UNESCO: Reimagining Our Education’s Futures Together.


In this ninth blog post, I start from the most recent UNESCO report on Education (2021) and Nóvoa’s reflections (2021, 2022) on the changes registered in educational institutions in the post-Covid-19 pandemic scenario. Positing the possibility of a disaggregation of universities via entrepreneurialization and AI, this author proposes them as a place par excellence for teacher training (albeit not the only one). I suggest that, if this disaggregation does not solve the problem of the core need, for the society at large, to produce fundamental science (especially in areas such as the Human and Social Sciences) nor to encourage critical thinking, nor to train free and participatory citizens, there may be a complementary path to teacher training, in order to (re)think the possible educational futures of universities in the 21st century. I can also discern the virtues of developing psychoanalytic sensibilities in Education.

© Alexandra Pereira, CECC, UCP, 2022

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  • I introduce some of the results of the most recent UNESCO report on Education (2021), which consulted many hundreds of thousands of educational actors around the world.
  • I start with the points made by Nóvoa (2021, 2022), scientific coordinator for that publication, about the major global social changes verified during the last decades, as well as the changes registered in the educational institutions in the post-pandemic Covid-19 scenario (changes unprecedented in 150 years of the History of Education) and the serious possibility of a disaggregation of universities.
  • I suggest a complementary path to teacher training, in order to (re)think the educational future of universities in the 21st century. I conclude that there is no Artificial Intelligence that can replace the pedagogical relationship, nor any app that is worth a cordial scientific debate within a genuine, humane encounter. And there is nothing more urgent to be taught and thought about than ignorance – after Lacan, our desire to learn must be stronger than our “passion for ignorance”.

UNESCO’s most recent report on Education, entitled “Reimagining Our Futures Together: A New Social Contract for Education” (2021), consulted with hundreds of thousands of education actors around the world, from teachers and administrators to students in all levels of teaching and auxiliary personnel of education. If the report did not reveal major innovations in terms of “futuristic forecasts” (often mistaken ones) for Education, on the other hand, it highlighted a great need to pay attention to changes in methods and practices that already occur on a daily basis across the globe, valuing the positive and constructive independent experiences of both teachers and students – as encouraged by E. Macron in his speech for the opening of the French school year, in the end of August 2022 [see Other Materials/Online Media].

According to Nóvoa (2022), following the Covid-19 pandemic, we are experiencing, in the History of Education, an unprecedented revolution over the last 150 years. Concomitantly, we have been experiencing, during the last few decades, five major social transformations (some of those had a greater visibility, others were less subjected to exposure and reflection): in work, in the digital world, in demography, in education, and in migrations. The increase in the average life expectancy has changed everything within intergenerational relationships and the institutions and social practices affected by them, in the space of just one century (relationships that now hypothetically involve the coexistence of four or five different generations – instead of only two, as in the past). This leads to the need to rethink society at all levels and adult education in particular, whose objective is no longer “to prepare for the job market” – all the more so, since the strong growth in the number of unemployed people worldwide is a possibility that automation places daily on the tables of labor sociologists.

A global increase in the scale of migrations and mobilities of all kinds (including circular and pendular, lifestyle, highly skilled or economic migrations, climate change migrations, the various refugee movements, tourism mobility or the phenomenon of the so-called “digital nomads” – which is markedly generational) came to summon, still, the daily need to live with social and cultural otherness and to value freedom and diversity. Emphasizing as essential for the survival of Western democracies a relaxation of social, identity and class tensions (with a corresponding rethinking of the mechanisms of democratic representation, the social state and the redistribution of resources) and of war/conflicts (underlining the importance of diplomacy, long-term planning and geopolitics), especially during times of economic crisis within the capitalist system.

