Foundations of Dianova’s Education Project

For nearly forty years, the Dianova network has vowed to give each person in their care the means to achieve greater freedom and self-reliance, and to be able to change. To achieve such a commitment, we have developed practices which are based not only on introspection and adequate relationships between people, but also on learning. Learning means change; thus education, whether formal or informal, has always been the core of Dianova’s social projects. Such a commitment to education has been critical to Dianova’s recognition as an NGO with consultative status to the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations (ECOSOC), a status which encourages us to continue along this path and to participate in the challenge of achieving the UN Millennium Goals for Development through our expertise in learning activities.

The very purpose of the Dianova network should not change either. We simply wish to go a little farther, not only by giving individuals the means to change, but society as a whole as well. We wish to engage in a process that will enable us to become a promoter of social change, with the prospect of bringing about sustainable and equitable human development. The first stage in achieving such a vision begins with Dianova’s education project.

This vision was shared broadly at the end of 2009 by all member organizations of the Dianova network during our General Assembly. The first step was to establish a working group called “Education Dianova 2012”, which was tasked to identify our common values and begin building a project that is consistent with the Network’s vision and mission.

In the research work that followed, we examined documents, sifted through archives and studied thinkers and sociologists from all sources, in a process of reflection on, and defining of, our values. The purpose of this work was to be able to identify an appropriate philosophical framework for our education project.

Among the authors which we studied, the ideas of one of them seemed to stand out as being closely connected to our own ideas and to the ideals that we stand for. They are those of sociologist, Edgar Morin, as expressed in his book “Seven Complex Lessons for Education in the Future” (1). Morin does not aim to build a system based on the sole development of individual skills – the author’s vision goes much further; he calls for building a sustainable future, where the key words will be Democracy, Equality and Social Justice, in addition to peace and harmony with our natural environment.

He appeals primarily to a true knowledge of the human experience, including its difficulties and its propensity for error and illusion that have interfered with the human mind since the dawn of humanity. Education should enable us to become aware of such risk, so that the human mind is not confined to mere certainties, even though the latter may seem logical and rational.

Knowledge is not solely made of rationality, because true rationality results also from affectivity, curiosity, passion and emotion. True rationality knows that the human mind cannot be omniscient and that reality may at times be mysterious.

It is incumbent upon us to rethink how knowledge as a whole is organized. Modernity tends to compartmentalize and split up knowledge into a variety of disciplines. On the contrary, it is critical to remove those traditional barriers that exist between disciplines. We must connect what is now separated. Accordingly, a transdisciplinary approach is essential to enable the young people to grasp the complex and global nature of today’s problems.

This approach is especially relevant because we have entered an era of globalization. The problems we must face are becoming increasingly multidimensional and cross-cultural, as are our societies and as is the human being. It is now impossible to isolate the parts from the whole. Each dimension is in constant interaction with all others.

Education should enable to develop the human mind’s natural ability to situate the information it gets into a context, into a set which enable it to better understand the relationships between the parts and the whole and take into account the world’s true complexity, according to the etymological meaning of the word “complex”, i.e., what is woven together.

The third millennium will confront all human beings with similar problems and a common destiny. Yet, despite the profoundly unifying nature of the globalization movement, the world is increasingly divided into small nations bent on defending their shared culture and identity. As a result the world’s conflicts are worsening – between religions, between rich and poor, North and South, democracy and dictatorship…

One of the main purposes of future education will be to give mankind a real global identity and take up the challenge of successfully providing everyone of us with an anthropological conscience, which enables us to recognize our unity in our diversity; an ecological conscience, which teaches us to share and protect our common biosphere, and finally, a global civic conscience, based on the teaching of criticism and self-criticism, of accountability, solidarity and citizenship, of a genuine understanding between peoples.

Such a project is so challenging that it could easily be described as utopian. One could also say that it is the sole responsibility of national educational systems, not ours. However, we all know that the State is not the sole to envision the long term. We can start the process with the participation of civil society and third sector organizations.
Dianova can play a significant role in this area. Not because the very nature of our history or our experience gives us a natural disposition that would make us better educators. But, simply because, in almost forty years, we have gradually developed a set of practices, a philosophy of human interaction, that enables us to position ourselves, with a well-built project, as one of the initiators of a new philosophy of education.

These practices are based on the quality of the relational climate which is implemented in our various programs, through a set of values essential to any educational process.

The respect for others, their needs, choices, motivations and expectations.

The integration of democratic processes, that enable us to listen and to understand, to criticize and self-criticize, to accept other people’s ideas, even though we consider them deviant.

The empathy, that is the faculty for putting ourselves in other people’s shoes, to deeply understand his or her feelings, sometimes because we once had the same feelings.

Tolerance, which involves the ethical choice of accepting other people’s ideas, customs or attitudes.

Equitable and sustainable development, with the implementation of projects aimed at achieving gender equality or of “ecocitizenship” activities. At last but not least, resiliency, which reflects our commitment to help find creative solutions when facing hardship, to overcome it and to be able to grow out of it.

The success of Dianova’s education project will pass through the involvement of each member organization of the network in a myriad of different projects, based on common values. These values are already present and are part of our common identity. It will be our responsibility to utilize them to give young people the keys that enable them to cope with a rapidly changing, unpredictable and increasingly complex world.

(1) Published in October 1999 par the United Nations Education, Science and Culture Organization (UNESCO) available online in the French and Spanish languages.