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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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How can we think about inequality and education? My guest today, Mario Novelli, dives into the subject by looking at the role of schools in the production of inequality.

Since 2010, Mario has researched issues related to the role of education in peace building processes, working with UNICEF on a series of projects.

In our conversation, Mario not only details how modernity, capitalism, and colonialism combine to create systems of inequality inside school systems but also publicly struggles with his role in the production of inequality through his work in international educational development.

Mario Novelli is Professor of the Political Economy of Education and Director of the Centre for International Education (CIE) at the University of Sussex. His latest article discussed in this podcast can be found in the most recent issue of the British Journal of the Sociology of Education.

Citation: Novelli, Mario, Interview with Will Brehm, FreshEd, 41, September 12, 2016. https://www.freshedpodcast.com/marionovelli/

Will Brehm:  1:58
Mario Novelli, welcome to Fresh Ed.

Mario Novelli:  2:01
Thanks very much for having me.

Will Brehm:  2:03
The British Journal of Sociology of Education has put out a special issue on the work of the French economist Thomas Piketty, who wrote a pretty famous book in 2013 called Capitalism in the Twenty-First Century. And you have a piece in this special issue. What is Piketty’s main argument in Capitalism in the Twenty-First Century? And why does it warrant a whole issue of an education journal?

Mario Novelli:  2:33
Okay, well, Piketty’s book is a big one. And it really focuses around the rise of inequality over the last 200, 220 years.

And his central argument is that, unlike orthodox economic belief that as capitalism has developed, and as nations develop, inequality reduces. In fact, what he highlights is that, apart from a brief interlude between the first and second world war, inequality has tended to increase and what that leads into develop is a kind of the assertion of an economic law, which is that private wealth, inherited wealth increases faster than productive investment or economic growth.

And that has a tendency to increase inequality in the long run. And I think that for education, there are lots of implications, there are lots of implications around the role of education in the reproduction of inequality, the role of education in potentially redressing inequality and being in a sense an equalizing factor in society. So there are many dimensions that we thought in the special issue we might be able to explore. And as you know, my particular work focuses on the relationship between education and conflict. So I went a bit more deeply into that area.

Will Brehm:  4:11
And we will touch on that in a second. But first, just generally speaking, in your opinion, does Piketty have any weaknesses in his argument that you were able to uncover during your research?

Mario Novelli:  4:28
I mean, I think there are a lot of weaknesses, I would like to say that I think it’s a great book, I think it’s a really important book. And I think that in an accessible way, despite the length of the book, and he puts on the table, some really important ideas around issues of inequality, which for many years, has not been a problem for orthodox economists, inequality seems to be something that should be embraced as a natural part of economic development.

In terms of challenges, I think the first one is that Piketty is an economist. And although he’s much more open than neoclassical economists, his focus is firmly on the economic domain and economic inequality, which, for me, is important, but insufficient. I think, if we look at the history of popular movements, who have struggled against the inequality over the last 70 years, economic inequality is only one domain of confrontation, it’s a key domain. But nevertheless, it’s just one site of contestation, I think, what we need to explore are other modes of inequality alongside economic inequality, cultural, political, national, and their effects on genders, identities, political rights, human rights, etc. So I think, you know, the big area is the kind of narrow economism within which we approach inequality. So I think there are lots of more depth different dimensions to focus on.
The second thing, and I think this is linked to his empiricism, the focus on numbers on evidence that is attainable is that I don’t think that everything that is important can necessarily be measured, and not everything that’s measured is necessarily important. And I think that’s why theory matters, because theory sometimes helps us to get under the surface of things that we can’t see unequal structures, social classes, racism, things like that, that exists, but are not necessarily visible in, you know, the classic, countable ways of empiricism.
And I think, then, the third difficulty in Piketty’s work, or the third omission, at least for me, particularly, is his failure to explore the issue of imperialism, the role of the north and the south, slavery, the history of colonialism in the history of capitalist development. It’s as if capitalist development unfolded through economic laws. But actually, what we know is that capitalism has also unfolded through conquest, colonialism, etc.

Will Brehm:  7:03
It sounds like he misses some of the, my guess, more complex issues of inequality as a social and cultural phenomenon. But how does Piketty or does Piketty bring up the issue of education in his work?

