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The crisis of Covid-19, future education and the ecological education transitions in Seoul, Korea

What would be the future of education look like in post COVID-19 era? Why the systemic transition in education from mechanical/industrial mindset to ecological mindset? Two researching scholars at EcoCiv Korea, Dr. Keunhwa Jung and Dr. Yunjeong Han had a talk on this critical issue. EcoCiv Korea has been working closely together with Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education in developing mid/long term plan and curriculums in ecological transition in education. The followings are the conversation of two scholars on these issues by categories.

The unprecedented crisis, even changing the school environment.

Yunjeong Han: There was an unprecedented happen in which children could not go to school. This social pause causes students, teachers, and parents to have new experiences and thoughts, and at this opportunity, the informatization of education is likely to progress. I think that the key to informatization is to expand the interaction between teachers and students. It was difficult for the teachers to contact the child one by one and check the announcements to be conveyed, but it felt desirable in terms of communication.

Gunna Jung: Professors also voluntarily hold workshops and share tips on driving students to participate in online. I also think that it is ‘’the formation of community trust’ through common interest and common problem-solving. On the other hand, if online classes replace face-to-face lectures at universities, the question is likely to come to mind whether it is necessary to maintain the current university space and system. 

Han: Of course, it is clear that remote classes cannot replace face-to-face classes. However, I hope that it would be good if online ‘access’ would become common even after school reopens.  

Jung: ‘The experience of stopping the whole world’s daily life at the same time’ is a truly special experience. No one would have predicted this experience in advance. This is a sort of ‘Black Swan’ case. According to Nassim N. Taleb, who is a mathematical statistician, scholar, and the author of Black SwanBlack swan is an event that is unlikely to happen but that if it does, it will cost a lot of shock and cost. The message is that we need a whole new understanding and prospect of the future. Because if we don’t radically change our perspectives and attitudes, we will behave in the same way as we were, so we’re likely to repeat similar situations in different forms. 

Han: If it is an opportunity to think about what humans are, is it tremendous? The duality of human beings is also revealed when a huge crisis hits impressive. On the one hand, exclusion and hatred of others raise; on the other hand, there would be hope that people could find altruism and cooperation, such as the commitment of people who care for patients. “Covid-19 epidemic triggered a global trend of kindness,” said professor Jamil Zaki of psychology at Stanford University. He stated, “We need to create a new normal from ruthless individualism to more value for empathy and fellowship, not going back to the past when the pandemic would be over.” It means that it is the opportunity to recover the distorted humanity in the neoliberal infinite competition. 

The cause of the global crisis and the problem of economic growth firstism

Han: As a solution to the new epidemic, WHO (World Health Organization) has argued the concept of ‘One Health’ since 2010. There is a premise that only when animals are healthy can humans be healthy, and that the environment should be healthy. The environmental destruction has been related to the problem of climate change and exposed to the Pandemic. I think that the climate crisis will also have an impact on our lives in a similar way as Covid-19. I think that the solution is to regain the position of humans on earth. We need to create a ‘sustainable civilization’ that produces and consumes within the capacity of the Earth.

Jung: Taleb emphasized the uncertainty of climate change and urged thorough preparation, while experts argued that it is important to understand the underlying causes. Developing forests incorrectly is like opening Pandora’s box. It is said that as biodiversity is eroded when conditions that protect humans from viruses tend to be eliminated when forests are removed from the ecosystem or agricultural land is replaced by residential areas. In short, I think that it is necessary to reflect on the anti-ecological nature of modern industrial civilization and to transform the social system in which modern industrial civilization works.

Han: The prediction that there will be more victims from economic collapse than victims of Covid-19. The economic crisis has to be overcome quickly and efficiently in that it is most difficult for the poor. The damage to Covid-19 in the United States was shocking. While the U.S. accounts for 25% of the global GNP, there are no masks, no beds, and the most victims. This phenomenon can be seen as the evil of capitalism, which has divided production into labor in order to generate maximum profits. After World War II, economism, which replaced nationalism, dominated the world, which revealed its limitations through the Pandemic and the climate crisis. The solution is a new ideology of globalism. As acknowledging the fact that “we have only one Earth,” I think that the economy that prioritizes the value of life should become a mainstream economy, not an alternative economy.

Jung: I agree with you. While Naomi Klein argues, “climate change is a battle between capitalism and the planet,” what really matters is the economy, that is our thoughts on the economy. In this sense, the content of economic education needs to be changed, and we need to image an alternative economic model. Above all, production, transportation, and consumption on a global scale today raise serious questions about sustainability. What I want to emphasize is that the change has already begun. Economic policies focused solely on economic growth, are wrong, and the perception that GDP statistics, which hold the throne of national policy, are a false compass is gaining consensus. 

In what ways will the world go now?

Han: One would say that the meaning of B.C. has changed from “Before Christ” to “Before Covid-19.” The rise of the ‘Untact economy’ is expected to be the biggest change, as it is highly contagious and distance-based. However, one thing that digitalization is excessively emphasized. Of course, I do not deny the merits and openness of digital beyond physically blocked space. Digitalization has the ecological value that reduces the waste of resources due to unnecessary movement. While we have to reflect on the problems of mass production, mass consumption, and globalization, which are the root causes of Covid-19, it is necessary to point out alternatives.

