• Stephen Raab

An enlightenment in dark times or global education as a vision for beyond Covid

By Stephan Raab

Maybe the most useless gift for Christmas last year might have been a planner for 2020. Something no superpower, no superweapon has every accomplished, a tiny little virus, that can not even be considered a living being, made possible, giving the world a year to stand still. Yet, what is to be learned from that year? Here is a conclusion between diplomacy and pedagogy.

Picture Licensed by Stephan Raab

Every crisis is a chance to learn

“We are all citizens of one world, we are all of one blood. To hate people because they were born in another country, because they speak a different language, or because they take a different view on this subject or that, is a great folly!” What might sound like a contemporary part of a peacebuilding mission was stated by Johann Amos Comenius during the 30years war. The life of the Bohemian Protestants (1592-1670) was everything but easy. In the year 1622, he lost his wife and sons to the pest as his whole library to ransacking burning his house. Having suffered hardship, being forced to flee several times still, this pedagogic had one simple dream. What he termed “Pampadeia”, that was the idea to improve human conditions, end suffering by educating all people about everything, including girls and boys, rich and poor likewise[1].

Based on that ambitious goal, Comenius published the first illustrated known schoolbook in the history of educational studies, called “Orbis sensualist pictus[2]”, still used by authors as Goethe. Today this pioneer is remembered by the Comenius Prize, awarded by the European Commission to “schools and teachers for their creative efforts in teaching about the European Union and its values.” A special focus here is set on European integration as a project of peace[3].

What sounds self-explanatory today, that was and probably still is everything than given. Suddenly at the end of the 15th century, this period could be considered as a time of disruption. Suddenly the old tenets of the religious order were put into question. New discoveries such as Magellan or Columbus, new insights such as Galileo or Hobbes triggered a new interest of mankind becoming curious about themselves, starting to question who they are[4].

Probably, nevertheless, the most striking conclusion of that time was that mankind became aware of being responsible for its own fate and progress through more sophisticated education[5]. Before that, for centuries a life of a peasant in the 12th century was not different from the 14th one, as the “natural order” was determined by a celestial cosmic order legitimized by religion.

Global Education for Global Citizens

Habe Mut dich deines eigenen Verstandes zu bedienen!“ (Be brave to think!), the German philosopher Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) postulated for this new period of thinking. The age of enlightenment can be considered as the first period of globalization for the better and the worse. Navigators were crossing oceans, trading posts were set up and colonial empires began to thrive. Simultaneously people started to demand more rights culminating in the French Revolution or the Declaration of Independence by the first modern democracy, the United States of America. Human Rights, such as life liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, were declared as universal. Obviously, slavery still existed, denying people from making use of their rights. Colonialism was and might be still a topic, that should not be denied when talking about this period of time. Although already the bishop Bartolome de las Casas (1484-1566) condemned slavery as a crime against humanity, contradicting the universal validity of equality of human beings.

However, democracy and human rights did not just happen naturally. Those had to be learned by hard lessons of history, with one of my favorite teachers among them, Alexander (1769-1859) and Wilhelm (1767-1835) von Humboldt. Meanwhile, Alexander is known for his discoveries, most famous the expedition through South America, Wilhelm was responsible for establishing a modern educational system in the upcoming kingdom of Prussia. Together they developed the so-called “Humboldt´sches Bildungsideal” (Humboldt´s Ideal of Education). This concept is based on three pillars:

Individualism: Education has the purpose to fledge a personality, that is unique and original.

Totality: Education should appeal to all senses and emotions of the students to learn.

Universality: Education should cover a comprehensive range of topics and subjects.

Furthermore, the Humboldt brothers, both from a noble background, promoted the concept of “education for all”, empowering everyone, disregarding the ancestry, to become a global citizen, equipped with all the essential knowledge tools to become the master of the own fate[6].

Today this concept of education for becoming a global citizen is known as global education. “Global education is education that opens people’s eyes and minds to the realities of the globalized world and awakens them to bring about a world of greater justice, equity and Human Rights for all,” as defined by the Maastricht Declaration on global education in 2002[7]. Following that concept, the North-South Center run by the European Council in Lisbon is based on that goal, to foster dialogue for mutual learning, strengthen partnerships for bringing diverse actors together as eventually promoting awareness for mutual global solidarity[8].

Public Diplomacy and Pedagogy an old new partnership

“There has never been a good diplomat who was a bad communicator or said in other words the daily business of diplomacy is to walk the talks (Jönson; Hall 2013: 67[9]). Talking about global education, pedagogy is not far from diplomacy. Either diplomat or pedagogist both need the skill of how to communicate. Diplomacy serves three functions, to represent (a certain state, institution), to communicate (a certain topic) as to negotiate (convincing a certain interest)[10]. But how does something so big as the relations between global actors refer to something as tiny as the relationship between teacher and student? This question shall be put as an incentive for the reader to think. Nevertheless, similar to a diplomat a teacher or educationist poses as a representative of a certain institution such as f.e. a school. Furthermore, dealing with the curriculum his or her task is to communicate a certain topic. Eventually, the interest of the teacher has to correspond to the interest of the student to learn.

Especially a new kind of diplomacy, public diplomacy, requires learning more diplomatic skills. Often the concept of public diplomacy is misleadingly confounded with propaganda. “Propaganda is about dictating your message to an audience and persuading them you are right. Public Diplomacy is about listening to the other side and working to develop a relationship of mutual understanding” (Cull 2019:1)[11]. However, this is not about states anymore as other actors such as NGOs, cities, or transnational corporations have become global actors, eager to take part in setting up the global agenda, taking part in diplomatic discourses.