Mario Novelli:  8:07
Well, I guess as an economist, it’s not surprising that Piketty sees education as a kind of an engine of growth. And potentially, I think, an engine of equity and the reduction of inequality. And, you know, that’s linked to his understanding of human capital. And the idea that we invest in education in order to improve both our own personal economic wealth, but also the wealth of the nation. Though, of course, this is challenged, the relevance of human capital theory is challenged by himself in the book, because essentially, what he’s arguing is that inherited capital, debt capital is more productive than economic growth and productive capital. So investing in education may not bring you the returns that it might want have brought. So even for the human capital theory, there is a problem at the moment in terms of the nature of capitalist development. So that’s really where his focuses on the returns of education in terms of economic development and economic growth.

Will Brehm:  9:33
In your opinion, what is the relationship between education and capitalism if it’s not human capital?

Mario Novelli:  9:42
Okay, well, I think human capital is part of the story. Let’s be clear about that. I’m not saying that human capital is not important. But I think that if we look at the relationship between education and capitalism, it’s much more complex. I guess, I would start with Roger Dale’s work of the 1970s Education and the Capitalist State, where you need to think about education’s relationship to accumulation ie human capital, social cohesion – the role of education systems in making different population groups get on or not, and also in legitimation, the role of education in making students accept the situation that they’re in, the state of affairs that exists in society. So in a sense, it has a legitimating effect. It has a social cohesion affect, it also has an accumulation effect. And as Roger always pointed out, these three dimensions are not necessarily compatible. So if you focus on accumulation, you may undermine social cohesion, through selectivity etc.

And you may undermine accumulation and social cohesion by focusing too much on the legitimation. So there are range of contradictions in that. So that’s the first area that I think is important to return to. And I think the second area which is a more modern phenomenon is that education is not just human capital, in the terms of self-investment, and the production or the role of education in economic growth.

Education has emerged as an important commodity in the late 20th century, early 21st century whereby it’s one of the fastest growing industries and we can see that the expansion of universities and international chains of schools, so education itself is a factor in economic exchange now and I think that needs to be explored in much more detail and is completely avoided in Piketty’s work, as Susan Robertson’s article in the same special issue focuses on.

The third area, and I think this is, again, really important is the area of inequalities, the role of education in reproducing inequalities. And I’m not just thinking about class and gender, which is a lot of the focus but also about the way education systems reproduce north south inequality, you know.

How is it that Sub Saharan Africa, for example, remains marginalized in terms of the international economy. And I would say that the role of education, education actors, the International architecture of education, delivery, and policy also plays its role in the reproduction of those inequalities. So there are different dimensions. So in a sense, Piketty importantly looks at one area, but I think that if you’re going to take education seriously, you have to look at it much more broadly.

Will Brehm:  13:21
I think it would be very interesting for listeners to hear more about how education can contribute to inequality because I think on the surface that doesn’t sit well with a lot of people, because they would see it as education is the way to achieve equality and to achieve progress.

Mario Novelli:  13:47
Yeah, that’s right. Well, I guess you know, the simplest terms, particularly if you have a Western if we’re thinking about a Western audience, is the way that education privileges some actors and undermines others, the inequality in the provision of education in my own country, in the UK, depending on your postcode, the qualities of schools are often highly differential.

The differentiation in your parents’ salary may determine what type of school you go to whether you go to a private school. So education, in that sense, acts as a filter for social class, whether you can afford a house in a nice area, a wealthy area where there are good schools, or you live in a poor area. So those dimensions, I think, reproduced himself around the world in a sense that education is often highly stratified. But there are also other dimensions of the way education reproduces inequality in terms of, for example, language.

The language issue is a big one whose language gets taught in countries and whose languages get marginalized and what is the effect of that on those that speak that marginalized language? How do they perform in schools? Do they perform less well? If so, what’s the effect of that in the long term? And then in terms of even the content, the curriculum content of schooling, let’s think about you are from a minority community in a particular country, and you’re learning about the heroes of that nation, and none of your communities are ever represented. They’re always representations from other communities, how does that make you feel? What does it lead to? So there’s a lot of ways that education can reproduce alienation. And of course, vice versa, a highly equitable, inclusive open education system may be able to smooth over some of those inequalities that are inherited through generation.

Will Brehm:  16:17
And is part of the inheriting through generations related to imperialism, as you said earlier?

Mario Novelli:  16:24
Yes, certainly, if you’re looking at, let’s take the exploration of the African curriculum, what we see is a legacy of colonial interventions into the national education system. So take a country like Kenya that inherited its education system, from years of colonial rule where there was a highly elitist education system where for the vast majority were excluded and the minority were selected to play roles in the civil service, a small elite, that model of education still carries on to reproduce a highly unequal class structure, often justified by education attainment, but actually pre-ordained through social class.