Jung: It is time to seriously consider circular economy as a new economic model instead of linear economy that runs out of resources that are depleted and unaffordable. In order for production, distribution, and consumption to circulate, the production system should be newly designed from the point of view of resource circulation so that waste, which is the result of consumption, can be re-injected into production biologically and technically. Through this, the ecosystem in which waste becomes food and the wisdom of economic activities of all living things must be carried out in human economic activities. It is also necessary to reduce the size of the economic circulation in order to increase the resilience and self-sufficiency of the local economy. In particular, we have experienced the first stop in the trade of health care supplies and food in the midst of Pandemic. In this way, food, energy, and healthcare should not be left to international trade, which is highly unstable and uncertain, and should be as self-sufficient as possible at the local level. In other words, we must move toward local circular economy where the social economy and the shared economy based on the local community can become the main agents.

The direction of our education after Covid-19

Han: After the Sewol ferry disaster, many parents have changed: they realized that clinging to grades and entrance college exams presupposes that children live in good health. The same goes for Covid-19. It seems that there will be some cracks in the traditional education system centered on grades and entrance exams. If universities that used to pay high tuition fees for finding better employments are reorganized into practical ways of acquiring expertise rather than accumulating academic capital, it is expected that public education will be normalized.  

Jung: That’s right. The ‘stopping situation’ brought about by the virus raised a fundamental question about education. No one denies that current education should change forward, but one of the great barriers to the changes in the inertia, institution, and system itself for education that is currently maintained. 

Han: Online classes are not devoted compared to face-to-face classes; they should be focused on the value of equity rather than discrimination in evaluation or grades. The values of progressive education should be promoted, such as cooperation rather than competition, ways to acquire knowledge instead of knowledge itself, and education that fosters creativity and ecological literacy.

Jung: The person who goes down the way can only stop and see far away whether the road that is going is the target point. Online education was actually not a technical problem, but because it was inertial, uncomfortable and unfamiliar, we kept away. As offline (face-to-face) education stopped due to Covid-19, online education quickly entered the education field. As you stated, it is really important to realize the ordinary truth; the premise of the goals is to ‘make children live healthy and alive instead of the grades and college entrance, and that the goal of education is ‘to make children live healthy and happy.’

Introduction of ecological transformation education, why now?

Han: Last year, ‘Youth for Climate action’ asked Cho Heeyeon, who is an education governor of Seoul, for education on climate crisis. With this opportunity, Seoul Mayor Park Wonsoon and an education governor of Seoul Jo Heeyeon announced the joint declaration of Ecological Civilization transition City Seoul (09/26/2019), and the governor of education also created a mid- to long-term plan for ecological transition education to be implemented between 2020 and 2024. The key to ecological transition education is to learn and teach about the structure of the ecological crisis represented by climate change, what system changes are needed, how social structure and economy, how daily life should be reorganized, what fields and jobs will be created.

Jung: This Covid-19 Pandemic calls for reflection on ‘wide and big changes’ and ‘deep changes’ in our society. This ‘wide and deep change’ is called ‘transition’, and I think ecological transition education is an education that changes one’s perspective and attitude beyond simply being interested in environmental issues. UNESCO’s sustainable education 2030′ which prepares for the climate crisis, emphasizes cooperation and integration efforts with the aim of cultivating subjects who practice life and behavior transitions that transform beyond the curriculum into classrooms, beyond classrooms to schools, beyond schools to communities. Personally, I think that the key is the integrated effort and holistic approach to ensure that ecological reason and ecological sensibility that is integrated into the cooperation of curriculum, classrooms, schools, and communities. The common umbrella will be ‘a learning place for sustainable life and the world for the transition and solidarity.’

The future of school and education, the answer of students as subjects 

Jung: Our future will be marked by ‘black swan.’ The future of school education should be the education that fosters the wisdom and ability to live in that future. The education government of Seoul should play a role in organizing time and space for experiments and achievements in classrooms, schools, and local areas to lead to a big flow, rather than instructing schools top-down. In this sense, time is ‘waiting,’ and space is ‘together’. No one can do this alone, but we have to wait and stay together to meet each other. Finally, I want to say that students should be subjects. In order to take the lead, students need time and public space to participate. You should help students think, discuss, and find solutions to the problem of Covid-19.

Han: I totally agree with you. The key to our ability to live in a changing world is to be a competent learner on your own. One of the sources reviewed when preparing mid-to-long-term plans for the ecological transition education was ‘learning compass 2030′ announced by OECD. Learning compasses emphasize that students need to learn not to simply accept teachers’ guidance or instructions, but rather to find their own meaning in new situations. When the wave hit, the critical thing is to see the big picture and steer. We need to find diverse ways to get the compass in the hands of children.

This article is translated by Heeyoung Jung, staff of EcoCiv Korea and edited by Dongwoo Lee, Director of EcoCiv Korea from the article, ( 유현경 사진 장은주)