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Tomorrow`s Education and Intercultural Knowledge


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Author: Prof. Dr. Spariosu
Position: Chief Consultant; Global Knowledge Management; Education
Article: Tomorrow`s Education and Intercultural Knowledge

 

Education, Intercultural Knowledge,
and the Global Practitioners of Tomorrow

 




It is a fairly common complaint, nowadays, that education in general and higher education in particular seem to be lagging behind other sectors of our society. The causes of this lag are many, but a number of them can be traced back to the fact that our current educational systems are rooted in the nineteenth-century transition from agricultural- to industrial-based economies and the creation of the modern nation-state. Therefore, they have largely been structured to prepare our youth for citizenship, employment, and a moral and productive life within the nation-state, focusing mostly on the national economy, security, and welfare. But we are now moving toward an entirely different world, in which old national boundaries will no longer serve the same purposes. Our communities have become increasingly interdependent and our patterns of living as well as our language, ideas, culture, ethics, environment, health, security, trade, and systems of values and beliefs are rapidly changing under a renewed human drive toward a global society.

But rapid change can also be socially and culturally destabilizing. Problems have become highly complex, nonlinear, crossdisciplinary, and transnational in nature, requiring the best innovative solutions on the part of our communities in order to achieve sustainable patterns of human development and avoid human suffering through deprivation and violent conflict. Yet our traditional centers of higher education and research have not been designed to address such problems. In the United States, for example, whereas individual practitioners and exceptional scholars at outstanding universities are currently utilized as consultants in tackling global questions, it is difficult to assemble multidisciplinary teams of committed faculty and students in sustained programs to address real-time, global challenges. Departmental course requirements and the prerequisites for tenure-track preparation inhibit the efforts to build transdisciplinary and crosscultural curricula at most universities. To compound the problem, academic administrators often perceive study abroad and experiential education as expensive extras that interrupt most students' commitment to campus life, athletics, and extracurricular activities. Consequently, today's academy largely misses the opportunity to identify and encourage intercultural civic entrepreneurs, those few remarkable students in each class whose career service will make significant contributions to the peaceful and prosperous development of our world communities.

The importance of global education has increasingly come to public attention in the wake of recent world events. But our educators and other practitioners in the field of learning and research have, at least so far, stopped short of adopting a genuinely global approach to world education. For example, a white paper on "Beyond September 11: A Comprehensive National Policy on International Education," generated by the American Council on Education (ACE) and signed by thirty-three other US higher education organizations, calls for extensive reforms in the world of North American higher education, especially in terms of what it calls global competence. The paper defines global competence as "in-depth knowledge required for interpreting information affecting national security, the skills and understanding that foster improved relations with all regions of the world; . . . foreign language proficiency and an ability to function effectively in other cultural environments and value systems, whether conducting business, implementing international development projects, or carrying out diplomatic missions." (ACE 2002: 1) The paper also calls for the creation of "global experts in foreign languages, cultures and political, economic and social systems throughout the world." (ACE 2002: 2)

Global competence and expertise are certainly very important talents and skills to be developed in our national citizenry and workforce. But, for the ACE paper, the operative word remains "national." Although it deals with global issues, this paper adopts a national or an international, rather than a global perspective on such issues. A global approach would take into consideration not only the perceived national or "local" interests of the United States or any other country or region. Of course, those local interests are extremely important, and genuine global practitioners will neglect them only at their peril. But such global practitioners would also look beyond what might turn out to be short-term and limited national interest to long-range interests serving the entire global community. From this global perspective, the concept of national interest itself may gain a new dimension and be redefined, in a larger reference frame, as that which ultimately is in the best interest of and benefits all nations and cultures.

Consequently, higher education itself and the very purpose and organization of our academic institutions must now be rethought and restructured within a global reference frame. Rethinking education within such a frame will, to give only one example, require restructuring geopolitical models, based on a Cold-War concept of area studies and interdisciplinary approaches that leave the traditional disciplines largely intact. A global perspective will lead to remapping the old disciplinary divisions and will generally call for new ways of educating the elites of tomorrow. Indeed, it will ultimately require that learning become a lifelong process and extend well beyond formal education and certain age groups to all members of our local-global communities. Under the impact of lifelong learning, these communities will ideally become genuine laboratories of cooperative, intercultural discovery and creativity. Therefore, the global learning and research environments for which I plead here are primarily meant to advance global intelligence, of which global competence and global expertise may be side benefits.

