and all sorts of extraction of materials from the natural Earth, which seems to counter the push towards environmental sustainability, which is another goal the SDGs, so to me, it’s very hard to keep those two ideas simultaneously in my mind.

Parfait Eloundou  6:09
And that’s to some extent, the creative tension that the world as a whole must negotiate. And scientists in particular play a role in helping everyone think about how these two competing or these seemingly competing objectives can come together and there is not actually two there are three. On the one hand, you want to foster growth, but you want to foster growth that is inclusive, and growth that is, let’s say, “green” in the sense that it preserves the environment and that’s not an easy thing to do. And so, I think the challenge is to find solutions that sort of thread the needle between these three competing objectives.

Will Brehm  6:50
Yeah, and I look at like, the protests in France right now, the yellow jacket protests and I just wonder, you know, growth doesn’t seem to be inclusive, there seems to be a lot of people, a huge amount of people around the world that are being sort of excluded from the growth in the economy that we do see. We are seeing economic growth around the world but only for a few people, it seems like that inequality is just really preventing the ability to have inclusive growth.

Parfait Eloundou  7:21
Yes, I think you’re right on two fronts. The first front is just what you said about the rise in inequality, which is a trend that is almost worldwide, especially when we talk about equality within countries. I think, historically, at least over the last 30 years, what has seemed to happen is that at the same time, as the inequality between countries has kind of shrunk a little, there are massive rise in inequality within the countries. And so that is really a challenge. The second point that you actually rightly point to is the fact that growth, or at least inequality can become an impediment to growth. You know, let’s say 50 years ago, the tendency was to assume that if we just grow the pie, if we just grow the economy, if we take care of GDP growth, everything else is going to fall in place. Then you moved into a regime in which well, people kind of acknowledge grudgingly that at the same time as you take care of growth, you also have to worry about inequality, but now we are reaching a stage where the relationship is actually sort of maybe running in the reverse direction. That is actually inequality may be a first-order question that needs to be addressed before you can even think about growth. Otherwise, you may not have the circumstances and conditions, the safety the social contract, the trust, the peace that you need to make any plans for sustainable growth.

Will Brehm  8:58
In your talk today, you mentioned issues of demography. How does demography fit into this issue of inequality?

Parfait Eloundou  9:06
Well, I think if you take demography in a very simple understanding of let’s say, the number of people and if you take the Bentham notion of the ultimate goal being achieving the greatest good for the many, it follows that demography is a great piece of the SDGs equation. Most of the indicators that you see are rates or ratios in which you have population as a denominator, so we want to increase literacy rate, you know, the fraction of people who can read and write vis-a-vis, the number of the total population, the malnutrition rates, mortality rates, all these are basically questions of access relative to the number of people. And so, you have to watch the two pieces of the equation that is the services that you provide, the goods that you produce, versus the people who are entering this system.

Will Brehm  10:09
So we just we’ve I mean, on the one hand, yes, we want to provide the services and better services like education and health and everything else the SDGs proposed, but at the same time, we need to think about that denominator about the total number of people in this world, and that this world, it would be unsustainable to have, say, 50 billion people living on this planet, for instance…

Parfait Eloundou  10:28
For instance, yes, and so but it’s not always, that is starting point. That is to maintain some kind of balance between the resources and people. But the denominator itself is also a little bit complicated, I think, out of the total population, you still need to consider questions about the composition and starting very simply with age composition. So, in a population where you have a majority of people who are extremely young, so as not to be able to work, it’s a different proposition, than if you have a larger share of the population in your adult working ages. And so, you have to consider composition, not just in terms of age, but also in terms of education. So, raising the levels of education and so forth. So, population is both the numbers but also the competition.

Will Brehm  11:23
Yeah, and different countries and regions would have different sort of composition. So, in Japan, for instance, where I live, the composition is heavily skewed towards older people, and they’re having problems of paying for social security systems, and the like. But of course, other regions sort of have a youth bulge and the question is, well, what do these children when they become adults do in this world? So, can you talk a little bit about maybe that sort of phenomenon and the youth bulge in some some regions of the world?

Parfait Eloundou  11:55
Yeah, you’re right, the notion of a youth bulge is basically the situation where you have a large proportion population that is in the young adult ages. And so just to, to stress that population in itself doesn’t give you the full picture. So, these young people have a potential strength in terms of the economy, if they are put to work. On the other hand, if they are not put to work, if they have very limited prospects or employment, they become a source of instability and insecurity. And so, population is always in that sort of contingent situation where its impact in a given society is going to depend on what you make of it.

Will Brehm  12:40
And so, what is the role of education in helping these countries with the youth bulge, allow the children move from school to work?

Parfait Eloundou  12:52
Very, very, very good question. I think the first role is to train them and train them well. And by this, you mean quality of education in the classic skills, but also increasingly embracing soft skills and new skills that are in demand in the labor market. Then education systems maybe called to actually take one step further and get involved in facilitating the transition from school to work. And this is a topic on which I’ve worked a little bit. And it’s, it’s quite a concern in many countries, in Latin American as well, in Sub Saharan Africa, because you have large cohorts of young people who have really completed the course of education but having a very difficult time finding employment. And so, there are many things that happened during that phase, to begin, you have a loss of skills, if you stay out of the labor force for a long time, you may not have the opportunity to acquire new skills, it’s a period of stress, if you’re looking for employment, and not really knowing when the next job is going to be available. It’s also a loss of identity in many ways because having lost identity or the label of a student, now you don’t really have any fallback identity to carry and so that can be a problem, not to mention all the risks that are involved associated with being idle. So, if you leave, you take young adults who leave school at 20-21, this is an age of risk and decision-making choices regarding your health, regarding your consumption, diet, and so forth. And so, making the right choices at this juncture of the life cycle is pretty important. And unless they’re well accompanied, I think it’s a very delicate period.

Will Brehm  14:53
Yeah, and it makes me think about sort of what we call today, the gig economy and how, you know, service sector is so massive in many parts of the world. And part of those services are basically taking “one-off” jobs to deliver food or to do an Uber or what do you know, whatever it is. And so, I just wonder how is the gig economy sort of impacting that work or that school to work transition?

Parfait Eloundou  15:23
Well, I think the flow of information, I mean, to be able to take advantage of that sort of fluid work environment, you have to have a very strong flow of information so that at least the young would-be workers know where the opportunities are and can actually try to compete. And that’s not always the case in the countries that are having the largest youth bulge. And so that’s one first issue. The other issue that I’d like to mention briefly, is, I think when you think about life trajectories and career trajectories, they’ve really been a great elevation of aspirations. I think today’s young adults are very creative, the world is their oyster. And so, they no longer peg their dreams to the local environment, I think they dream big and they dream wide and they dream far and so the restrictions to their local environment become even more restrictive, and or at least felt as being extremely restrictive,

Will Brehm  16:34
That must partly be a result of the very education system.