Will Brehm:  17:27
I’d like to shift gears here to look at some of your work in educational development, particularly in countries like South Sudan or Myanmar and some more of these conflict areas as you said earlier. What have you found how inequalities kind of manifest and function inside education in some of these conflict areas or countries that have experienced conflict?

Mario Novelli:  18:00
Right. Well, maybe I should take a step back. I think that development itself as a field is a highly contradictory field. On the one hand, international development has this idea within it of the rest catching up with the West. This idea that through the study of development, national ex-colonial states, postcolonial states will eventually catch up with the West. But at the same time, international development for other thinkers is a mechanism through which the chains of colonialism were the armies were replaced by new mechanisms, new chains, which with far less visible, not necessarily less powerful than the troops. And so I think that the field itself reproduces some of these dilemma wherever it goes in a sense, the question of, is international development, doing good?

And redressing some of these inequalities or actually, is it there to reproduce them in different modes in different ways. And I think that you see that all around, you know, you see, for example, in Sierra Leone, the role of the international peacekeeping community that came during the war, and after the war in the 1990s, massively increasing the cost of housing and accommodation in the central rise, forcing prices of food up as the international community intervenes in the conflict. And it’s those kinds of things, you know, some would say, the unintentional effects of intervention, which often reproduce or exacerbate inequalities and the same you can go for looking at international intervention in education systems, are they improving the system? Are they reducing inequalities? Or are they actually exacerbating those? And, you know, depending where you’re looking, you have different answers. I mean, Kenya, come back to Kenya, just because I’ve done work in there recently. And the British government defeat has been promoting low cost basic education for poor communities and private schooling for poor communities, which is it seems to be having a demonstrable negative effect on poor communities. And that’s being pushed by an international development agency in the name of doing good, but actually seems to be having devastating effects. So I think that when I teach students of international development, which I do every year, and I always kind of ask them at the beginning of the class, how they feel about entering the field of international development. And they always say, you know, we’re really pleased, we want to, you know, help in Africa, we want to help in Asia. And I say, well, I hope by the end of the course, that you feel a little bit ashamed as well. And that by the end of the course, you actually think that some of the things that have been done in the name of development are actually just as bad as some of the things that have been done in the name of war.

Will Brehm:  22:02
Is that how you feel?

Mario Novelli:  22:06
Ah yes, largely I mean, as I said, it’s a contradictory field. If I thought that it was only doing bad I wouldn’t remain inside the field. But there is a strong sense that like many other terrains, there is a battle going on, it’s the terrain of contestation, and you fight your battles inside that field, to push it in certain directions, and dependent on different social forces at different times, development moves in different directions, so take the 1980s and the global policy of structural adjustment that had an absolutely devastating effect on African and Latin American communities, massively increasing inequalities, and I don’t think anybody can say that that was a positive period.

But the reaction to that was a period of, let’s say, more social democratic approach, a range of different reforms, a range of different challenges to that model. Although I have to say that, you know, a lot of the remnants of that model still remain, particularly within some of the big institutions like the World Bank.

Will Brehm:  23:30
In your article, you say that you have to manage your existential angst when it comes to the contradictions of educational development. Do you have any tips for someone like myself, who does a little bit of work in international development as well and feel similar, conflicting kind of emotions working in that space?

Mario Novelli:  23:58
I think so. I mean, I am uncomfortable. And, you know, I’m happy to say that and I say it to everyone. But on the other hand, what I say to myself as well, in the field I work, which is on the relationship between education and conflict and violent conflict, if I didn’t engage with organizations and in the field, then I wouldn’t be able to make any commentary on it. So I kind of say that you have to, in a sense, get your hands dirty, in order to have some legitimacy in the debates that you’re entering into.

And so in a sense, I wouldn’t advocate for people not to engage, but they would engage cautiously. The second area, I think that’s important is to understand that institutions I’ve been working for UNICEF, I think, for the last seven years, more or less, most of my research time, which is about half of my time, my work time, for the last seven years, has been involved with UNICEF. And I think that what I’ve learned from that experience is that these institutions themselves are not homogenous, there are different actors, different processes going on. And in a sense, often what happens is, you get picked up by certain actors, they kind of know what they’re looking for, and pick people that think that they can deliver that. So in a sense, you get caught up in political battles that are going on in institutions, and you often get picked up and then dropped by these institutions. But I think that you can learn a lot. And I think the good thing about yourself, myself, if we’re academics, and not consultants, we’re not only as good as our last job, we have our own job to go back to, we can select, we can be a bit more selective about what we get involved in. And I think that, you know, the problem with full time consultants is that actually, they’re always looking for their next job. And so they’re always trying to please the people who are paying them. And I think that leads sometime to some complicity in the production of information and evidence. So I would say for people to engage when they engage, within a sense, real world research that they enter into that domain cautiously, and also recognize, you know, some of the constraints.