I define global intelligence as the ability to understand, respond to and work toward what is in the best interest of and will benefit all human beings and all other life on our planet. This kind of responsive understanding and action can only emerge from continuing intercultural research, dialogue, negotiation, and cooperation; in other words, it is interactive, and no single national or supranational instance or authority can predetermine its outcome. Thus, global intelligence, or intercultural responsive understanding and action, is what contemporary nonlinear science calls an emergent phenomenon, involving lifelong learning processes. In turn, global intelligence involves a new ethics or systems of values and beliefs and social practices that are based on a mentality of peace, rather than on a competitive and warlike mindset. Just like global intelligence, this ethics is an emergent phenomenon, which can be developed only through a long process of intercultural learning, dialogue, and cooperation.

It is clear, then, that from the perspective of global intelligence we need to generate new types of knowledge through learning processes that are quite different from the prevailing ones. There are complex feedback loops between knowledge and education, which become even more complex in a global reference frame. Before we can consider them in this larger frame, let us briefly examine the notions of knowledge and education operative in mainstream Western circles, particularly as they are embedded in the widely used term "knowledge" or "information" society.

One can begin by observing that, when speaking of information- or knowledge-based economies and, by extension, societies, Western analysts implicitly refer only to a Western-style system of commercial values and practices and, within that system, only to a small, if currently privileged, fraction of it: the subsystem of utilitarian values. By "knowledge" and "information," they mean utilitarian or instrumental knowledge, that is, information and/or know-how deemed to possess significant commercial value. They also operate with a tacit distinction between (commercially) profitable or relevant knowledge/ information and unprofitable or irrelevant one, typical of the utilitarian value subsystem.

This economic subsystem has, moreover, taken shape only during the last three centuries, with the rise and successive development of industrial, market, and network capitalism, paralleling the rise and development of rationalist, reductionist, and positivist kinds of science, with which it forms a complex network of feedback loops. Thus, our so-called new information technology and technosciences are far from being universal instruments of knowledge. They are merely expressions of the utilitarian economic subsystem that aspires to impose itself not only on Western culture as a whole, but on all other cultures as well.

By the same token, for many neoliberal and other Western scholars, a "knowledge" or "information" society in effect means a society that embraces Western-style, instrumental values. These values include privileging the kind of knowledge that leads to the creation and accumulation of material wealth. Calculation in all senses of the term is at the basis of this society, where quantitative values and measurements largely replace qualitative ones. It is no wonder, therefore, that in the contemporary "knowledge" society, everything must be expressed in numerical terms and must have commercial value, with a price tag attached to it. What is incalculable has no value, i.e., no potential for commercial profit, and consequently is irrelevant. It is this assumption, moreover, that allows some Western economists and sociologists to speak of "information-poor" and "information-rich" societies, substituting information that is commercially relevant or irrelevant for all other kinds of information or knowledge.

In turn, such commercially relevant knowledge or information becomes obsolete almost as fast as it comes into being, sharing the throwaway quality of all the other products of a consumerist society. This throwaway quality allows some neoliberal scholars and journalists to argue that a college education or a college diploma will become irrelevant in the societies of the future, where today's "knowledge" or information becomes yesterday's news and where ethics turns into mere pragmatics.

From the perspective of global intelligence, therefore, speaking of a "knowledge" society obscures, rather than clarifies, the most important issues that humanity is confronted with and should be working on in the foreseeable future. Far from assisting us Westerners in resolving these urgent issues, the concept of a "knowledge" society appears, within a global framework, as smug, (self-) deceptive, and overreaching. Instead of a "knowledge" society, global practitioners would be much more advised to speak of a "learning" or an "intensive learning" society. This would stress the fact that in the increasingly complex global environment in which we are now living, the notion of "developed" and "developing" countries has become obsolete. It belongs to a national, industrial subsystem of values that should be replaced with a value system that is more in line with an emergent ethics of global intelligence. From the standpoint of the latter, there is no country that is more "developed" than the rest, and all countries, geographical regions, and world cultures can bring their specific, invaluable contributions to human development. If we truly wish to change our global paradigms, then we need to change the focus of our worldwide efforts from social and economic development to human development. It is this kind of development that in the end will help us solve our practical problems, including world hunger, poverty, and violence, and will turn the earth into a welcoming and nurturing home for all of its inhabitants, human and nonhuman.