Parfait Eloundou  16:38
Yes.

Will Brehm  16:39
I mean, it must, it creates sort of this aspirational, this sort of competitive sort of environment among youth thinking, how do I get ahead? And so, sometimes that might mean crossing borders or getting into that sort of global upper-class.

Parfait Eloundou  16:56
Yeah, in that global upper class. Which, again, is partly a fiction, and so the education system plays a part in terms of dealing these aspirations, but you also have the mass media, the Internet, and so you get exposed to sort of a virtual dimension of that global middle class, which, again, is partly fiction.

Will Brehm  17:21
Yeah, it seems like the issue of class is so important in thinking about sustainability. And I wonder, do you know, is UNESCO and the UN and all of the work that’s being done on SDGs, in your opinion, are they bringing in the issue of class well enough, like or is that something that needs a little bit more thought?

Parfait Eloundou  17:44
Yeah, definitely needs a lot more thought. To begin, class has both purely economic and then a cultural dimension. And so, if we just consider the economic dimension, that is just consider the different economic clusters or the difference in salary ranges, I think the discussions of class or the discussions of inequality have for long time shied away from relative disparities and relative deprivation, and just focus on absolute deprivation. In other words, don’t worry about the top 1%, don’t worry about the top 5%, just worry about the bottom 10%, and make sure that you have as few people as you can, that live under $1 a day or $2 a day, right. And so that has been part of the, I wouldn’t say obfuscation but at least part of the orientation. But for whatever it’s worth, there’s just a tremendous yearning for a better future for everybody. In all my years working in development, I have yet to see somebody who would be happy to live with $2 a day, you know, you get them to $2 or $5 a day, and they and they say, you know, that’s, it’s, I’m fine, I’m good, you can rest easy I’ll stay here for the rest of my life that I’ve never personally seen that. And so that, to me, brings the need to sort of confront head on the relative deprivation and the extent to which people can achieve mobility and the terms under which that mobility is achieved. The extent to which this so-called American dream, which is basically a universal dream, which is if you work hard enough, if you apply your talent, if you play by the rules, if you’re dedicated enough, you can aspire to a better future or your children can aspire to a better future. And so that dream is not deferred -I mean, different people have used different terms, you know- as the poet has said is a dream deferred some have seen it as hijacked, but it’s becoming less and less to attain. But what remains, however, and what is sometimes problematic, I don’t know, I mean, it can be seen as problematic is the illusion of a dream. I think, once you, if there was just a clear acknowledgement and a clear understanding, a shared understanding then I think the realistic expectation that you ought to have if you, you know, meet circumstances, A, B and C and D will be to reach let’s say, you know, this income level, and that’s the bar and we set a realistic bar, I think it might be a slightly better situation than to dangle this exceptional success stories that are interesting, or can be inspiring, but a very, very, very, very, very rare.

Will Brehm  21:04
Yeah, I mean, it sounds like what you’re saying, and correct me if I’m wrong, is that there is a sort of myth of meritocracy,

Parfait Eloundou  21:13
A myth of meritocracy and a myth of extreme mobility. It’s both, you know. There’s this misconception or over-estimation of how far you can go. And at the same time, as there’s a need to debate the terms and the ways in which people may experience that mobility.

Will Brehm  21:33
And I guess what sometimes frustrating about discourses on education is that there’s an assumed belief in meritocracy in the idea of education, that, you know, if you just try hard and you do well, and you increase your test scores, you will get better jobs, you will have better lives, you will, you will be rewarded with what you can receive or what you deserve, because of the hard work you that you put in. And sometimes I feel that that sort of assumption goes uncritiqued.

Parfait Eloundou  22:05
Yeah, you’re absolutely right. I mean, education tries, the education system by large tries its best, otherwise it wouldn’t really retain any credibility whatsoever. But it’s true, we have to recognize that this system is not sort of a perfect meritocracy. I mean, I remember even before I could consciously formulate these ideas as a seven-year-old growing up in Cameroon having very good grades, I had excellent grades throughout my entire curriculum but at the same time, knowing full well that I had many friends that I knew were smarter than me, but for some reason, didn’t get good grades. And so, to me, it was always a problem I said, I just could not understand reconcile the two: the belief in meritocracy, but also the awareness of my close friend’s intelligence. And so, I think the way you make sense of it is that the school system recognizes some forms of intelligence at the expense of others, sometimes those forms of intelligence that are recognized, maybe functional, i. e, for society, that is the skills or the talents that are most useful in society at a given point but sometimes it may not really be the case. I think, and so the real debate is, number one, to what extent what we learn in school is really what you need to learn to be a good worker, to be a good citizen, to be a good parent, to be a good neighbor, and B: to what extent the school system sort of set a level playing field in which everybody gets treated the same. I said before, that teachers and school systems really try hard I can say, because I’ve been a teacher for a long time, but at the same time, you have all these unconscious biases that creep in. I mean, if you see a student, you know, always toy these ideas, and you have to fight against that constantly. If you see a student wearing glasses and looking sort of poised and attentive during your classes, there’s a tendency to assume that they are a good student or smart student. On the other hand, if you see a student slumped in their chair, you may make different kind of inference. And it may well be that this is a super smart student who happened to just be bored by your class. And this is just one example. And you have all the other circumstances and baggage and disadvantages that students bring into the class. You know, the family environment where they come from, the backgrounds the neighborhoods they come from, the resources or lack of that they bring to the classroom make it difficult for schools to be a perfect meritocracy. And so how to fix that is quite a challenge.

Will Brehm  25:05
Well, Parfait Eloundou, we’ll have to answer that question another time. So, thank you very much for joining FreshEd. It really was a pleasure to talk.

Parfait Eloundou  25:12
Oh, it was a pleasure, the pleasure was all mine.

Will Brehm 1:28
Parfait Elondou, bienvenue à Fresh Ed.

Parfait Eloundou 1:46
Merci.

Will Brehm 1:48
Donc, nous sommes ici à Bruxelles, à la réunion sur l’éducation mondiale et je voudrais juste démarrer par une question très générale : Comment définiriez-vous la durabilité ? Que signifie la durabilité pour vous ?