Will Brehm:  26:48
So part of this work that you’ve done kind of straddling both the researcher and the consultant practitioner in educational development is that you’ve ended up with your team, putting together a framework of trying to understand inequality and education in ways that are probably more robust and complex than those being put forward by others. Can you talk a little bit about your framework and the value that you think it has?

Mario Novelli:  27:22
Yeah, well, as you were saying, I’ve been leading or co-leading a Research Consortium between the University of Amsterdam and the University of Ulster, where we’ve been working in a range of different countries on the relationship between education and peace building. So when we came in, we had a lot of initial meetings around how would we conceptualize peace building in education, and then how would we apply that in the field to start analyzing different countries.

Now, that project began on the back of an earlier one that I did with Professor Alan Smith, between 2010 and 2012. And in that we looked at Lebanon, Nepal, and Sierra Leone, and explored the relationship between education and conflict. And through that analysis, we develop to critique of the international community’s approach to peace building. And the location of education there in which was essentially that the broad approach of the international community to peacebuilding was a kind of security first liberal peace approach. And I’ll just explain those very quickly. And essentially, the argument was that you need to have security before anything else can move forward. So you need to retrain the military, retrain the police, sort the prison system out and then the social development, education, health can come later. And this is also tied with an argument that there was a kind of process of the reconstruction of a conflict affected state that you need to have security, then democracy, then open the country to open the markets up, allow the economy to develop, and then eventually, the rest of this stuff will follow. And basically, our critique of that was that it produced a kind of negative piece, the violence stopped. But the reasons that underpin the violence often remained, and the things that underpinned that violence was often inequalities. So I remember that we went to rural villages in Sierra Leone and ask questions around, you know, 10 years after the peace process, what has peace brought? And often the response was very little. So communities largely saw little benefit from peace in terms of their material lives, their access to education, their access to water, etc. And what we argued was that that approach, while short termly successful in the long term was laying the seeds for another conflict, that they hadn’t addressed the reasons why the conflict broke out in the first place. And we see that reproduced in many parts of the world. So that’s our starting point to say that we need a more social peace building model and more health and education are important.

So from that, with the new research project that we’ve done over the last couple of years, we developed a kind of social justice plus reconciliation approach, which we called the four Rs.

We took the first three Rs from Nancy Fraser’s work on social justice: redistribution, recognition, and representation. So economic inequality, cultural inequality, and political inequality. And we also added the fourth R of reconciliation, which was basically that you needed to address the drivers of conflict, which were often economic inequality, political and cultural inequality. But after a period of war, you also need to bring communities together, you need to have process of reconciliation.

And in a sense, those are often in contradiction. On the one hand, if you want to address those inequalities, you have to upset people, you have to redress, redistribute, reorganize. If you try to reconcile people, you need to deal with the legacies of conflict, which means often bringing them together. So those four different Rs, those four different dimensions working together, provided us in a sense, with the kind of roadmap to explore different countries approaches to education, so allowed us to look at different dimensions of the education system, how much money is spent on the education system? Where does it go? How is it distributed? Who gets what, where? Why don’t others get more? It also allows us to look at recognition which cultures are rarified, which languages which histories which communities are marginalized. It allows us to ask about representation, political issues, who gets to make decisions about issues in the education system that affect them? Who are marginalized and excluded from those decisions? And then finally, what is the education system doing in terms of reconciliation in terms of bringing communities back together after war? Is the school an obstacle to that process of reconciliation or a facilitator for that? So we looked at those different dimensions, and then produced a range of Country Reports around that looking at different aspects of them. And, you know, all kind of heuristic approaches have their limitations. But I think that it’s had some important policy effects. It has been taken up by a range of different national governments, I’m thinking South Sudan and South Africa, in particular. So you know, I’m pretty pleased with that.

Will Brehm:  33:55
One of your critiques about Thomas Piketty earlier was that he focused on empiricism. And in a sense, he wasn’t taking a critical realist approach about trying to realize that there are, there’s a social ontology more than empiricism. So some things we can’t see that that are important, or structures that exist that determine behavior and action that can’t necessarily be seen. How does your framework include a critical realist perspective?

