The Faure report is 50 years old. While it has its faults, it remains a powerful statement of UNESCO’s humanistic vision of education and remains remarkably relevant, writes Maren Elfert, who, with Alexandra Draxler, has guest-edited a special issue of the International Review of Education on the report’s legacy
Our recently published special issue of the International Review of Education marks the fiftieth anniversary of the 1972 UNESCO report Learning to be: The world of education today and tomorrow, better known as the Faure report.
Although it has its shortcomings, the Faure report contains ideas that are remarkably relevant today, and there are good reasons to revisit it at this time. Just as we find ourselves in an environment characterized by a sense of crisis, the Faure report was written shortly after student uprisings in 1968 in France and as a number of other countries began to acknowledge the deep divide between traditional society and the demands of the younger generation. It grappled with themes similar to those we struggle with today and reflected the existential fears of the economic and environmental limits to growth. It was inspired by non-conformist thinkers such as Paulo Freire and Ivan Illich, who pointed to the need to breathe new life into outdated elitist and conformist conceptions of education systems.
There are other contemporary developments that point to the value of revisiting the report, such as the re-emergence of the concept of lifelong learning in Sustainable Development Goal 4 (SDG 4), debates about the shortcomings of global governance of education and the education for development agenda in the era of the SDGs, and renewed questions about the contradictions between the visions and realities of education provision. At the end of 2021, UNESCO’s Futures of Education initiative launched its report Reimagining our Futures Together: A New Social Contract for Education, building both on the Faure report and a subsequent UNESCO report published in 1996, Learning: The Treasure within, known as the Delors report. The Reimagining our Futures report shows similarities with the previous reports in terms of re-claiming the notion of humanism, but its humanism is less oriented towards the individual and more planetary, recognizing that ‘we cannot separate humanity from the planet and all other living beings’. It connects with the Faure report in its critique of the school system and its concern about the consequences of technology, but its more planetary perspective also contrasts with the Faure report, which was grounded in a Western scientific worldview and one in which humans are the rightful custodians of nature. Although the focus of the Reimagining our Futures report is no longer on lifelong learning, it emphasises education as a ‘common good’ and calls for a new ‘social contract’ for education.
Four broad themes have inspired the authors of this special issue: The Faure report’s humanism; the social contract and the role of state and society in education; its universalism; and its faith in technological advancement. Gert Biesta sees the legacy of the report in its reminder of the emancipation of education – a perspective that he argues is needed given the increasing dominance of the ‘ongoing functionalisation and instrumentalization of education’. Sara Black critically engages with the discourse of lifelong learning and techno-solutionism that was taken up in educational policy texts in post-Apartheid Africa and examines the disconnect between Western-inspired policy discourses and the realities of the majority of the population who still subscribe to these ideals promising upward mobility. Moosung Lee focuses on the Faure report’s engagement with the role of technological advancement. Pointing to the increasing role of artificial intelligence in education and society more broadly, Lee interrogates the Faure report in terms of how it can help us to think collectively about the use of technology as an emancipatory tool. Yoko Mochizuki, Edward Vickers and Audrey Bryan take a historical perspective by arguing that there have been transhumanist and techno-solutionist tendencies in UNESCO since the first Director-General Julian Huxley proclaimed ‘scientific humanism’ as the organization’s guiding philosophy. They relate the Faure Report and the Delors Report to a recent ‘neuroliberal turn’, which stands in contrast with UNESCO’s humanistic tradition.
Rita Locatelli’s article addresses the concept of the ‘social contract’. Discussing the Faure report in relation to the Reimagining our Futures report, Locatelli contends that the latter report lacks the ‘clear political contours and…clear vision of the emancipatory function of education’ that characterized the Faure report. She argues that a revisiting of the social contract can only be meaningful if followed by a concrete understanding of and debate about who is responsible for education in society.
Lena Ignatovich and Jude Walker have explored an under-researched aspect of the Faure report, the representation of the Soviet model of lifelong education. Although the Faure Commission included a member from the Soviet Union, Arthur Petrovsky, the report proposed a unified model of lifelong education without adequate consideration of their economic and socio-political systems. Suzanne Smythe’s article, finally, provides a powerful critique of the Faure report’s concept of the ‘universal man’ – ‘the complete man’ [sic] – and its situatedness in the project of modernity. Her critique expands to any attempt to find a universal solution in our pluriversal world.
The Faure report constitutes an example of a promissory vision for the future, which was meant to provide both an overall vision and legitimacy to UNESCO. There are many other examples of these promissory visions that international organizations and governments have promoted in the past 50 years, some of which have been discussed in this special issue, in the form of ideas, discourses, reports and policies. What can be drawn from the articles in this special issue is that we have become suspicious of universal ideas. As argued by Stephen Carney (2022) in his recent review of the Reimagining Our Futures report, ‘whilst education matters, the matter of education is far from settled and is certainly beyond the scope of any one body to define on our collective behalf’ (p. 569). Rather than providing a universal answer, we see this special issue as an invitation to enter into dialogue and to question the master narratives of the past, the present and the future. Perhaps that is where lifelong learning will reclaim its legitimate and central place.
Maren Elfert is Senior Lecturer in International Education in the School of Education, Communication and Society at King’s College London. She is also submissions editor of IRE.
This blog post is based on the editorial introduction to ‘The Faure Report – 50 years on’, a special issue of the International Review of Education guest-edited by Dr Elfert and Alexandra Draxler, Senior Adviser to NORRAG.
All articles in the special issue are available open access until 28 February 2023.