Parfait Eloundou 2:00
Oh, c’est une question très pertinente. Je veux dire, la durabilité, je dirais que c’est le fait de prendre le développement dans une perspective à long terme et de prêter attention à un type différent de norme, pas seulement aux objectifs immédiats, mais à la mesure dans laquelle les différentes nations et le monde dans son ensemble peuvent soutenir ce que nous essayons d’accomplir. Et vous pouvez envisager la durabilité selon deux dimensions. La première est l’aspect environnemental, qui consiste à conserver les systèmes de vie naturels. Et l’autre est la durabilité sociale, qui permet de maintenir les sociétés en phase et en harmonie, de maintenir le contrat social, de maintenir l’engagement de chacun, de maintenir la viabilité des institutions, etc.

Will Brehm 2:51
Quel rôle joue donc l’éducation dans la compréhension de la durabilité en termes d’environnement, mais aussi de l’aspect social, où l’éducation s’inscrit-elle dans ce tableau ?

Parfait Eloundou 3:02
De manière générale, on peut concevoir l’éducation comme une institution destinée à véhiculer des connaissances, des valeurs, et donc à se reproduire et à innover. Et donc, l’éducation est un mécanisme permettant aux sociétés de se projeter dans l’avenir. En transmettant les compétences à la génération actuelle, vous vous donnez, en tant que société, les moyens de survivre et de vous épanouir tout en avançant. Il y a donc différentes choses que vous voulez transmettre et qui permettent en même temps de modifier l’innovation, et ces choses comprennent donc, encore une fois, comme je l’ai dit, les compétences, la technologie, les valeurs, les connaissances, les valeurs de la citoyenneté, les valeurs de l’intendance, etc. Ainsi, l’éducation est vraiment vitale en tant que mécanisme de reproduction et de projection dans l’avenir.

Will Brehm 4:01
L’éducation est-elle, à votre avis, la solution à certains des problèmes auxquels est confronté le monde du changement climatique, ou, vous savez, le déclin du contrat social ou la montée du nationalisme, ou tous les différents maux sociaux que nous voyons, les maux environnementaux que nous voyons dans le monde, est, à votre avis, l’éducation, une sorte de panacée?

Parfait Eloundou 4:19
Eh bien, la solution est un mot fort, mais l’éducation est un instrument très efficace. Elle ne peut pas être une solution miracle, car son efficacité relative varie d’un endroit à l’autre, et les différentes formes d’éducation varient, et il y aura donc des moments où l’éducation sera la force la plus efficace pour transmettre des compétences. Mais vous pouvez aussi avoir des sociétés qui sont structurées de manière à transmettre des compétences, de la technologie et du savoir-faire, en dehors d’un système d’éducation formel. Mais si vous considérez le monde d’aujourd’hui, parmi toutes les institutions possibles sur lesquelles vous pouvez compter pour faire progresser les SDG comme nous le pensons maintenant, je pense que l’éducation est vraiment un candidat très fort et c’est pourquoi j’étais enthousiaste d’être ici et de voir comment non seulement nous pouvons rénover, relancer l’éducation rurale, mais aussi de voir comment elle s’articule avec d’autres institutions et sociétés.

Will Brehm 5:25
Vous savez, l’une des choses que je confonds parfois avec les buts du développement durable, c’est que, d’une part, il y a cet effort pour atteindre la croissance économique comme moyen de sortir plus de gens de la pauvreté, d’augmenter les avantages matériels pour les gens du monde entier. Mais une grande partie de cette croissance nécessite la combustion de combustibles fossiles et toutes sortes d’extraction de matériaux de la terre naturelle, ce qui semble aller à l’encontre de la poussée vers la durabilité environnementale, qui est un autre but des SDG, donc pour moi, il est très difficile de conserver ces deux idées simultanément dans mon esprit.

Parfait Eloundou 6:09
Et c’est dans une certaine mesure, la tension créative que le monde dans son ensemble doit gérer. Et les scientifiques en particulier jouent un rôle en aidant tout le monde à penser à la façon dont ces deux objectifs concurrentiels ou apparemment concurrents peuvent se rejoindre et qu’il n’y en a pas deux en fait, mais trois. D’une part, vous voulez encourager la croissance, mais vous voulez encourager une croissance qui est inclusive, et une croissance qui est, disons, “verte” dans le sens où elle préserve l’environnement et ce n’est pas une chose facile à faire. Je crois donc que le défi consiste à trouver des solutions qui permettent de faire le lien entre ces trois objectifs concurrents.

Will Brehm 6:50
Oui, et je regarde les manifestations en France en ce moment, les manifestations de la veste jaune et je me demande, vous savez, la croissance ne paraît pas être inclusive, il semble y avoir beaucoup de gens, un grand nombre de gens dans le monde qui sont en quelque sorte exclus de la croissance de l’économie que nous voyons. Nous constatons une croissance économique dans le monde entier, mais pour quelques personnes seulement, il semblerait que l’inégalité empêche vraiment la capacité d’avoir une croissance inclusive.

Parfait Eloundou 7:21
Oui, je crois que vous avez raison sur deux fronts. Le premier front, c’est justement ce que vous avez dit sur l’augmentation des inégalités, qui est une tendance presque mondiale, surtout quand on parle d’égalité à l’intérieur des pays. Je pense qu’historiquement, du moins au cours des 30 dernières années, ce qui paraît se produire, c’est que dans le même temps, alors que l’inégalité entre les pays a en quelque sorte diminué, il y a une augmentation massive de l’inégalité à l’intérieur des pays. C’est donc un véritable défi. Le deuxième point que vous mentionnez à juste titre est le fait que la croissance, ou du moins l’inégalité, peut devenir un obstacle à la croissance. Vous savez, disons qu’il y a 50 ans, la tendance était de penser que si nous nous contentons de faire croître la tarte, si nous nous contentons de faire croître l’économie, si nous nous occupons de la croissance du PIB, tout le reste va se mettre en place. Puis on est passé à un régime dans lequel les gens reconnaissent à contrecœur qu’en même temps qu’on s’occupe de la croissance, il faut aussi s’inquiéter des inégalités, mais nous arrivons maintenant à un stade où la relation va peut-être dans le sens inverse. En fait, l’inégalité est peut-être une question de premier ordre qu’il faut régler avant même de penser à la croissance. Sinon, vous risquez de ne pas avoir les circonstances et les conditions, la sécurité, le contrat social, la confiance, la paix dont vous avez besoin pour planifier une croissance durable.

Will Brehm  8:58
Dans votre discours d’aujourd’hui, vous avez évoqué les questions de démographie. Comment la démographie s’inscrit-elle dans cette question de l’inégalité?

