Covid-19 and the climate crisis show that people ‘no longer understand the world’. After a human history that, despite many setbacks, was characterized by social and technical progress, we now stand either intelligently in despair or stupidly in denial of and watch the Amazon burning and the polar ice caps melting. Are our intellectual instruments, our education, no longer operational?

You are right: our world has become more complex and more dynamic, while we humans have become despite new technological possibilities, global networking and the accumulation of knowledge constantly, everywhere, and available free of charge. We have not adapted at the same speed as our educational ideals. That’s why I think it’s important to rethink education altogether! With less focus on the past and its great thinkers but with a much stronger focus on the challenges of the future. I’m thinking, for example, of the relationship between man and machine, climate change and machine, climate change and technological disruption not to mention the constant nuclear threat.

We should understand that we are in the middle of the Anthropocene, the age in which we humans have had an exponential impact on the earth’s natural processes . . . on the natural processes of the earth. The human factor determines the future of the world! However, there are people who, instead of education, rather rely on simplification and thus have become quite popular or populist.

To regard the world as an inter-locking or interconnected and mutually ecosystems is still not a generally accepted view. This is because we humans can never fully understand the complexity and interrelationships in their entirety. This is what makes it so easy. What we can understand, however, is that all our actions trigger external effects, for example, in economic, environmental and social dimensions. So they are also right in their assumptions that education as we think of it today is not pursuing the right ideal, is not efficient, so to speak. Education today is aimed at preparing us for a later working life, if possible, instead of providing us with holistic skills in the areas of (1) decision-making skills, (2) personality development, and (3) self-efficacy.

Do you have an example to better understand?

Let’s take as an example the climate change you outlined as one of the key challenges of the 21st century. National solo efforts will not bring about a solution but only global cooperation, because climate change does not stop at national borders. The ability to cooperate is still neglected in our current educational ideals. Unfortunately, we still think in terms of competitive and locational advantages instead of working with other players to work on common solutions. The positive attitude towards cooperation must be firmly anchored in the educational ideal!

Sounds like a long way to go. Confucius says that even such a long road begins with a first step. And what direction would this first step take us, then?

During my time as a development aid worker in Cameroon, I heard a saying that impressed me: ‘If you want to go fast, go fast. If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together’. I hope that we humans will be able to spend a few more years on this planet, so we need to learn to work together. Specifically, I recommend taking the momentum of change from the Covid-19 pandemic by charging our purist-knowledge society with diversity. You think of it as a mixing console where the DJ has turned up a knob to the maximum. It sounds awful! That’s also what our current educational sound is like. We focus far too much on replicating knowledge but neglect educational diversity in other dimensions, such as skill or heart education. Capability education encompasses the predominantly haptic topics and the learning of procedural models, while heart education focuses on emotional aspects, such as dealing with fear.

Fear, however, can increase through education. The complexity around us, the finite nature, the finiteness, the powerlessness in the face of the tasks can lead to downright rigidity.

Yes, I see it that way too. That’s why education of the heart is so important to me. But when I speak of heart formation, I don’t mean knowledge but experiencing and feeling. That is the difference; that’s how we learn to deal with our fears better. We all know the feeling of fear, and to train students to handle it with self-experience seems to be mandatory. But your question has a second component: It is important to cut the topics into manageable units. That is the core element of a representative democracy. I have to assume that our Foreign Ministry is more intensively involved with the Syrian conflict than I am. Therefore, I have to trust the elected officials in my stead to make the best decisions the feeling that an elected representative of the people is representing my interests in a parliament. Unfortunately, many people no longer have this feeling, and that is a reason for the strengthening of protest parties and populists.

Heart education, a term that is easy to ponder, as a vaccine against populism sounds charming. But many of the problems we face today, such as climate change, also require scientific knowledge.

To understand the challenges of understanding climate change, we can use an analogy: If you go to a doctor and get a flu shot, you immediately feel the pain. You perceive the pain immediately. You immediately feel that something is happening. Or when you pay 5€ at the bakery, you immediately notice in your wallet that you have become ‘poorer’. With climate change, it is different. You notice only much later, maybe not even at all, the consequences of your current actions or of living in the city. For example, in the case of lung disease due to decades of inhaling fine dust. That is why we must therefore be sensitive to the powerlessness we feel and learn to tell stories that can be experienced as far as possible. We must begin to connote change positively instead of negatively. Because we know from behavioural research that a large proportion of all human decisions are made emotionally, not rationally, and that short-term effects are valued more highly than long-term effects. Sure, the injection hurts immediately the lung disease only in a very abstract future.

In order to understand the world better, are facts and a scientific view no longer sufficient?

Not alone; we also have to work on our attitude formation, for example. This will be of decisive importance, because attitude formation should be about understanding one’s own role in the world better. Being white or having a German passport means something; we can travel more or less everywhere without having to fear restrictions. Unfortunately this is not the case for my friends from Cameroon. Therefore, the first step must lead towards a pluralistic understanding of education. This creates awareness and tolerance at a social level. The next step is to charge the classic educational institutions with flanking elements.

Do you have any examples of this? Let’s take foreign-language learning, for example. It can be forced through immersion. Immersion means learning a language without translations (i.e., thinking in the other language). To this end, we could pilot global digital language classes in which students of different nationalities learn Spanish together, for example. Or to take a completely different, perhaps surprising example, sports clubs could also be seen as educational institutions. Today, many sports clubs are chronically underfunded. We could train sports coaches better and also make contribution rates affordable. Because in sports you learn a great deal, for example, about team play and team structure.

If we make learning an everyday task in this way, we then also have to structurally change society and the economy?

Of course. We set the rules. Imagine that you are a rook on a chessboard. The rules tell you that you can only move in certain directions. And the rook is still privileged compared to the pawns. Many people feel more like pawns in our system. But instead of accepting the system, we should be continuously working on an improvement. That’s where looking to New Zealand helps us. Prime Minister Jacinda Arden incidentally, the first head of state to have a child during her tenure presented in May 2019 the first Wellbeing Budget. Among other things, it directly addresses child poverty, inequality and climate change. I think that’s right.

Florian Schreitter Ritter Von Schwarzenfeld
Vice President Strategy
Thomsen Group