Mario Novelli:  34:34
Well, I mean, I think that that framework, the four R’s is only a beginning, in a sense that all it is this kind of coat hangers to hang different dimensions of injustices and inequalities on what matters then is how you theorize and understand the underpinnings of those inequalities. Yeah, how did they emerge? What are their drivers, and I think that’s why in the sociology paper that you talk about on Piketty, I’ve tried to talk about the interaction between capitalism, imperialism and modernity and the complex and into weaved ways that these three phenomena intersect to reproduce those inequalities.

Will Brehm:  35:29
Well, Mario Novelli, thank you so much for joining Fresh Ed. It was really wonderful to talk on so many different topics.

Mario Novelli:  35:35
Thank you very much for inviting me.

Will Brehm:  1:58
Mario Novelli,欢迎你做客FreshEd

Mario Novelli: 2:01
感谢邀请,乐意之至!

Will Brehm:  2:03
针对法国经济学家托马斯·皮凯蒂(Thomas Piketty)于2013年的著作《21世纪资本论》,《英国教育社会学杂志》出了一期特刊。作为特刊的撰稿人之一,可否总结一下皮凯蒂在《21世纪资本论》中的主要论点,以及它有何特殊之处会使得一本教育期刊专门出特辑讨论呢?

Mario Novelli:  2:33
好的。皮凯蒂的书是一部很重要的著作,他主要研究过去200到220年间不断加剧的不平等现象。
传统经济学认为随着资本主义的发展,国家的繁荣,不平等程度会随之降低。皮凯蒂指出事实上恰恰相反。他强调,除了一战和二战期间曾短暂缩小外,不平等现象正不断加剧,而这种趋势恰恰印证了一条经济学原理,那就是私人财富,即继承财富的增长速度远超生产性投资或整体经济增长。
从长远来看,不平等程度将进一步增加。我认为,这将会对教育产生很大影响,尤其是教育在不平等再生产的问题和消除不平等方面起到了许多作用,甚至在某种意义上扮演了社会平衡的角色。我们觉得有很多维度值得在这本特刊里讨论。而我的重点主要关注教育与冲突之间的关系,因此我深入研究了那一领域。

Will Brehm:  4:11
在讨论您的研究之前,我想先请教一下,你在研究过程中发现皮凯蒂的观点有何不足之处吗?

Mario Novelli:  4:28
我得说这是一本非常出色、非常重要的书。虽然很长,但通俗易懂。而且皮凯蒂提出了很多关于不平等问题的重要观点。多年来,在传统经济学家看来,不平等都不是什么大问题,似乎只是经济发展过程中自然而然的一部分。

但还是有很多值得推敲的地方。首先,皮凯蒂是名经济学家,虽然比大多数新古典经济学家要开放一些,但他的重点仍然放在了经济领域和贫富差距上,在我看来虽然重要,但还不够充分。如果我们回溯过去70年来反抗不平等的民众运动,就会发现,财富上的不平等虽然很关键,但也只是其中一个领域。除此之外,我们还需要探究其他领域上是否存在不平等,例如文化上的、政治上的、民族上的,以及这些不平等对性别、身份、政治权利、人权等方面的影响。因此,我们不能局限于狭隘的经济主义去讨论不平等,还有许多更有深度的角度。

第二点不足之处和皮凯蒂的实证主义主张有关,他很重视可量化的数字和证据。而我认为,并不是所有重要的都可被测量,而可被测量的并不一定都很重要。因此我更相信理论的重要性,因为理论能帮助我们透过现象看本质,深入到无形事物的表面之下,例如不平等的结构、社会阶层、种族主义等等,这些是传统的、可量化的实证主义未必能触及的存在。

我个人认为,皮凯蒂这本书的第三点不足或疏漏是他没有讨论到帝国主义问题、南北关系问题、奴隶制问题,以及资本主义发展进程中的殖民主义的历史。在他看来资本主义发展是遵循经济规律的产物,但实际上我们知道,资本主义同时也是通过征服和殖民的方式发展起来的。

Will Brehm:  7:03
听起来皮凯蒂似乎忽视了社会和文化现象上的、更复杂的不平等问题。那他在书中提到教育问题了吗?是如何提及的呢?

Mario Novelli:  8:07
皮凯蒂将教育视作一种可以带动增长,同时还可以潜移默化地促进公平,缩小贫富差距的引擎。作为一名经济学家,他有这样的想法并不足为奇,这正体现了他对“人力资本假说”的理解,即教育投资不仅能提高个人财富,同时也有利于国家财富的增长。当然,这一观点并不被看好,包括皮凯蒂本人也在书里对人力资本理论的相关性表示质疑。因为,从根本而言,他主张遗产资本和债务资本的生产力要比经济增长和生产资本更高,因此教育投资未必能收获所期望的回报。即使是人力资本理论,目前在资本主义发展的根本属性上也依然存在问题。总而言之,皮凯蒂真正研究视阈是经济发展中的教育回报问题。

Will Brehm:  9:33
如果人力资本理论无法解释,那么还可以用什么来解释教育和资本主义之间的关系呢?