As for educational institutions, according to Nóvoa (2022) they are currently and post-Covid-19 pandemic marked by the following trends:

Utilitarianism and immediacy (a closing in the present time, a weaker relationship with the past and with the different possible futures than in previous decades);

“Hyper-personalization” of learning, “privatization” (in the sense of a retreat into the self-ownership of education, as well as into private and domestic spheres or spaces, or into families and “home-schooling” – instead of a public space where something in common happens and where there is an encounter, a confrontation with dissent and negotiation, where a relationship with diversity and otherness can be established and tolerance can be trained), along with despatialization/dematerialization (often using the digital, via Artificial Intelligence, for such purposes);

Employability and entrepreneurialization of education (with a consequent unwillingness to make mistakes, which represents a serious matter scientifically speaking, but a rational preventive measure in business terms); the student-researcher as a client who pays or is paid to learn and to do research in isolation (a pedagogical and scientific illusion), “making a career” and possibly facing colleagues in a utilitarian way; lack of time for joint reflection, to mature ideas and for respectful scientific dialogue;

– The need to reaffirm cooperation and division of tasks as fundamental basic ethical principles for being part of a team in education, in society in general and in the world of work in particular (training civicly committed and solidary citizens, more so than “innovative” entrepreneurs or mere consumers, including consumers-regurgitators of individual ideas and practices, at the whim of the dictates of successive funding programs, without any significant reflexivity attached to such practices);

The growing importance of open science (the so-called “knowledge commons”), citizen science, and the general relevance of nurturing a scientific culture in developed, contemporary Western societies (these were further trends exposed by the pandemic);

– The need to value the pedagogical relationship and the pedagogical and scientific encounter, as well as to assume teacher training as a basic task of the university; along with this, the need to “reinvent the school” based on the different practices, methods and interesting experiences that already exist, giving up most of the futuristic illusions and unrealistic pretensions of “inventing what has never been done before”;

– The need to encourage conviviality, respecting the limits of other people and integrating a “more than human humanism” (an ecological one), together with a genuine openness and a cordial scientific curiosity; non-yielding to typically capitalist and/or selfish anti-group behaviors; civilized debate of ideas not people, and consideration for specific disciplines and their methodologies (as a basic condition for collaboration);

– The need to reinforce solidarity (a compassionate movement of personal responsibility-taking for the social and the collective – on the other hand though, the omnipresent and overrated “empathy” has several downsides[11]), instead of the concern with “learning and investigating in isolation”. As learning only exists in the pedagogical relationship and via enriching constructive exchanges with professional peers and supervisors, which open horizons instead of narrowing them down. Abdicating the illusions of already knowing everything, or of being able to come to know everything by oneself (including everything there is to know about what one wants, by oneself and autonomously, to learn still, or to already teach); give up the illusions that constructive scientific dialogue is of no use. The archetypal anti-scientific position is generally arrogant: it already knows everything without having relevant experience of anything, nor enough theoretical depth to question what is left. In this sense, psychonalythic concepts such as the Lacanian “passion for ignorance” can become very useful also in Education research [4][5][6].

I would add two other trends linked to marketing, compliance with the demands of supranational political institutions and stakeholders, or a desire for social acceptance by educational institutions in the face of increasingly demanding public opinions and the changes verified in the composition of their potential students, while trying to attract sources of funding and investment. The so-called “gender washing”: concerns with gender equality without adequate staff training nor effective support structures available, which can protect women and not make them more vulnerable nor wear them down, ie, without visible practical consequences. And the so-called “diversity washing”: a self-proclaimed concern with the integration of the ethnic-cultural diversity that already exists and is growing in our societies, as well as the integration of different ages and social classes, consideration for the ecological concerns of the youngest generations, attention to neurodiversity or care for people with disabilities, for example (however, without implementing sufficient, visible and palpable education on, internal policies and control mechanisms for behaviors such as bullying, stalking, scapegoating, harassment, exclusion, forms of damaging discrimination, unfairness and even inadequate paternalism between students, staff and teachers[9][10]). Thus, about many of our educational institutions and actors in the first quarter of the 21st century and the mismatch between their discourses and actual practices, it is worth quoting the famous saying: “Brother Thomas preaches very brightly: please look at what he says, do not look at what he does”. Many educational institutions reproduce social violence because they do not teach about relationships nor the crucial importance of mental health, and they refuse to regulate and monitor the practices to foster healthy institutional environments – how can there be human development (and an integral one) without the fundamental roles of education and mental health?