Parfait Eloundou 9:06
Eh bien, je crois que si vous prenez la démographie dans une compréhension très simple de disons, le nombre de personnes et si vous prenez la notion Bentham du but ultime étant d’atteindre le plus grand bien pour le plus grand nombre, il s’ensuit que la démographie est un grand morceau de l’équation des SDG. La plupart des indicateurs que vous voyez sont des taux ou des ratios dont le dénominateur est la population, donc nous voulons accroître le taux d’alphabétisation, vous savez, la fraction de personnes qui savent lire et écrire par rapport au nombre de la population totale, les taux de malnutrition, les taux de mortalité, tous ces éléments sont essentiellement des questions d’accès par rapport au nombre de personnes. Et donc, vous devez surveiller les deux éléments de l’équation qui sont les services que vous proposez, les biens que vous produisez, par rapport aux personnes qui entrent dans ce système.

Will Brehm 10:09
Donc nous avons juste, je veux dire, d’une part, oui, nous voulons offrir les services et de meilleurs services comme l’éducation et la santé et tout le reste que les SDG ont suggéré, mais en même temps, nous devons repenser à ce dénominateur concernant le nombre total de personnes dans ce monde, et que ce monde, il serait insupportable d’avoir, disons, 50 milliards de personnes vivant sur cette planète, par exemple…

Parfait Eloundou 10:28
Par exemple, oui, et donc mais ce n’est pas toujours, c’est le point de départ. C’est pour conserver une sorte d’équilibre entre les ressources et les personnes. Mais le dénominateur lui-même est aussi un peu difficile, je pense, sur la population totale, il faut encore envisager des questions de composition et débuter très simplement avec la composition par âge. Ainsi, dans une population où la majorité des personnes sont extrêmement jeunes, afin de ne pas pouvoir travailler, c’est une proposition différente que si vous avez une plus grande part de la population en âge de travailler. Et donc, vous devez considérer la composition, non seulement en termes d’âge, mais aussi en termes d’éducation. Il faut donc élever les niveaux d’éducation, etc. Ainsi, la population est à la fois un chiffre et une concurrence.

Will Brehm 11:23
Oui, et différents pays et régions auraient une composition différente. Au Japon, par exemple, où je vis, la composition de la population est largement orientée vers les personnes âgées, et elles ont des problèmes pour payer les systèmes de sécurité sociale, etc. Mais bien sûr, d’autres régions ont une sorte d’explosion de la jeunesse et la question est de savoir ce que font ces enfants quand ils deviennent adultes dans ce monde. Pouvez-vous nous parler un peu de ce genre de phénomène et de l’explosion de la jeunesse dans certaines régions du monde?

Parfait Eloundou  11:55
Oui, vous avez raison, la notion d’explosion de la jeunesse est essentiellement la situation dans laquelle vous avez une grande proportion de la population qui est en âge de devenir un jeune adulte. Et donc, juste pour souligner que la population en elle-même ne vous donne pas une image complète. Ces jeunes ont donc une force potentielle en termes d’économie, s’ils sont mis au travail. D’un autre côté, s’ils ne sont pas mis au travail, s’ils ont des perspectives ou un emploi très limités, ils deviennent une source d’instabilité et d’insécurité. Ainsi, la population est toujours dans ce genre de situation incertaine où son impact dans une société donnée va dépendre de ce que vous en faites.

Will Brehm 12:40
Et donc, quel est le rôle de l’éducation pour aider ces pays à faire face à l’explosion de la jeunesse, à permettre aux enfants de passer de l’école au travail ?

Parfait Eloundou 12:52
Très, très, très bonne question. Je pense que le premier rôle est de les former et de bien les former. Et par là, vous voulez dire la qualité de l’éducation dans les compétences classiques, mais aussi de plus en plus dans les compétences non techniques et les nouvelles compétences qui sont demandées sur le marché du travail. Les systèmes d’éducation sont alors peut-être appelés à faire un pas de plus et à s’impliquer pour favoriser la transition entre l’école et le travail. Et c’est un sujet sur lequel j’ai un peu travaillé. Et c’est une préoccupation dans de nombreux pays, en Amérique latine aussi, en Afrique subsaharienne, parce qu’il y a de grandes cohortes de jeunes qui ont vraiment terminé leurs études mais qui ont beaucoup de mal à trouver un emploi. Et donc, il y a beaucoup de choses qui se passent pendant cette phase, pour débuter, vous avez une perte de compétences, si vous restez hors de la population active pendant une longue période, vous n’avez peut-être pas la possibilité d’acquérir de nouvelles compétences, c’est une période de stress, si vous cherchez un emploi, et vous ne savez pas vraiment quand le prochain emploi sera disponible. C’est aussi une perte d’identité à bien des égards, car après avoir perdu votre identité ou l’étiquette d’étudiant, vous n’avez plus vraiment d’identité de repli à porter et cela peut donc être un problème, sans parler de tous les risques liés à l’oisiveté. Donc, si vous partez, vous prenez les jeunes adultes qui quittent l’école à 20-21 ans, c’est un âge de risque et de choix de décision concernant votre santé, concernant votre consommation, votre alimentation, etc. Il est donc très important de faire les bons choix à ce stade du cycle de vie. Et s’ils ne sont pas bien accompagnés, je pense que c’est une période très délicate.

Will Brehm  14:53
Oui, et cela me fait penser à ce que nous appelons aujourd’hui l’économie du spectacle et à la façon dont, vous savez, le secteur des services est si important dans de nombreuses régions du monde. Et une partie de ces services consiste essentiellement à prendre des emplois “ponctuels” pour distribuer de la nourriture ou pour faire un Uber ou quoi que ce soit d’autre. Et donc, je me demande comment l’économie du spectacle a un impact sur ce travail ou sur la transition de l’école au travail ?

Parfait Eloundou 15:23
Eh bien, je crois que le flux d’informations, je veux dire, pour pouvoir profiter de ce genre d’environnement de travail fluide, il faut avoir un flux d’informations très fort afin qu’au moins les jeunes travailleurs potentiels sachent où sont les opportunités et puissent réellement tenter d’être compétitifs. Et ce n’est pas toujours le cas dans les pays qui connaissent la plus forte explosion de la jeunesse. C’est donc une première question. L’autre question que j’aimerais aborder brièvement, c’est que je pense que lorsque vous pensez aux trajectoires de vie et de carrière, elles ont vraiment été une grande élévation des aspirations. Je pense que les jeunes adultes d’aujourd’hui sont très créatifs, le monde est leur huître. Et donc, ils ne rattachent plus leurs rêves à l’environnement local, je pense qu’ils rêvent grand et ils rêvent large et ils rêvent loin et donc les restrictions à leur environnement local deviennent encore plus restrictives, et ou du moins ressenties comme étant extrêmement restrictives,

Will Brehm 16:34
Cela doit être en partie le résultat du système éducatif lui-même.