In turn, we should reflect on our notions of education and training before we attempt to apply them indiscriminately in a larger, global reference frame. Education is the process by which certain systems and subsystems of values and beliefs are passed down from generation to generation, whereas training is the process of transmitting various professional skills or know-how. Most of our large research universities in North America have effectively given up their traditional educational goals and have become primarily places of training. Even worse, they have largely adopted the utilitarian equation of training with education. Of course, the distinction between the two terms is not essential but functional, because training and education are continuously involved in amplifying feedback loops, with one reinforcing and nurturing the other. The consequence for the research university is that utilitarian values are reinforced at both the level of training and that of education.

Furthermore, there are complex amplifying feedback loops between education, training, and knowledge. A utilitarian education will largely base training on utilitarian values, including utilitarian knowledge or "know-how," with the main educational goal of attaining "professional competence" and "expertise." In turn, utilitarian knowledge, reinforced by utilitarian education and training, will masquerade as a universal, eternally valid category. It thus obscures the cultural, ethical, and relative dimensions of any kind of knowledge, validating, in turn, utilitarian education and training. Finally, it equally recasts the traditional distinction between knowledge and wisdom in a utilitarian form.

For example, what appears to be vital knowledge or information in some cultures, such as sailing at night by the position of the stars without the help of a sextant, or distinguishing among various animal and bird calls, taboo and non-taboo foods, acceptable and unacceptable social relations and behaviors, or composing and reciting oral narratives as a means of codifying and transmitting the community's system of values and beliefs may, from a purely utilitarian standpoint, appear to members of other, "developed" societies as useless information, poverty of knowledge, illiteracy, or even misinformation. Consequently "developed" societies either discount or actively denigrate traditional knowledge, which in traditional cultures is often entrusted to old sages of both sexes. In these cultures, the difference between knowledge and wisdom is one of degree, rather than one of kind: knowledge is only the first step toward wisdom. In modern societies, by contrast, there is either a sharp separation between knowledge and wisdom, or an equation of wisdom with utilitarian knowledge. This has led in modern societies (but also in traditional ones) to a gradual loss of traditional wisdom/knowledge, including valuable socioeconomic and ecological practices that are increasingly replaced by reductionist scientific dogma and Western-style technological know-how, in the name of modernity and progress.

The first task of an intensive learning society, then, is to become aware of its complex links to traditional culture and fully fructify such links. At the same time, it should move toward a larger, intercultural reference frame, away from myopic, reductionist, and utilitarian views. Adopting such a larger frame is more important than ever in the current global circumstance, unless we in the West wish to continue clinging to the cultural imperialistic practices of the so-called "free-market" ideology, with the same unhealthy prospects for genuine human development. It would involve reforming our current educational institutions, as well as developing alternative ones, appropriate for local-global, intercultural frames.

Furthermore, the models of knowledge to be employed within a global reference frame will be quite different from the disciplinary or interdisciplinary ones that currently prevail in our universities: according to disciplinary thinking, one must first constitute the discipline, i.e. an organized body of knowledge, before one can teach it, for instance, through a doctoral program. Such doctoral programs serve the purpose of both codifying the study and practice of a field of knowledge through disciplinary standards and requirements and of transmitting this code to a body of students who will in turn contribute to consolidating and expanding the disciplinary knowledge and practice that have been passed down to them.

In other words, in disciplinary and interdisciplinary models, knowledge is first acquired (learned) and then transmitted (taught). In a transdisciplinary model of knowledge as emergence that we would need in a global reference frame, learning and teaching are codependent and simultaneous processes, so that new, transdisciplinary cognitive fields co-arise with the academic programs that codify, or rather continuously recodify, their practice. Consequently, in a transdisciplinary university, teaching becomes learning and learning becomes teaching, as new knowledge continuously emerges and is continuously codified and recodified.

The transdisciplinary model of knowledge as emergence obviously requires institutional frameworks that are different from the ones that are currently in place in our universities. In two books,
Global Intelligence and Human Development (MIT Press: Cambridge, Mass, 2005) and Remapping Knowledge (Berghahn : New York and Oxford, 2006), I have proposed a number of such institutional frameworks, including new fields of study and practice such as "intercultural knowledge management" and "intercultural global learning and leadership." Within these new fields I propose a number of cross-disciplinary and intercultural programs, whose objective is to prepare new leaders and civic entrepreneurs for the public and private sectors of tomorrow's global communities.