Since I am a great advocate of the ethnographic method in Sociology and Anthropology, due to the unprecedented quality, richness and depth of the data that it allows one to obtain (albeit with a much greater investment of time, training, joint reflexivity, personal risk and resources than other faster and more showy methodologies, easily articulated in superficial numbers that say nothing about human and relational experiences or underlying social structures), as well as due to the central role played by the human relationships established by the researcher(s) while doing ethnographies, due to their vital flexibility as a method and the primacy they give to the encounter and dialogue with otherness – I cannot but inevitably think of ethnographies in educational settings as a very interesting tool to access the complexity, the relational and practical nuances or the methodological particularities implemented by teachers in specific educational contexts (both school and university ones) and in different countries. On another hand, it seems useful to develop psychoanalytic sensibilities in Education.

Inspired by Rimbaud, Nóvoa (2021) also proposes three fundamental gestures in research: astoundment, intercession and profanation. From this author’s perspective, it is possible (although not a certainty) that universities will disaggregate in the future, replaced by a digital training market and by powerful research and technology centres, or by companies that take precedence over universities in awarding diplomas (the only monopoly that seems to have prevented such disaggregation up until today). Even so, in my opinion, and despite the increasing dissemination of such phenomena (which is already happening), the problem of the core need, for the wider society, to produce fundamental science – especially in areas such as the Social and Human Sciences – would not be solved.

Perhaps such dynamics will only underline, once again and so many decades later, the central role of those disciplines and their “utility” in the formation of critical thinking, participating and ethical citizens, and public intellectuals, who value dialogue and debate before stepping into competitive intolerance, prejudiced judgment, the moralistic intransigence typical of consumer-regurgitant (but non-reflexive) groups, or individualistic commodification. Perhaps it is a romantic perspective, that of purifying the role of the universities – since the human defects, the institutional bureaucracy, the metrics in their various forms and the contingencies of the world so often defraud one’s expectations. Or perhaps it constitutes, purely and simply, a logical consequence of the entrepreneurialization of diplomas.

Evidently, researchers in Education will emphasize more the need to have universities as the home, par excellence, of teacher training and a growing professionalization of such training (which is, without a doubt, very necessary). But anyone interested in research in the Social and Human Sciences sees, perhaps, in this change another opportunity to breathe more freely: returning to the university’s role of solidary and civic intellectual training (or reinventing it, now calling on practices of representation, social mobility and coexistence with diversity that did not exist in previous decades), as well as the production of fundamental science. That is, training citizens to give them a critical thinking toolbox, citizens who can become public participants, illuminating pertinent debates and building bridges with society.

Will the entrepreneurialization of education and the market for online (or distance) training bring about a reinforcement of the intellectual and civic role of the university as a unique place (and, for many decades, an irreplaceable one) for freedom, diversity, training, encounter and error – leaving the mercantilizing rationality up to economic and technological groups or companies? Is it possible (perhaps, even desirable) that this happens? It would have to happen at the expense of the universities abdicating their monopoly on awarding diplomas – thus losing a very significant part of their instruments for the affirmation of social legitimacy and status, economic and social value, cultural capital and differentiated knowledge.

In this case, universities would urgently need to reinvent and differentiate themselves. However, it may already be too late for the universities not to disintegrate into other spaces promoting creative and cultural encounters by using innovative practices, corroded as they were by market utilitarianism, the media coverage of science-products and the sale of diplomas. But let’s try the error and “let’s sustain hope”, as Paulo Freire would put it. The hope that this vision of a more democratic return to the future and to the primary functions of the university is not just wishful thinking – it may, rather, represent an additional route, complementary to teacher training, in order to (re)think the various possible educational futures of the universities of the 21st century.