Parfait Eloundou 16:38
Oui.

Will Brehm 16:39
Je veux dire, ça doit, ça crée une sorte d’aspiration, une sorte d’environnement compétitif chez les jeunes qui pensent, comment puis-je progresser ? Et donc, parfois, cela peut impliquer de traverser des frontières ou d’entrer dans cette sorte de classe supérieure mondiale.

Parfait Eloundou 16:56
Oui, dans cette classe supérieure mondiale. Le système éducatif joue un rôle dans la concrétisation de ces aspirations, mais il y a aussi les médias, l’Internet, et on est exposé à une dimension virtuelle de cette classe moyenne mondiale, qui est en partie une fiction.

Will Brehm 17:21
Oui, il paraît que la question de la classe est très significative dans la réflexion sur la durabilité. Et je me demande, savez-vous si l’UNESCO et l’ONU et tout le travail qui est fait sur les SDG, à votre avis, fournissent suffisamment la question de la classe, comme ou est-ce quelque chose qui a besoin d’être un peu plus réfléchi ?

Parfait Eloundou 17:44
Oui, il faut vraiment penser un peu plus. Pour commencer, la classe a une dimension à la fois purement économique et ensuite culturelle. Et donc, si l’on considère seulement la dimension économique, c’est-à-dire si l’on considère seulement les différents pôles économiques ou la différence des échelles de salaires, je crois que les discussions de classe ou les discussions sur l’inégalité ont longtemps évité les disparités relatives et les privations relatives, et se sont juste concentrées sur les privations absolues. En d’autres termes, ne vous préoccupez pas du 1% supérieur, ne vous préoccupez pas des 5% supérieurs, préoccupez-vous seulement des 10% inférieurs, et assurez-vous que vous avez le moins de personnes possible, qui vivent avec moins d’un dollar par jour ou deux dollars par jour, c’est vrai. Cela a donc fait partie, je ne dirais pas de l’obscurcissement, mais au moins d’une partie de l’orientation. Mais quoi qu’il en soit, il y a un énorme désir d’un meilleur avenir pour tout le monde. Pendant toutes mes années de travail dans le développement, je n’ai jamais vu quelqu’un qui serait heureux de vivre avec 2 $ par jour, vous savez, vous leur donnez 2 ou 5 $ par jour, et ils disent, vous savez, c’est, c’est, je vais bien, je vais bien, vous pouvez vous reposer, je vais rester ici pour le reste de ma vie que je n’ai jamais vu personnellement. Et donc, pour moi, cela amène le besoin de faire face à la privation relative et à la mesure dans laquelle les gens peuvent atteindre la mobilité et les conditions dans lesquelles cette mobilité est atteinte. La mesure dans laquelle ce soi-disant rêve américain, qui est fondamentalement un rêve universel, c’est-à-dire si vous travaillez suffisamment, si vous appliquez votre talent, si vous respectez les règles, si vous êtes suffisamment dévoué, vous pouvez aspirer à un avenir meilleur ou vos enfants peuvent aspirer à un avenir meilleur. Et donc ce rêve n’est pas différé- je veux dire, différentes personnes ont utilisé différents termes, vous savez – comme l’a dit le poète est un rêve différé ; certains l’ont vu comme détourné, mais il devient de moins en moins à atteindre. Mais ce qui reste, cependant, et ce qui est parfois problématique, je ne sais pas, je veux dire, on peut le considérer comme problématique, c’est l’illusion d’un rêve. Je pense qu’une fois que vous, s’il y avait juste une reconnaissance claire et une compréhension claire, une compréhension partagée, alors je pense que l’attente réaliste que vous devriez avoir si vous, vous savez, rencontrez les circonstances, A, B et C et D sera d’atteindre disons, vous savez, ce niveau de revenu, et c’est la barre et nous fixons une barre réaliste, je crois que ce serait peut-être une situation légèrement meilleure que de brandir ces réussites exceptionnelles qui sont intéressantes, ou peuvent être inspirantes, mais une très, très, très, très, très, très rare.

Will Brehm  21:04
Oui, je veux dire, on dirait que ce que vous dites, et rectifiez-moi si je me trompe, c’est qu’il existe une sorte de mythe de la méritocratie,

Parfait Eloundou 21:13
Un mythe de la méritocratie et un mythe de l’extrême mobilité. C’est les deux. Il y a cette idée fausse ou cette surestimation de la distance que l’on peut parcourir. Et en même temps, il est indispensable de débattre des conditions et des modalités de cette mobilité.

Will Brehm 21:33
Et je présume que ce qui est parfois frustrant dans les discours sur l’éducation, c’est qu’il y a une croyance supposée en la méritocratie dans l’idée de l’éducation, que, vous savez, si vous faites des efforts et que vous réussissez, et que vous améliorez vos résultats aux tests, vous aurez de meilleurs emplois, vous aurez de meilleures vies, vous serez, vous serez récompensé avec ce que vous pouvez recevoir ou ce que vous méritez, grâce au dur labeur que vous avez fourni. Et parfois, j’ai l’impression que ce genre d’hypothèse n’est pas critiqué.