Such leaders and practitioners will learn how to produce, as well as how to recognize and manage new forms of knowledge and competencies in a global intercultural environment. They will become aware that intercultural project management and problem-solving involve an integrative, transdisciplinary approach that takes into account the political, social, economic, and cultural conditions, as well as the systems of values and beliefs, of local communities from around the world. They will possess a thorough understanding of and a strong sense of responsibility for the "local"; will care for the natural and human environment, and respect and encourage cultural and biological diversity; will be deeply committed to seeking peacefully negotiated solutions to conflicts and have the ability to bring about such negotiated solutions; will know how to operate in a culturally diverse environment and across disciplines and professions; will develop more than one career track in a lifetime, pursuing lifelong learning; will comfortably serve in both the public and the private sectors and know how to generate new employment and ways of wealth-making, based on wise management of the planet's human and natural resources; and will generally engage in lifelong creative and meaningful activity that is both service-oriented and personally fulfilling.

I shall conclude my present reflections with a list of some of the most important intercultural skills and talents that the future global leaders and practitioners will, in my view, need to develop, through the programs I propose in my books, or similar intercultural and transdisciplinary learning programs:

(1) Superior Intercultural Linguistic and Communication Abilities
In addition to English, which, for practical reasons, will most likely be the lingua franca of these transdisciplinary programs, global practitioners will need to undertake an in-depth comparative study of at least two of the principal languages of the world, in their cultural and intercultural context. These languages include, but are not necessarily limited to: Mandarin, Hindi, Spanish, Bengali, Arabic, Portuguese, Malay-Indonesian, Russian, Japanese, German, and French. If they are native speakers of any of these languages, they will choose two of the other principal languages, preferably those that are farthest removed from their mother tongue. For example, if they are native speakers of Hindi, they should not choose Bengali, but Mandarin and Russian; if they speak Portuguese, they should not choose Spanish or another Romance language, but Hindi and German, and so forth. This will ensure that global practitioners gain full access to linguistic and cultural worlds that are completely unfamiliar to them, so that their level of intercultural and linguistic understanding and, therefore, intercultural communicative skills, will eventually become even higher.

One should stress the fact that the transdisciplinary programs for global practitioners that I have in mind here will not train linguists or polyglots, any more than they will train political scientists, economists, lawyers, humanists, or any other specialists or experts. Ideally, the young men and women who come into such programs will already have genuine fluency in some of these languages. In-depth knowledge of a number of languages, however, is essential for the global practitioner to feel at home in several cultures, move freely among them, and thereby gain a genuine global, cross-cultural perspective. Language courses must be taught in an intercultural comparative context so that the global practitioner will become aware of the deep interconnections between the native speakers' linguistic and cultural worlds, including their fundamental systems of values and beliefs, religion, social, economic and political behavior, historical development, civil institutions, and so forth. Language courses should also be taught in the context of the global practitioners' concrete research projects so that they will maximize their ability to carry out these projects.

(2) Increased Intellectual Mobility and Flexibility
The transdisciplinary and cross-cultural nature of the global learning and leadership programs of the future will require that participants move between institutions in several regions of the world, as well as across departmental divides at any single institution. This kind of mobility will provide global practitioners with a local-global perspective, that is, with the ability to view a certain discipline or academic culture from both the inside and the outside. They will become immersed in the local research culture of a certain discipline or institution, at the same time that they will be able to reflect on it, by comparing it with other such research cultures. The global practitioners will learn how to discern similarities and differences between them, which as a rule remain hidden to a partial, local view, as well as how to establish new links among them. A local-global perspective will give them the intercultural responsive understanding and flexibility needed to bring together specialists or experts from various fields and from several cultures in order to design and execute transdisciplinary and intercultural projects that none of these experts would be able to implement on their own.