Mario Novelli:  9:42
需要澄清的是,人力资本是一方面,我并不否认其重要性,但教育和资本主义之间的关系要复杂得多。首先,我想引用一下罗杰·戴尔(Roger Dale)的观点,他于上世纪70年代发表的《教育与资本主义国家》一文中反思了教育与资本积累的关系(即人力资本)、教育与社会凝聚力的关系(即教育系统能否起到使不同人群和谐相处的作用),以及教育与合法性的关系(即教育使学生接受他们所处地位与社会现状)。所以,从某种意义上说,教育具有正当合法、凝聚社会和积累资本的作用。罗杰一直表示这三点未必能兼得。比如,如果强调资本积累,那么社会凝聚力可能会因为择优性而受损。如果过分强调合法性,那么资本积累和社会凝聚力也会被削弱。这其中有很多重矛盾。这是我认为第一个值得回顾的重要观点。

第二点是一种比较新的现象,即在自我投资和生产方面,或者说教育在经济增产中的作用不仅是人力资本,而是成为一种重要的商品形式。自20世纪末至21世纪初,教育是发展最快的行业之一,大学和国际学校不断扩张。因此如今,教育本身也变成了经济交换的一种形式。这一点需要更加深入仔细的研究,但正如我们的特刊中苏珊·罗伯森(Susan Robertson)强调的,皮凯蒂的书里完全忽略这一点。

第三点同样非常重要的是不平等领域,即教育在不平等再生产方面的作用。我指的不仅是已有广泛关注的阶级和性别不平等,还有发达国家与发展中国家间的不平等。例如,为什么撒哈拉沙漠以南的非洲地区会在国际经济中处于边缘位置,我认为教育本身、教育从业者、国际教育架构、授课方式和政策等各种不同因素都在不平等再生产中发挥了作用。因而从某种意义上而言,皮凯蒂只观察到其中一个方面。但我认为,要认真对待教育只有从更广泛的角度入手才行。

Will Brehm:  13:21
我觉得大多数人认为教育可以实现平等和进步,所以对于教育反而加剧不平等这一观点,听众朋友们乍一听或许会不太认同,但这是一个很有意思的话题,可否再多解释一下?

Mario Novelli:  13:47
的确如此。假设你是一位来自西方国家的听众,用最简单的话来说,教育会使得某些人享有特权,而其他人的权益则会受到损害。比如,在我自己的国家英国,教育供给是很不均衡的,不同地区的学校在质量上有天壤之别。而父母的收入可能决定了孩子可以就读何种类型的学校,是否能上得起私立学校。如果有能力在高档的富人区买房,那么就能上好的学校,反之在贫穷的地区教育质量也不会太好。因此,在这个层面上,教育充当了社会阶层过滤器的角色。

我认为,现在世界范围内,不论从什么层面,教育都是在高度分化的。另一个教育加剧不平等的层面就是语言。语言是一个很复杂的问题,国家课程里教什么语言,哪些语言被边缘化了,对那些使用边缘化语言的人群有什么影响,他们在学校表现如何,是否表现不太好,长此以往又有何影响?还有例如课程内容也会加剧不平等。试想一个来自少数族群的学生,学习自己国家历史时发现没有一个自己民族的英雄,都是其他民族的人物,这个学生该如何做想,会产生什么后果?总而言之,教育的异化方式有很多。当然,反之,一个高度平等、包容和开放的教育系统也许会缓和这些代代相传的不平等。

Will Brehm:  16:17
这种代代相传的不平等和你之前提到的帝国主义有关吗?

Mario Novelli:  16:24
这是肯定的,研究过非洲国家的课程体系就会知道,很多国家教育系统中都有殖民干涉的痕迹。拿肯尼亚举例,多年被殖民统治的历史使得其发展出一套高度精英化的教育体系,旨在将大多数人排除在外,只有少部分精英被挑选出来进入政府部门。这种教育模式进一步再生产了高度不平等的社会结构,看似公正的学历制度其实早就由社会阶层决定好了。

Will Brehm:  17:27
你之前提到你的研究方向是教育发展与冲突,那接下来可以谈谈你在教育发展方面的成果吗?尤其是在像南苏丹、缅甸这样的冲突地区。你认为在这些冲突不断的国家和地区,不平等是如何在教育中体现和发挥作用的呢?