Parfait Eloundou 22:05
Oui, vous avez tout à fait raison. Je veux dire que l’éducation essaie, le système éducatif fait de son mieux, sinon il ne serait pas vraiment crédible. Mais c’est vrai, il faut reconnaître que ce système n’est pas une sorte de méritocratie parfaite. Je veux dire, je me rappelle qu’avant même que je puisse consciemment exprimer ces idées, alors que j’avais sept ans et que je grandissais au Cameroun avec de très bonnes notes, j’avais d’excellentes notes tout au long de mon cursus, mais en même temps, sachant très bien que j’avais beaucoup d’amis que je savais plus malins que moi, mais qui, pour une raison quelconque, n’avaient pas de bonnes notes. Et donc, pour moi, c’était toujours un problème que je disais, je ne pouvais pas comprendre de concilier les deux : la croyance en la méritocratie, mais aussi la conscience de l’intelligence de mon ami proche. Et donc, je pense que la façon dont vous donnez un sens à tout cela, c’est que le système scolaire reconnaît certaines formes d’intelligence au dépens d’autres, parfois ces formes d’intelligence qui sont reconnues, peut-être fonctionnelles, c’est-à-dire, pour la société, ce sont les compétences ou les talents qui sont les plus utiles dans la société à un moment donné mais parfois ce n’est pas vraiment le cas. Je pense, et donc le vrai débat est, premièrement, dans quelle mesure ce que nous apprenons à l’école est vraiment ce que vous devez apprendre pour être un bon travailleur, un bon citoyen, un bon parent, un bon voisin, et B : dans quelle mesure le système scolaire établit en quelque sorte un terrain d’égalité dans lequel tout le monde est traité de la même manière. J’ai déjà dit que les enseignants et les systèmes scolaires font de gros efforts, je peux le dire, parce que je suis enseignant depuis longtemps, mais en même temps, vous avez tous ces préjugés inconscients qui s’insinuent. Je veux dire que si vous voyez un élève, vous savez, vous jouez toujours avec ces idées, et vous devez constamment vous battre contre cela. Si vous voyez un élève qui porte des lunettes et qui a l’air plutôt posé et attentif pendant vos cours, vous avez tendance à croire qu’il est un bon élève ou un élève intelligent. D’un autre côté, si vous voyez un élève affalé sur sa chaise, vous pouvez en tirer des conclusions différentes. Et il se peut très bien que ce soit un élève super intelligent qui se contente de s’ennuyer dans votre classe. Et ce n’est qu’un exemple parmi d’autres. Et vous avez toutes les autres circonstances et tous les autres bagages et désavantages que les élèves apportent dans la classe. Vous savez, l’environnement familial d’où ils viennent, les origines des quartiers dont ils sont issus, les ressources ou le manque de ressources qu’ils apportent dans la classe font qu’il est difficile pour les écoles d’être une méritocratie parfaite. Et donc, comment remédier à cela est tout un défi.

Will Brehm 25:05
Eh bien, Parfait Eloundou, nous devrons répondre à cette question une autre fois. Donc, merci beaucoup d’avoir rejoint FreshEd. C’était vraiment un plaisir de parler.

Parfait Eloundou  25:12
Oh, c’était un plaisir, le plaisir était tout à moi.

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Today we continue our conversation with Makoto Itoh. Last week, we discussed educational privatization in Japan. This week, we explore the study of Marxism in Japan and the influence of Kozo Uno.

Makoto Itoh teaches at Kokugakuin University and is professor emeritus of the University of Tokyo. His newest book, written in Japanese, is A guide to Capitalist Economy, which was published in February.

 

OverviewTranscriptTranslationResources

Today we look at educational privatization in Japan. My guest is the renowned Marxist scholar Makoto Itoh. In our two-part conversation, Professor Itoh argues that both the capitalist market and Soviet system have not produced democratic equality. In both systems, schools have been used to sort people by class.

 

Makoto Itoh teaches at Kokugakuin University and is professor emeritus of the University of Tokyo. His newest book, written in Japanese, is A guide to Capitalist Economy, which was published in February.

Citation: Itoh, Makoto, interview with Will Brehm, FreshEd, 112, podcast audio, April 16, 2018. https://www.freshedpodcast.com/makotoitoh/

 

 

Will Brehm  1:15
Makoto Itoh, Welcome to FreshEd

Makoto Itoh  1:18
Thank you very much for your invitation.

Will Brehm  1:19
It’s really wonderful to sit down today in Tokyo and discuss, well, probably a whole bunch of things about education and your own life and about Marxism. And it’s a good time because you just told me you published a new book called ‘A Guide to Capitalist Economy’, which is published in Japanese a few months ago. So, congratulations on the book.

Makoto Itoh  1:40
Thank you.

Will Brehm  1:42
So, what I’m interested in speaking about today is your understanding of Marxism -you are an internationally renowned Marxist scholar- and applying it to the field of education. How would we apply Marxist thinking to education? So, you know, I’m not really sure where to begin because Marxism is so big of a body of literature but perhaps we can think about the costs of education. Because the costs seem to be one of the big pieces of capitalism: prices and costs.

Makoto Itoh  2:20
Indeed. Well, when we look at education costs today, it is worrying to see how it became so expensive, especially to learn at university level.  The data in Japan for last year said that in private university, it costs in four years in total, 7.4 million yen. So, you can calculate.

Will Brehm  2:48
So, 7.4 million yen is something like $70,0000 US dollars?

Makoto Itoh  2:57
Right. So, it costs very much in private university. And in case of six-year medical students, in total, it costs 27 million yen, whereas average household income in Japan is 5.3 million.

Will Brehm  3:18
So many people wouldn’t be able to even afford to go to medical school and probably very difficult to go to private university.

Makoto Itoh  3:27
That’s right. It is said that almost educational costs of one child for medical department is almost the same as purchasing a house. So, I am afraid that such expensive educational cost cannot be affordable for all parents. The basic idea for democracy is egalitarian, freedom to run for everybody. But that cost prevents such a basis for social democracy, isn’t it? And although rate of university students among the same generation, as you may know, reached just over one half in 2009.

Will Brehm  4:20
OK, so in 2009, 50% of the same generation went to university?

Makoto Itoh  4:30
Four years university.

Will Brehm  4:32
Wow.

Makoto Itoh  4:32
Whereas in my youth, it was below 10%. At the year 1954, I became a university student in the next year, but at 1954 it equaled 7.9%. So, less than 10%.

Will Brehm  4:51
Right.

Makoto Itoh  4:51
So, the rate of higher education at the university level became more and more broadly shared, whereas it became so expensive nowadays. The rate of increase of students among the same generation became very, very stagnant and became slightly down lower to 49.9%. Less than 50% in 2013.

Will Brehm  5:21
Okay, so it’s the numbers of students enrolling in universities has slowed compared to when you were a student?

Makoto Itoh  5:31
No, no, no, the same generation? The rate of university students became lower in several years.

Will Brehm  5:38
Oh, right. And is this mainly because of the costs?

Makoto Itoh  5:42
I guess so. At least one reason. And this affects in various ways. For one thing, students became so busy to earn money while they are students too. So, that they cannot have enough time to enjoy their college life. And, “I’m sorry, I’m busy to do some advice” is a common phrase for the present students and they became so conscious about the career after graduation because they had to earn money for the sake of parents who paid university costs. And many students nowadays, just like in the United States, depend on student loans. And this newspaper reports, that personal bankruptcy, over 150,000 person a year bankrupted now. And this bankruptcy affects naturally to their parents, and sometimes to grandparents due to joint-signatures.

Will Brehm  6:54
This is the students that go bankrupt because of the loans they’ve taken out and they’re unable to pay them back.

Makoto Itoh  7:03
It’s a tragic situation. So, in many cases, it affects the total society broadly.

