The new landscape of education

Image: Oto Vale


We live in the pandemic a unique opportunity to think and propose new normalities for social life

Do you miss the normality of before the quarantine? Don't waste time, the effort of this recovery may not be worth it. Also because the past never repeats itself, except as a farce. I ask: Was that normality good? Does the growing social exclusion make you miss it? Does the death of thousands (today more than 100.000) make you relieved that it's not your turn yet?

The wear and tear associated with social isolation, of course, for those who were able to move away from crowds, brings with it a need to reflect on social life. We are referring to living together at home, in the neighborhood, in the virtual environments of local, national or even international work. These socializing involve us in other ways, different from those we were used to. Gatherings reveal aspects of our relationships that we were not aware of before, vices and virtues emerge, not always pleasant, but always revealing. Revealing insofar as they spring from reality, which today appears as if unfolded in new spaces and times. New spaces that demand careful observation, details that previously went unnoticed acquire presence. As for the new times, our perception is less evident, in our lives before the pandemic we cultivated the illusion that time flowed independently of our conscience, our will, it would be a dimension of nature itself, a time in itself. The operation involved in this displaces time outside of us, feeding this illusion of the existence of time “in itself”. In my classes I hear the argument that time exists long before our presence on the face of the Earth and therefore exists in itself. What seems revealing in this argument is precisely this process of expelling time from our consciousness and, therefore, from our responsibility. We end up understanding ourselves as “victims” of this time, thus making our perception of our role in the construction of these times in which we live difficult. We learn to attribute to this time the role of subject, events become “works of time”, even our life is thought of as determined by time. Alternatively, we can think of ourselves as time makers, both collectively and individually.

The routines of the old normality made you sick, burdened with the anxieties of tasks that were always unfinished, deluded by consuming information, with no time to reflect. This pathology comes along with the illusions of miracle drugs, with or without the backing of science (or witches), and, of course, they make you sicker and sicker, both from the original disease and those directly caused by such drugs. Among the various emerging pathologies today, there is possibly a common core, the fragmentation of times. As builders of our own time, we are unique, with our own temporal organization because it is constructed throughout each one's life – hence the many individual differences that obscure the presence of a common process; process common to both constructed and fragmented times experienced in the pandemic. In the old normality, our temporalities remained more or less stable, the quarantine came to break this stability, promoting ruptures in our routines.

One of the most obvious ruptures is the one that is taking place at all levels of education with the implementation of attempts at remote teaching, now known by the acronym EAD. Admirable effort of educators in the creation and maintenance of applications, not so admirable is the scenario of uncertainties that emanate from the governing bodies at the federal, state and municipal levels. I believe that these authorities lack shame in confessing ignorance in the face of the facts of the mass (and growing) contamination of covid-19; We reached almost 100 deaths and the best response we have heard is the attempts to set and cancel dates for returning to school. The effectiveness of distance education is highly debatable, but it can and should be seen in the difficulties of real access to the distance learning platforms of the students involved, in the pedagogical quality of the material in the classes, and in the poorness of the proposed interactions, among many other critical points. Inequalities end up coming to the fore and are aggravated as the pandemic lasts. Critical moments like the one we are living in demand radical measures, and that is what I propose to do in what follows.

We propose that the year 2020 not be lost in palliative measures that intend to minimize the negative effects of social isolation, such as that of the EAD. I propose that remote classes be suspended and replaced with alternative proposals. This replacement at no time should be understood as a proposal to return to face-to-face classes, an irresponsible temerity.

Detailing our proposal. For teachers and students there is an excellent opportunity to create pedagogical activities inspired by the scenarios of the communities where they teach and live, problematizing, researching causes and solutions to problems. A pedagogical relationship that should also involve the families, called to participate in the pedagogical proposals. In this ideal school, the role of teachers would cease to be that of an overseer, a disciplinarian, to become a liberator, promoting the intellectual growth of students and the community. Educator, in short, in the most citizen sense that this word can have in today's world. Education seen as an investment in individual training collides head-on with the emancipatory role and the fight against inequalities, thus, education must be primarily and, why not, exclusively public. Preparing button-pressing technicians can be good for companies that destroy the environment and manufacture weapons, but when they threaten life on the planet, it becomes harmful. An example of this is what in an editorial of the scientific journal Nature, in the August 4 edition, which reports the current status of a possible global treaty on the proliferation of nuclear weapons and which calls on scientists to abandon nuclear weapons projects, now backed by the probable approval of the treaty by the UN. These nuclear weapons researchers must have been educated at elite schools with an emphasis on technologies, but little in the humanities. From the point of view of your individual interests, great, but what about social responsibility, where did it stay? Another exemplary scenario is the devastation of the environment through deforestation and the intensive use of pesticides, also involving highly qualified technicians at the service of large corporations. It is clear that the main culprits are the owners of companies, often dissolved in controlling companies active in the capital market, but this does not exempt researchers and technicians at the service of these companies, at least in a fairer society.

We educators cannot omit ourselves, we do have the role of transforming education, putting it at the service of the interests of the majority of the population, combating inequalities.

There is a very clear dilemma in the effects of the pandemic on private companies in the field of education. Maintain in-person or distance activities, as long as tuition fees are preserved, or honor your commitments to families of good quality education? What has been observed are cost-cutting measures, mass dismissals of teachers at the end of the line, short-term solutions that only postpone the imminent crises. I perceive a similar situation in private health, health plans on the front line, which are experiencing similar crises and where the interest of hospital and plan owners ends up prevailing. But the financial crisis depletes the impoverished population's power to pay for these services, which requires reinforcement of the public system. The fleeting success of entrepreneurship ironically creates the conditions for its downfall of the financial crisis.

We conclude by resuming the proposal to immediately suspend distance classes and replace them with remote activities proposed by the teachers of each school/course in agreement with their students and families. These activities must be supported by the concrete experiences of each location and supported by the evaluation of students' access to this construction. The performance evaluation (and frequency control) will be made from the proposed works, they can be essays, videos, comics, in short, with ample freedom of format. No doubt our proposal will be considered utopian, but I ask, is there a better time to move forward than during a crisis?

*Luiz Menna-Barreto He is a professor at the School of Arts, Sciences and Humanities at USP.

*John Araújo is a professor at the Federal University of Rio Grande do Norte.


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