(3) Cross-cultural Insight and Sensitivity
One of the most important objectives of the type of intercultural global learning and leadership programs that I have in mind is to create group solidarity among a culturally diverse body of students, teaching them how to cooperate in, and effectively interact with, shifting cultural and linguistic environments. By working together on intercultural and transdisciplinary projects, the participants will become aware of their different cultural assumptions in approaching a certain problem and will start negotiating among themselves to find the best solutions that go beyond their own local perspective or self-interest and advance the research project as a whole. Cross-cultural insight and sensitivity will also emerge from the daily interaction of participants who will live, work, and play together as a group for an extended period and will be asked to build and act on a common sense of purpose and a common set of values for the rest of their lives. In other words, the participants will be called on to seek global intelligence not only in relation to their academic studies, but also in their daily interactions both inside and outside their group. This kind of learning objective will thus distinguish intercultural learning programs from other foreign studies or study-abroad programs that currently flourish all over the world. Global intelligence would be hard to aim at, say, in the context of current US study abroad programs or foreign student programs on US campuses, where each individual student has his or her own life- and career-goal. "Cultural sensitivity" training programs available through the international offices of various universities often limit themselves to advising foreign students to use body deodorants in Anglo-Saxon cultures; or, in the case of US students, not to shake hands, hug, or keep direct eye contact, say, with a supervisor or an elderly person when in East Asia; or, more generally, "to do, when in Rome, as Romans do."

(4) Ability to Integrate Academic and Experiential Knowledge
Global intelligence presupposes that participants in intercultural learning and leadership programs, from the first year of their studies, begin to acquire and combine theoretical and practical knowledge in order to address real-time, local-global issues. This learning objective will again distinguish such programs from current standard academic programs. The latter programs mostly convey an abstract body of knowledge, which is often disconnected from its practical, live context and which the student is supposed to apply or make use of at a later date, after graduation. By contrast, the new programs will organize their curricula and research programs around the concrete problems that the future global practitioners will be asked to solve, rather than solely on past case studies. They will form cross-disciplinary teams and work on viable solutions to specific real-world problems, rather than through the codified practice of a particular academic discipline or culture.

Participants will, moreover, build capacity to identify and address potential socioeconomic and other types of problems before they develop into crises that threaten the peaceful development of world communities or diminish the diversity of world resources. They will also be called on to design workable, realistic blueprints for the sustainable, sociocultural and human development of their countries or regions. These blueprints will be based on the best traditions of wisdom available in their cultures, as well as in those of others, and on the most cherished aspirations and ideals of their people. Last, but not least, the sustained, cooperative efforts of the new types of global practitioners from all over the world will decisively contribute to addressing and eventually eliminating the causes of international terrorism, one of the greatest threats to humanity in our time.

To summarize, the profile of a successful global practitioner of tomorrow includes superior intellectual, linguistic, and communicative capabilities, proven creativity, proven ability to think and to relate to others in cross-disciplinary and intercultural contexts, and high personal integrity. Field of specialization will be less important than the global practitioner's willingness and ability to work cooperatively with specialists in all fields to carry out intercultural and cross-disciplinary projects. The most important quality of this profile will be a candidate's propensity toward global intelligence, that is, his or her ability and willingness to engage in intercultural responsive understanding and action on a global level, while never losing sight of the various local reference frames.

To conclude, some practical-minded readers may wonder about the "bottom line" or the cost of the kind of global learning programs that I have envisaged here. The initial financial investment would undoubtedly be substantial: one would have to build and continuously update the complex infrastructure and the ICT needed for this and other global learning and leadership programs that would become part of a worldwide network. This ICT will involve new AI technology platforms, such as Ravenspace II, based on Quantum Relations Theory, and other platforms capable of supporting the intercultural learning and research programs outlined above. The costs, however, will not exceed those needed to train a regular undergraduate student and/ or a master's student at an Ivy League school in the United States, while the benefits to the global society at large would obviously be much greater.

More generally, only a very small fraction of what is currently spent in the United States and other countries on the so-called "war on terror" would suffice to create a large number of global learning and leadership programs and other innovative, globally oriented educational programs throughout the world. Such programs would, moreover, yield much better and much more secure returns for both the United States and the rest of the world. So, even in terms of utilitarian benefits or "returns," such academic projects would be a good investment. Indeed, they would largely become self-supporting after the first three-year cycle, because of their real-time research programs that many multinational corporations and other transnational, private, and public organizations would regard as very "hot" intellectual property.

In any case, the intrinsic value of such programs to the global community at large will greatly exceed any financial investment needed to establish and operate them. Whereas not ignoring cost/benefit considerations, one would, again, have to redefine the notions of "value" and "benefit," not in the utilitarian, instrumental terms of material (self-) interest, but in terms of the emergent goals and objectives of global intelligence. In the end, it is a matter of choice on the part of a certain society, or community, or nation as to what its investment priorities should be. Will it continue to indulge in mindless waste of human, natural, and financial resources with disastrous, worldwide repercussions? Or will it finally start building a sustainable future for itself and for all other life on earth?



 



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