Mario Novelli:  18:00
首先退一步讲,发展作为一个研究领域本身是一个非常矛盾的。一方面,国际发展中内含的一个思想就是世界上其他国家要向西方看齐。在这种思想指导下的研究认为,前、后殖民地的民族国家最终都能追赶上西方。但同时另一方面,也有人认为国际发展是一种新型的殖民主义,新的机制,新的“食物链”取代了过去军事力量的殖民,虽然不太明显,但威力不减。因此,这一领域本身就陷入囹圄,让人不禁发问,国际发展真的是对的吗?它到底是帮助消灭了国家间的不平等,还是变相地加剧了这些不平等?例如塞拉利昂,1991年爆发内乱后,国际社会的介入,维和部队的驻扎,使得粮食和房屋价格大幅上涨。诸如此类的事情屡见不鲜,这些影响虽说是无意中造成的,却往往复制和加剧了不平等的程度。

同样,国际社会对教育系统的干预是有利还是有弊?不平等到底是缩小了,还是扩大了?关于这一点,不同国家的情况还不尽相同。再拿我最近在研究的肯尼亚举例,自从脱离英国殖民统治后,在国际发展组织出于善意的推动下,肯尼亚致力于推行针对贫困社区的低成本基础教育和私立学校建设,然而这对贫困人口有着显著的负面影响和毁灭性打击。

每年教国际发展课的时候,我都会在课程开始前问学生们一个问题:“你们对于进入国际发展领域有何感想?”有学生说很开心,有人想要帮助非洲,还有人想帮助亚洲。而我告诉他们:“希望在课程结束的时候,你们会一点点惭愧。一些你们以为冠着发展的名头做的事,实际上和战争做的事一样糟糕!”

Will Brehm:  22:02
这是你的感想吗?

Mario Novelli:  22:06
很大程度上我是这么想的。不过就像我前面说过,国际发展是一个矛盾的领域。如果只有不好的一面,我就不会还继续留在这里了。我有种强烈的感觉,和很多其他学科一样,这各领域内正在进行着一场战斗,不同力量间彼此对垒、各自为战。随着不同时期的不同社会力量,发展也朝着不同方向移动。例如上世纪80年代的全球结构性调整政策,对拉丁美洲和非洲国家带来沉重打击,大大增加了不平等,我敢说没有人认为那是一个积极的时期。但也不可否认的是,这一模式也带来更多的社会民主,各种各样的改革,以及不同的反思和挑战。然而,我不得不说,这种模式仍然可以在一些大型组织,例如世界银行的做法中能经常看到。

Will Brehm:  23:30
你在文章中提到,每当遇到教育发展的矛盾时,你都必须要管理自己的焦虑情绪。我自己有时也会做一点关于国际发展的工作,也有这种类似的矛盾情绪。对于像我这样的研究者,你有什么建议吗?

Mario Novelli:  23:58
我同样感觉不是很自在,而且我很乐意告诉别人这一点。但另一方面,我也告诉自己,要想进行教育和暴力冲突之间关系的相关研究,就要不怕“弄脏手”。如果不参加那些组织,不与他们交流,是不能往下评价的。只有真正进入了这一领域,才有资格讨论。所以第一点,我不会劝阻他们,而是希望他们要慎重。

第二点我认为很重要的是要理解你所在的机构。我在过去七年时间里都是在联合国儿童基金会(UNICEF)工作,几乎投入了我全部的研究时间,占所有工作的一半左右。我从这段经历里发现,并不是所有机构都是一样的,不同的机构扮演的角色不同,过程也有所差异。经常发生的是,你可能会被某个组织选中,他们知道自己要的是什么,因而选出他们认为可以实现这一目标的人。从某种意义上而言,你就陷入了机构的政治斗争中去了。他们可能选中你,也可能放弃你。这中间有很多值得学习的地方。

而像我们这些研究者有一点好,那就是我们是学者,不是顾问,所以不用受限于要不断在工作上保持优异的表现,因为我们可以回归自己的本职工作,这就给了我们一些选择的空间,我们能挑选哪些工作是我们想做的。而全职顾问的难处在于,他们永远要寻找下一份工作,因此他们就要努力取悦付给他们薪水的人。这会使信息和证据的可靠性变得复杂起来。总而言之,对于想要踏入真实世界的研究者来说,我建议要小心谨慎、认清局限。

Will Brehm:  26:48
你既以一个研究者的身份,同时也是一名从事教育发展顾问事业的实践者。你和你的团队提出了一个更强大而复杂理论框架,来解释不公平和教育。你可否介绍一下这个框架,以及它的价值吗?

