Nothing short of a human revolution would be an appropriate response to the depths of the multiple crises humanity faces today, writes Mamphela Ramphele, the co-president of the Club of Rome.
I would like us to take a leaf from ancient wisdom: when in deep trouble, go back to the beginning. Humanity is being called to go back to ask the fundamental questions of what it means to be human. How do we relearn how to be true to the essence of our humanity?
What is the role and place of education in its original meaning – “leading out or bringing forth that which lives within individual human beings, and nourishing the unique and unfathomable possibilities that each individual introduces in the world”?
Essence of human beings
Africa as the cradle of humanity and of the first human civilisation, understood that human beings are relational beings. Ubuntu, Omenala and similar expressions in African languages capture the essence of being human. We are inextricably interconnected and interdependent within the cycle of life.
Our ancestors also understood the critical importance of nourishing the unique unfathomable possibilities of each person in mind, body and spirit to ensure that each can contribute appropriately to the common good.
Education as framed above was understood to be a holistic teaching and learning process integrated into every aspect of life, and channeled across generations to bring out the best in each person. Thought leaders, who were also spiritual leaders, guided societies to live out their full potentialities and manifest the core values of Ubuntu in all they do.
Achieving human revolution
The reinvention of higher education you seek is nothing short of a human revolution that Aurelio Peccei, the founder of the Club of Rome, and Daisaku Ikeda, the president of Soka Gakkai International (Buddhist Institute), spoke of in their 1984 book, Before it is Too Late: “When the human revolution is achieved in the inner and outer beings of more and more people, human relations and relations between (hu)man and Nature will be harmonious. This will provide a reliable basis for the solution of the grave problems – environmental pollution, war, exhaustion of natural resources, and so on – facing humankind now.”
Our higher education systems today reflect the fragmentation in our lives as humans that masquerades as specialisation. Our reliance on technology to substitute for our failures to confront the chasm between what we know needs to be done, and our actions or inactions that reflect business as usual approaches.
Reinvating higher education
Higher education is in many ways disconnected from the everyday lives of the majority of people in our world. Higher education is significantly captured by elites.
Elites deploy their enormous financial resources to fund technological innovations that are valuable to enabling us to meet human needs.
Sadly, the benefits of many innovations tend to be biased towards the promotion of the enrichment of a few at the expense of many. Inconvenient truths about ecological damage that threaten the very existence of Mother Earth continue to be ignored or marginalised in the pursuit of prosperity for the least number of people.
So how do we go about reinventing higher education systems that lead forth that which lives within each human being, and unleash the unfathomable possibilities each can introduce into the world? The good news is that ‘new humans’, ‘new societies’ and ‘new higher education’ systems are already emerging among us – we need only open our eyes and minds wider to enable this emergence to come into our consciousness.
Club of Rome and UNESCO
The Club of Rome and UNESCO are partnering with a growing number of universities and research institutions in several initiatives aimed at the reframing of research and higher education for a better future.
Both the BRIDGES Sustainability Science Coalition and the International Year of Basic Sciences for Sustainable Development (IYBSSD) are creating spaces for the emergence of new institutions that are better suited to the complex systems change required of us today.
This is the beginning of a speech delivered by Mamphela Ramphele to the 13th Reinventing Higher Education Conference, co-hosted by Madrid’s IE University and the University of Cape Town on 6 March in Cape Town, South Africa.
Read the full article on University World News website.