Will Brehm  7:11
Why do you think this happens? I mean, is this sort of a natural consequence in capitalists’ systems where fees increase and where you have to take out debt? Debt, as Minsky says is a main feature of capitalism. I mean, should we not be surprised that this is happening? Even if it is tragic?

Makoto Itoh  7:35
Hmm. In my years, when I was a student, tuitions for all state universities seems almost nothing. It was so cheap! So, in student period, student friends are so various in their classes. All a mixture of society. Whereas in the present day, in the University of Tokyo, for example, the other statistics says that over one half of students in the University of Tokyo, you can see over 54.8% of students came from the family type, which belongs just under 10% of top richer families this class.

Will Brehm  8:30
Right, so over half of the students come from the wealthiest families

Makoto Itoh  8:36
9.7% of richest families can only afford.

Will Brehm  8:43
The top 10% send more than 50% of the students.

Makoto Itoh  8:50
55%

Will Brehm  8:50
So, there’s huge inequality in the system.

Makoto Itoh  8:55
The University of Tokyo is a major feeding University Japan to occupy Korea for the future bureaucrat, business circle and many other candidates for the future central.

Will Brehm  9:09
Could you explain that? Because this is actually slightly different than in Western universities, where the University of Tokyo holds this very privileged…

Makoto Itoh  9:17
You probably know Gakureki shakai. Gakureki means career of university period. It is important to remember, and I feel unhappy to talk about that from a Marxian point of view. But the University of Tokyo actually did play a very important institution with some other top universities are important to see who became dominant probability to be declared as a candidate for the leading bureaucrats, leading businesspersons of big businesses and in other many fields. So, those are elite institutions and in order to get into such elitist universities there is certainly severe competition and parents have to be rich to hire private teacher to educate their children.

Will Brehm  10:23
And it’s not just private schooling it’s also tutoring or Juku

Makoto Itoh  10:28
Juku. Many costs extra is necessary.

Will Brehm  10:31
So, over the lifetime of a child you have to be able to spend millions and millions of yen to prepare him or her to get into a university like Todai.

Makoto Itoh  10:41
I read in Piketty’s book that only top 2% is able to send their children to Harvard. Almost a similar phenomenon is seen. To jump from that, I read some material of old Soviet. There was elite educational systems which only allowed to small number of elitist state bureaucrats and party bureaucrats. It was very privileged special course nomenclature education system. So, education system is a “for sale” system to discriminate elitist. In the case of Japan and the United States, or capitalist societies, money can serve as such a discriminatory reproduction of elitist capitalist class.

Will Brehm  11:37
Whereas with the Soviet Union it was…

Makoto Itoh  11:40
It was done by privileged political setting. Which is better? [Laughter]

Will Brehm  11:48
That’s right. I mean is there a better? Because the outcome is similar, right? You sort society in a particular way that gives certain people benefits and not others. It is very far from egalitarianism as you were talking about.

Makoto Itoh  12:02
Right. So, egalitarianism as an idea for both socialism and capitalism. But in reality, they failed for Soviet Union, United States, and Japan.

Will Brehm  12:20
That’s quite a difficult contradiction

Makoto Itoh  12:24
Indeed. An ideal society in common sense under the name of democracy cannot work in reality in the market. Just like a political system in the Soviet Union. We tend to be told that Soviet was a privileged, very undemocratic society. But why can’t we see democratic egalitarian social system on the market?

Will Brehm  12:50
Yeah, they might not -capitalism and democracy are not as intertwined as maybe the common assumption.

Makoto Itoh  13:02
Civil evolution from the age of former British or French Revolution has not been achieved in reality in the system of education. Oxbridge, Harvard, MIT, Boston, and the Ivy Leagues in the United States.

Will Brehm  13:21
When you look at education in Japan, but as you were saying, this phenomenon is in many other parts of the world, particularly in market economies, where inequality is increasing, and education is a way to sort of sort society, does Marxist economics help you understand what is going on?

Makoto Itoh  13:45
So, the real problem is that what is the social ground to argue for democracy? Political democracy is achieved by one vote for one person. One other person can be given one vote for election. It is a political way of expression of democracy. And in my belief, I think that economic life in society is supported by labor or work, and economic democracy should be recognized social contribution for egalitarian peoples endeavor to spend certain time of his life or day time to work for other persons or to support themselves or other persons. In usual a person statistically tells us that around 2000 hours a year is working day. And I think there are about 50 million persons in Japan working, or supporting our economic life, excepting certain number of wage workers like politicians and bureaucrats in certain parts. Just like Adam Smith said, they are unproductive classes that not support economic life -to work for services and producing something for other persons, socially. If we calculate 50 thousands persons 2,000 hours each makes total number of hours, 100 billion.

Will Brehm  15:37
100 billion hours of work every year-

Makoto Itoh  15:40
-supports Japanese society. This is a very clear image to calculate. And it is my fundamental view of society, that our economic life is supported by that number of hours together. Therefore, if we can conceive that each hour is usually estimated equally, each other homogeneous, this is called by Marx abstract human labor, which is the basis for any concrete useful labor. Marx distinguishes labor in that sense and abstract human labor is shared for different kinds of useful concrete labor. So, this forms division of labor in society. If we can recognize that any person even highly educated doctor and taxi driver is as the same person, same human being, which have concepts in their mind, and utilize their internal nature to act and work according to the their conception and execution is the combination to form human ability to work in any places, utilizing language in common and thinking, sharing certain ideas, and can do what they intend to do unlike any other animals who may also work but human labor is different from other animals’ metabolic functions with great nature. It is different from we share ideas, conceptions, and work according to that conception, this is human work. So, if we recognize each other, every working hour is homogeneous, despite of educational cost difference -it is other aspects to be considered- but if we recognize it in such a way, economic democracy should be based upon homogeneity of social contribution of every person’s work labor.

Will Brehm  18:07
So, for instance, like you said, the taxi drivers one hour of work would be equivalent to the doctor’s one hour of work, or the Prime Minister’s one hour of work?

Makoto Itoh  18:18
This is the basic idea.

Will Brehm  18:20
But even the non-wage labor would be valued the same way, right.

Makoto Itoh  18:25
Yes.

Will Brehm  18:26
So, the stay-at-home mother or father would be valued for one hour of childcare.

Makoto Itoh  18:32
And in order to think in such a way we have to distinct Marxists treatment of skilled labor issue. Even Marx said, skilled labor may be conceived as doing five times of labor in one hour unlike the unskilled labor. I think it is not democratic way of conceptualizing abstract human labor. I would like to revise that on Marx and almost all the Marxian economists still follow Ricardo -Marx traditions to conceive intensified labor by certain skilled work complex laborer. It is not a democratic way to think.