Mario Novelli:  27:22
就像你说的,我率领着一个阿姆斯特丹大学和阿尔斯特大学合作的研究联盟,是共同负责人之一,我们的联盟致力于研究各个国家的教育与和平建设的关系。所以在项目启动时,我们开了很多次初步会议,讨论应该如何构架“教育中的和平建设”这一概念,以及如果将其运用到不同国家的分析中去。

这次的研究联盟是基于我和阿兰·史密斯教授的一个早期项目。2010年到2012年间,我们调查了黎巴嫩、尼泊尔和塞拉利昂,研究教育与冲突的关系。通过那次调研分析,我们对国际社会现有的和平建设方法进行了批判。而与教育相关的研究基本上也遵循了这种以安全优先的自由主义和平的方式。我简单解释一下。这种方式主要是说安全是其他一切的前提,因此需要重新训练军队和警察,梳理监狱体系,在此基础上才开始社会发展,教育和医疗卫生等建设。与其相关的观点是受冲突影响的国家重建有一个过程,首先必须保证安全,其次是民主,然后要有开放的市场环境允许经济发展,最后才到其他方面。

我们认为这种方式有其消极的一面,即虽然暴力冲突停止了,但是造成暴力的原因依然存在,这个原因往往就是不平等。我记得在塞拉利昂农村,我们和当地人交流的时候,问他们十年和平都带来了什么变化,通常得到的答案却是没什么。大部分人并不认为和平在提高生活水平、增加教育机会和获取水资源等方面有积极作用。所以,我们认为短期内这种方式是成功的,但长期来看却会导致另一种冲突,世界各地都有类似的例子证明了这一点。因此,需要一个更加社会化的和平建设模式,更加重视教育和卫生,这是我们的出发点。

我们这个新的研究项目就着眼于此,在过去两年中,我们开辟了一种社会正义与和谐的途径,称之为“4R”。其中,三个R来自南希·弗雷泽对社会正义的研究,即再分配(Redistribution)、认可(Recognition)和代表(Representation),分别对应了财富不平等、文化不平等和政治不平等。第四个R是调和(Reconciliation),这是解决以上三个冲突成因的关键。因为战争结束后,要想把不同人群凝聚在一起,就需要有调和的过程。这中间往往存在着矛盾,一方面,如果要解决不平等问题,就需要重新调整、重新分配、重新组织,会惹恼一部分人;而如果要使人们握手言和,就必须解决冲突的遗留问题。

我们的4R框架首先可以将四个不同方面整合起来,可从多维度探索不同国家的教育体系。例如,财政在教育方面的支出有多少?都用在什么方面?是如何分配的?谁得到了什么?在哪里?为什么其他人没有?其次,这个框架还能帮我们认出已经稀释化的文化,以及被边缘化的语言、历史和人群等。第三,它还涉及政治和代表问题,例如谁掌握了教育系统的决策权?谁被边缘化或隔绝在外?最后,它还能探索教育系统对战后的国家团结的作用,学校会阻碍还是促进这一调和过程?研究了这些不同方面后,我们生成了一系列相应的国家报告。当然,凡是启发式方法都有局限性,但我认为我们的成果还是对政策制定起到了一定的重要作用,有很多国家采纳了我们的报告,尤其是南苏丹和南非。对此我非常高兴!

Will Brehm:  33:55
你之前指出托马斯·皮凯蒂的不足之一就是他的实证主义主张,也就是说他没有采用批判现实主义的方法,未能意识到在实证之下还有社会本体的存在,这产生的问题就是,我们无法观察到一些重要的东西,比如决定人们行为的某些现存结构。那你的4R框架是如何涵盖批判现实主义角度的呢?

Mario Novelli:  34:34
我们的框架仅仅是一个开始,就像是一个衣架,上面挂着各种研究不正义和不公平的方式,然后更重要的是形成相关理论来理解这些不公平背后的基础。例如,不平等是如何出现的?有哪些推动力量?这也是为什么在之前谈到的那篇关于皮凯蒂的社会学论文里,我试图阐释资本主义、帝国主义和现代主义之间的相互作用,以及这三种错综复杂交织在一起的现象是如何再现不平等的。

Will Brehm: 35:29
Mario Novelli,很高兴能聊到这么多的话题,感谢你的分享!

Mario Novelli: 35:35
感谢邀请,也是我的荣幸!

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