*Please find the portuguese translation on the next page

*Para a tradução portuguesa da publicação, por favor aceda à próxima página

Other Materials/Online Media:

⇒ The 3rd UNESCO Education Report (2021) can be read over here:

Reimagining our futures together: a new social contract for education – UNESCO Digital Library

⇒ Here is a video from the IE University of Lisbon – Transdisciplinary and Interuniversity Seminars by António Nóvoa, on “Transforming the University” (December 2021, subtitles in english available):

⇒ The other seminars from that series on: “Transforming the School”, “Transforming Formation” and “Transforming Research” (english subtitles available):

Seminários Transdisciplinares e Interuniversitários | Transformar a escola

Seminários Transdisciplinares e Interuniversitários | Transformar a formação

Seminários Transdisciplinares e Interuniversitários| Transformar a investigação

⇒ Another useful video by an experienced and knowlegeable professional (based on the Human Givens Approach), regarding the implementation of bullying prevention programs in workplaces and educational institutions as well as helping targets of toxic environments, the british therapist Mark Tyrrell: 

⇒ Still on bullying and educational institutions, a video by the brazilian psychologist and psychoanalyst Lucas Nápoli, PhD by PUC-RJ: on Winnicott, the mistaken equivalence made between agressivity and violence in our societies and culture, and how environments and individuals that wrongly repress healthy expressions of agressivity paradoxically feed the emergence of a “peace without a voice” (ie, castration and censorship) and the manifestation of violent or sadistic behaviors e.g. in educational settings (with english subtitles):

He has another video on Lacan’s “Passion for Ignorance”

⇒ United Nations’ 2022 Transforming Education Summit:

Transforming Education Summit | United Nations

⇒ Presentation of the OECD report “Resourcing Higher Education in Portugal” (December 2022):

Apresentação do relatório da OCDE “Resourcing Higher Education in Portugal”

⇒ E. Macron:

Rentrée scolaire : les principales mesures annoncées par Macron

Réunion de rentrée des recteurs d’académie à la Sorbonne.


[1] Espinoza, E. M., Ramos, M. L. R., & da Novoa, A. S. (2016). Desafíos y oportunidades para la autonomía universitaria ante los nuevos modelos educativos y la revolución tecnológica 4.0. LA AUTONOMÍA UNIVERSITARIA EN DIÁLOGO A cien años de la Reforma de Córdoba, 245.

[2] Felman, S. (2013). Psychoanalysis and education: Teaching terminable and interminable. In Learning Desire (pp. 17-43). Routledge.

[3] Ferreira, A. G., Mota, L., & Vilhena, C. (2018). Leituras do Pensamento Educacional de António Nóvoa. Análise Comparada de Revistas Científicas de Educação e Ensino em Portugal (1987-2017). Revista Portuguesa de Pedagogia, (52-1), 5-26.

[4] Gaztambide-Fernández, R. (2012). Our passion for ignorance. Curriculum Inquiry42(4), 445-453.

[5] Holmes, L. (2006). The Passion of Ignorance. Interstices: Journal of Architecture and Related Arts, 110-112.

[6] Logue, J. (2019). Teaching Ignorance: On the Importance of Developing Psychoanalytic Sensibilities in Education. Philosophical Studies in Education50, 105-114.

[7] Nóvoa, A. (2016). Carta a um jovem investigador em Educação. Investigar em Educação2(3).

[8] Rimbaud, A. (2011). Lettres du voyant. Les Editions de Londres.

[9] 6 Toxic Work Behaviors That Will Destroy Your Organization.

[10] The ugly psychology behind scapegoating | Luke Burgis (on René Girard and scapegoating dynamics).

[11] Empathy Is Overrated. Our actions matter more than how we… | by Devon Price and ‘Empathy, Is It All It’s Cracked Up to Be?’: At Aspen, the Case Against Feeling Others’ Pain – The Atlantic and Leading with empathy is dangerously overrated (pioneera.com) and What is Toxic Empathy? | How to Emotionally Protect Yourself (mygbhp.com) and What Is a Dark Empath? | Psych Central.

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