Will Brehm  19:19
No. You don’t want to have different values placed on different types of labor, skilled or unskilled, they all should be equal. That is the egalitarian way.

Makoto Itoh  19:30
Yeah. 100 billion is the same in quality.

Will Brehm  19:36
Yeah. And what I wonder is..

Makoto Itoh  19:37
It is interesting to think in such a way.

Will Brehm  19:40
Yeah, a hundred billion hours of work!

Makoto Itoh  19:43
And if we conceive certain cases nowadays, say Basic Income idea, for example, and some cases of local currency, time data, they treat labor contribution as the same contribution among community. It has a certain, in my belief, it is through communal ways of understanding each other let us recognize our time as a basis of community. It is a good way to think.

Will Brehm  20:18
It seems like it would also sort of naturally lead to people devoting less time in wage labor, because 100 billion hours of labor per year, I would imagine that’s not completely -or you don’t need 100 billion hours to produce the GDP of Japan.

Makoto Itoh  20:44
If we include certain non-market labor, it might be 1.5 times of that size. We don’t care about that. But the important thing is to recognize egalitarian democratic homogeneity in contributing labor activities, either market or no market, it is an important thing.

Will Brehm  21:08
It seems as if the education system, as we were talking about earlier, the sorting that goes on, would not allow for such an egalitarian system as you were saying.

Makoto Itoh  21:23
Yea. It is because privatization of education attributes educational costs to each family or each individual. Therefore, the person who needs higher education, such as medical doctor, has to pay back, as Becker’s human capital theory says as an investment. It is a type of thinking which seems very natural when we live in the individualistic, private, market economy. Whereas in old period, the educational system could be more public, communal, common goods, as you suggest here. And any children, who may come from the poorer family, can receive that education free. If educational system is supported by common funds, in that case, we do not care about educational costs being paid back later by their higher wages, we can still reproduce necessary types of educated, trained persons for each necessary works.

Will Brehm  22:40
To think beyond human capital theory. To not view education as a future rate of return on my individual wage, but rather, as you’re saying, see it more communally. To me, it sounds like that will take a huge shift in imagination of everyday people. Because, I think the person who’s spending 7.4 million yen to go to university is expecting that he or she will get a return on investment that is quite high.

Makoto Itoh  23:20
And the student loan expect that too. That is a privatization of education for individual. But actually, communist economy in Soviet system, higher education, while also very cheap or free to produce most numerous number of higher educated technicians who are produced in Soviet. And in such an educational system, the public way: In that case, why should be pay higher wages to that doctor or to that engineer? We do not need to paying system such a discriminatory way. So probably in Soviet grading of labor was done, but this grading could be much reduced gaps and connected to educational costs, you see. So that sort of system is conceivable. If educational costs can be socialized, educational systems could be more democratic and probably social mobility could be elevated much more. As a result, it might be more activated society and mobility across various families to contribute in suitable places or according to the children’s aspirations could be achieved.

Will Brehm  24:56
Are you hopeful that in the future we will see a transition in society away from this privatization of education that has expanded exponentially under neoliberalism? Or are you hopeful that we will actually shift -in Japan, and in America, and in other places around the world- away from that private notion and value of education.

Makoto Itoh  25:24
At least my generation experiences such cheap education and cost for educational level. We used to think university tuitions almost does not cost. At that time, National University of Japanese educational system served as a sort of recruiting system for different type classes of societies, which meant a sort of a mobility of society was much greater than nowadays. It is my impression, and I think it might be more desirable for social future. And while educational costs bother me for another reason too, which is reducing children. United States still has growing number of population, but Japan is declining population and many other advanced capitalist countries began to see the similar trend for smaller children, ageing society. It is very bad to see for the future of educational system to maintain. And social activity, aspirations, new ideas would be expected lesser degrees due to smaller number of children may make society very, very conservative. All the sociologists say second and third child is more in a sense, non-conservative.

Will Brehm  27:15
Progressive.

Makoto Itoh  27:15
Progressive, if you say. Or act more ambitiously for new ideas than first children. It is because mothers and fathers protect first child more carefully and the second and third are not cared for much.

Will Brehm  27:40
I am the second child.

Makoto Itoh  27:44
So, I understand why you came to Japan.

Will Brehm  27:50
More freedom, I guess. My brother has much more -I mean, my parents are probably listening to this conversation. And they were very good parents. I mean, that’s not an issue.

Makoto Itoh  28:02
You have to say that. [Laughter]

Will Brehm  28:07
You put me in a difficult position.

Makoto Itoh  28:11
And I’m the third child.

Will Brehm  28:13
Ah! That says a lot!

Makoto Itoh  28:15
My elder brother had to take care of my parents. He’s very good. And I feel a bit embarrassing to take care of my parents and go free as you did.

Will Brehm  28:36
And is that what brought you into the academy?

Makoto Itoh  28:40
Right.

Will Brehm  28:41
You felt like you had more freedom. You also joined some of the student protests in the 1970’s.

Makoto Itoh  28:48
Sometimes Yes, but not very much. But I was attracted to Marxism just for intellectual aspect. It seems too heavy problems to think. And I used to think everything quickly. But when I encountered Marxist capital, it was heavy, deep, not easy to understand. It is quite a shock to me. And how to understand those heavy deep thinking was an interesting experience. But the first time in my life to encounter such a theoretical system containing so deep work.

Will Brehm  29:42
So, it was a very intellectual pursuit for you?

Makoto Itoh  29:45
Yes, I began to read Marxist capital in what you say the first year of university?

Will Brehm  29:53
Freshmen year.

Makoto Itoh  29:53
Freshmen. Among my classroom friend invited me to join the reading group in our university class.

Will Brehm  30:04
Makoto Itoh, thank you so much for joining FreshEd

Makoto Itoh  30:07
It’s my pleasure.

Will Brehm  30:08
It really was my pleasure. I really enjoyed talking today.

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A group of Yale graduate students are protesting their labor conditions as teachers. They are demanding the administration recognize them as a union and negotiate their contract as full employees of the university. After all, graduate students teach many undergraduate classes.

But the administration is stalling, waiting for Donald Trump to appoint an anti-union National Labor Relations Board that, they hope, will throw out the union’s right to exist.

My guest today is Jennifer Klein, a professor of history at Yale University who has followed the unionization efforts closely. She’s written a recent New York Times op-ed detailing the events at Yale.

The fight over graduate student’s right to unionize at Yale is a microcosm of the reliance on precarious work across the American higher education system.

You can find the solidarity statement in support of the graduate students here.

On May 22, Local 33, the union representing the Yale graduate students, protested during the Yale commencement.