Public Diplomacy has gained clout during the last years as public opinion becomes more important, or as public diplomacy analyst Simon Arnholt explained: “There is only one superpower on the planet. That is the superpower of public opinion.” [12] In his book “Public Diplomacy: Foundations for global engagement in the digital age” the author Nicolas Cull elaborates on how public diplomacy is about how a country is seen and would like to be seen.

Education”, as the German pedagogist Alfred Treml once defined,” is always about predicting and preparing the future” (Treml 1987:9)[13], just as diplomacy is needed to shape it peacefully.

Talking about problems without a Passport

What has become obvious so far, diplomacy is about dialogue. Facing globalization, the topics to be discussed have become more global, with no country alone being able to solve those. Once the former UN Secretary-General Kofi Anan termed them, “problems without a passport[14], most prominent currently probably the topic of climate change. As Cull elaborates on that, public diplomacy is about states providing their particular proposal on how to solve those problems. Simultaneously the German educationist and lecturer Wolfgang Klafki (1927-2016), described the so-called “epochale Schlüsselprobleme” (epocal key issues), where every kind of pedagogy and learning should be oriented to. Those are issues, that affect each and everyone locally as the whole globe. According to his list, those key issues are Peace, Environment, Societal Inequality, Technological Change a Democracy, and the search for happiness. Every educational program should use a method of examples, asking the following questions. What does the example stand for now? What is the meaning for the student? What does the example itself stand for as what will the meaning be in the future? [15] Put in other words, the goal is to make students and lecturers likewise think and get aware how their daily life is affected by that.

This comes along with the concept of “knowledge diplomacy”. Knowledge diplomacy is not about ‘the production of knowledge’, nor is knowledge diplomacy ‘an end unto itself’. Instead, it is a ‘means to an end’, with one outcome being the ability to help address the pressing global issues facing our planet that cannot be addressed by using the higher education, knowledge, and innovation resources of one nation alone” (Knight 2018:8)[16]. Examples of this might be the Erasmus Programme, the Fulbright Programme as the Erasmus Mundus academic program.

Regarding problems without a passport the European Union has conceived their own proposal, presenting the “European Skills Agenda for sustainable competitiveness, social fairness and resilience[17]”. The agenda puts forward 12 individual initiatives to prepare European Citizens for becoming global citizens making a living in a sustainable way empowering for lifelong learning. Furthermore, a new initiative comes up with setting up a European Agency for Political Education, as it exists in Germany and Austria[18]. The goal is to foster understanding and support for democracy and European dialogue. That shall be reached through providing educational material available for every citizen. This comes along with the old principle of political education in Western democracy, where the pedagogist Oskar Negt declared: “Democracy is a way of life, that does not occur on its own, yet has to be learned” (Negt 2002:174)[19].

Towards a new age of enlightenment

„Three things give the student the possibility of surpassing his teacher: ask a lot of questions, remember the answers, teach!”, is another recommendation by Comenius. Probably the most urging question will be: What comes after Covid and what shall be learned out of that crisis?

Some might be looking forward to the “old normalcy” after having experienced the new one. However, should the conclusion of this one year of reflection really be just getting back to daily business? The Covid unintentionally, if it is even possible to call it like that, revealed, we are living in a global society, facing global interconnectedness as global issues, which might be only addressed by a global response and responsibility. Once the age of enlightenment concluded that mankind will be responsible for their future, requiring an educational system, that empowers every member of mankind for being able to respond. The mission of the educators and philosophers at that time was to elucidate against superstition and supremacy. Today, things are not that different facing rising issues of fake news and conspiracy theories. Societies seem to be split into winners and losers of globalization based on the principle of inexhaustible growth on the expenses of people and the planet likewise. “Come On”, as the Club of Rome asked in 2018. “Our economic growth paradigm must be overhauled. We are in need of a New Enlightenment for the Full World. Balance stands at the core of the New Enlightenment. The balance between humans and nature, between short and long term, between market forces and the rule setting state, between private consumption and public goods, between justice and rewards for excellence, between speed and stability.[20]

The lesson to be learned: Be stupid or be ready to be surprised!

Maybe the conclusion to be learned or still to be learned can be found in what Riel Miller termed “futures literacy”, establishing a like-minded branch at UNESCO. “Futures Literacy is a capability. It is the skill that allows people to better understand the role that the future plays in what they see and do. People can become more skilled at ‘using-the-future’, more ‘futures literate’, because of two facts. One is that the future does not yet exist, it can only be imagined. Two is that humans have the ability to imagine. As a result, humans are able to learn to imagine the future for different reasons and in different ways.’[21]

Nobody can say for sure, what the future will bring, yet what shall be learned from this year? Every crisis is a chance to learn and discover something. What might be needed is, what the Italian psychologist Vittorino Andreoli calling homo sapiens a homo stupidus stupidus[22], being stupid as he laments, we would have lost the ability to be amazed (in Italian stupore). Maybe the lesson to be learned should be, that we should be more stupid for being creative facing the future, as global challenges should not be considered as something to be powerless afraid of but brave and wise to respond to those challenges. However, many ideas require diplomacy to bring those ideas together and pedagogy for encouraging mutual learning from each other, or as John Stuart Mill said: “He, who knows only his one side of the case knows little of that!”


[1] For more information on the biography of Johann Amos Comenius please refer to https://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Comenius [2] Comenius, Johan Amos (1708): Orbis senusalium pictus ; available at http://real-r.mtak.hu/624/ [3] European Commission (08.05.2020): Learning about the European Union – 22 schools awarded the Jan Amos Comenius Prize; available at https://ec.europa.eu/education/news/jan-amos-comenius-prize-winners-announced_en [4] Fukuyama, Francis (2018): Identity; Profile Books; London. [5] Raab, Stephan (26.01.2017): Morgen war alles anders; in: Backview; available at http://backview.eu/geschichte-der-zukunft/