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The future of education: Georges Haddad and Yaacov Hecht at the World Forum for Democracy 2016

The two keynote speakers come from very different worlds. But both agree that a revolution in education is required, with the self-determination of the individual – all individuals – at its centre. Video.


Left to right: Speakers Georges Haddad (left), Yaacov Hecht (right), on either side of the two moderators. On Monday, November 7, at the preceding session on 'democracy, equality and education' of the World Forum for Democracy 2016, which looked at the 'Global trends', Joan Hoey of The Economist Intelligence Unit told the participants in a packed Council of Europe hemicycle that the gap between elites and the people is still growing, and that there is a decline of belief in democracy accompanied by a curbing of civil liberties. From Pew Researcher Richard Wike, on the eve of the US election result, we learned that 37% of Americans think Hillary Clinton doesn’t respect democracy, while a majority of Americans believe the same is true for Donald Trump.

The French Minister of Education, Higher Education and Research, Ms Najat Vallaud-Belkacem had opened proceedings with the remark that what we had learned over the most recent period was that democracies were 'mortal' and could be reversed. Against this background of unease, the two keynote speakers in the opening plenary of the World Forum for Democracy 2016 – Georges Haddad, President of the University Paris-1 Panthéon-Sorbonne in France and Yaacov Hecht, Pioneer of democratic education and CEO of "Education Cities - the Art of Collaborations” in Israel, treated us to an overview of the challenges that confront education today. This video, combining excerpts from their opening presentations and responses to the Q & A, and the four themes below, gives you a glimpse of the fruitful exchange that emerged between these two speakers. (34 minutes).

The future of education (in four exchanges):-

Exchange 1. On preparing for the future. ( 2 mins.)

Haddad: ‘We don’t know whether human minds can adapt to the acceleration of change in the cultural worlds. There was already a terrible challenge to rise up to at the time of the Industrial Revolution, which liberated human beings from tasks which required physical force. But as for the Informatics Revolution, it is running so fast that it outstrips any changes in the physical and biological worlds.

Human scientists are beginning to unravel the secrets of the gene and the natural world as a whole and everything that makes it possible for life to exist on this planet. The new Golems, Frankensteins and Prometheus’s of our time no longer understand the possible fate and they are trapped in the fact that knowledge is developing too slowly to keep up with cultural change and therefore the challenges we are confronted with are greater than ever before.’

Hecht: ‘It has taken me some time to understand that the school that we see today is coming from the ideas of one hundred years ago; that people who want to promote undemocratic ideas built this hieratic school to prepare people to work in the factories, and be like slaves. Then they have ideas about building this school as we see it today.

But when I say I want to build a democratic school today, I mean that in the big puzzle of our democratic societies, I feel that there is a missing piece of the jigsaw – and that this is the education, an education that promotes democracy and prepares people for the future. I fear that in schools today they prepare us for the past. But how do we build a school that prepares us for the future? That was the idea behind my democratic school.’


Exchange 2. On the knowledge age and students as teachers (5 mins.)

Hecht: ‘You understand the movement is becoming very big, we have teacher training programmes around the world and a lot of schools are beginning to tackle the idea of democratic education.

When we say democratic education, we are not talking about the school continuing to be the same. Because a lot of people say, “OK. We are the traditional school: we work in an undemocratic way but we will teach democracy.” We say, “ This cannot work.” It cannot work. We live in the time of a shifting of the paradigm. This is the time, because we have come to the knowledge age. Before the knowledge age, the hierarchical school worked very well. But today? Something has changed.

And in the last year, we have built two more products to promote a democratic education. One is a classroom and the second is a city! Of the classroom we say, “OK , it is very difficult to change schools, especially state schools. But we have a lot of teachers who want to make a democratic education, so let’s build a classroom of democratic education.” We call it classroom 2.0. In this classroom we have only two rules – simple two rules! One – simple rule – every student is a teacher. In this classroom we only study through peer learning. You know the best way to learn something is to teach it? So let’s do a classroom where everyone teaches everyone.

And the second rule says that we have a common challenge. What does this mean? I can go to mathematics, to the field of Professor Haddad. In a traditional school if we study mathematics together, we also compete with one another: asking who is the best mathematician in our classroom? This is the motivation – the driver is competition. In the classroom 2.0 we say, “OK every one of us will have a grade, but we will also have a grade for the whole class.” Then the classroom becomes like a football team. It is magic. Think about this. In a football team everyone has a different role, and together they try to achieve a goal. We are now trying this in mathematics and in other classes and the result is unbelievable.’

Haddad: ‘What I can pick up on is what Yaacov Hecht was saying with regard to “every student is a teacher”. I am a child born of immigrants. I’m from Tunisia and I arrived in France when I was five years old. If you don’t mind I am going to tell you an anecdote. If you look at my experience, I think this was of great importance in terms of the choices I have made to carry out the job that I do now.

My mother who is 86 years of age at the time when we came to France said to me, “Well, George. I was not able to study because the society in which we lived in Tunisia didn’t allow girls to do this. She in fact discovered that her family didn’t allow her to do this because she had three brothers and her brothers hadn’t been able to study. She told me the following thing, “As of now, you are going to go to the school in the French republic” – I was six years old at the time – “and I am going to be asking you to be my teacher.” And she said to me, “Everyday, every evening, I will be waiting for you in the home with my exercise book and I’m going to be asking you to tell me everything that you learned in the school.”

And my mother, quite naturally became my first pupil. And through this experience, this relationship between a mother and her son, between a teacher and a student, I sort of became if you like a teacher. I had two missions if you like. You don’t only go to school for yourselves. You go to school for people who are in our environment as well. You want them to be proud of us. You want them to be able to share with us everything that we have acquired and received from school and all the knowledge that we have acquired.

You shouldn’t keep it for yourself only. You need to convey it, pass it on to others and as Yaacov was saying, you need to be a teacher yourself from as early an age as possible!’


Exchange 3: On selection and humiliation ( 3 mins.)

Hecht: ‘I want to connect to what Professor Haddad said, that I think this is the time of Knowledge. We are leaving [behind us] the time of hierarchy, and coming to the time of knowledge. The old time is to do what someone above me tells me to do, and does not depend on knowledge. But today, this is the time of Knowledge. And Knowledge is something connected with networking, a networking that can begin only when we are different….

When I say to you that God created us different. Think for example what it would be like if God had made us no different, the same. And here I was coming to talk to you in this meeting, and all of you were Yaacov! What a catastrophe! And I go into the street and everyone is Yaacov!  

I think it is the most beautiful thing that we are all different. And when we recognise that we are different, something happens between us. Just think how the old traditional hierarchy is always trying to find out who is the best among us… and I think this is a bad idea. It is not the best, the greatest, but different that is beautiful. I don’t want to see if someone is better or not better than me: I want to learn if something is different. That, from my point of the view is at the core of what we call democratic education.

Haddad: ‘But now in our system where selection, selectivity and competition has become the most important aspect in education, we have chosen mathematics as a good way to humiliate and to select. This is a mistake.

When I teach mathematics, I don’t teach students to solve problems only, but to raise questions. This is what is important, teaching to research through research. It is not only teaching to become expert and professional etcetera. I want them to be capable of raising questions and not to be passive learners. And this is what is important in all disciplines.

For example, one other question. Why do we give notes [Haddad means ‘marks’] in exams? Where does it come from? In the ancient time we didn’t evaluate students by marks but by the progressive way in which they learn and accomplish things. When did marks appear? It was when the modern economy imposed prices on the system.  A mark is a price. So you give a mark to an exam… does it mean anything about the intelligence, about the capacity of the student, of the learner?

We have to change. We have to rethink the reasons for learning, the content of learning, and the ways we evaluate. It is impossible now to continue in the same way of evaluating students, giving marks like we give a price to a pound of apples or of meat.’


Exchange 4:  On a human future  (4 mins.)

Haddad:  ‘Time has come through modern technology and through all the means we have to create a renaissance for education. Time has come to create a renaissance for education otherwise we will stay at the same level. We will not progress, whatever the use is that we make of technology. In education of course we are increasing capacities with computers etc.

But we have to keep the human dimension of education. And for me the contact with my students is so important that I will never replace it by virtual communication. I need this contact, and I think I bring more to them by direct contact with my students and I devote my time to giving them the best I can in my discipline.

But of course through modern technology we can spread our capacity, we can modernise our capacity, and we can bring together different students. But nothing will replace the human adventure of education, which is a direct adventure between human beings. So virtuality is OK: but, how do we say, humanity is much more important.’

Hecht: ‘Finally, I want to suggest a very pragmatic idea to you. But I want to check with the people here first if it is really a good idea.  The idea is that in all the schools, maybe in Europe, students and teachers together make a decision about what they shall study in at least 20% of the curriculum, by democratic process.

Think about this, that the school needs to decide about 20% – but not the teacher alone – teachers and students have to decide and build a process to do it. I think this is a very strong beginning: but I want to hear what you think!

So if some people here think it ought to be less than 20%, you can vote for less than twenty per cent, zero, or more than 20% of school time to be decided in this way. So this is about 20% of what we teach/study in school – it is one day a week – that we will make the decisions together, students and teachers – Please raise your hands those of you who think 20%. Wow! Quite a lot! Thank you. Who thinks about less than 20%? And who thinks more than 20%? Wow. Really? I am surprised. So thank you! I think you have a good idea. And you can do it in every place that you want. So, to me it was a great time to be with you!’

About the authors

Georges Haddad was elected President of the University Paris-1 Panthéon-Sorbonne on May 17, 2016. Before, he was director of the research unit at Unesco. A graduate of the Ecole Normale Superieure, Georges Haddad holds a Masters in Mathematics from the University Paris 7 and a postgraduate degree in mathematics from the University Paris 6. He obtained a state doctorate in mathematics in 1983.

Yaacov Hecht founded the Democratic School in Hadera, Israel, the first school in the world to call itself ‘democratic’. The schools operate as a microcosm of the democratic state. In 1993, he convened the first IDEC – International Democratic Education Conference that has run for 24 years now all over the world, each year in a different continent. In 2010, Hecht founded "Education Cities-the Art of Collaborations" an organization that sees the city as one big school. Yaacov Hecht has served as an advisor to Israeli Ministers of Education past and present, as an expert for creating connections and interfaces between the state and alternative education.

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