World Education Summit

Statement by the State Secretary at the Federal Ministry of Education and Research, Cornelia Quennet-Thielen, Berlin, 7 May 2015

Cornelia Quennet-Thielen, Staatssekretärin im Bundesministerium für Bildung und Forschung
Cornelia Quennet-Thielen, Staatssekretärin im Bundesministerium für Bildung und Forschung © Presse- und Informationsamt der Bundesregierung

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[ Salutation ]

(1) The World Education Summit: What a concept!

Think Big – we don't have the opportunity to do that every day. The real art is to know when it is time to think big.

For education, that time has come.

Education provides the basis for social participation and upward mobility.
Education is not one but the most important resource for the common good and for prosperity.
Education finds itself in transition in the digital age.
Only countries that invest in education have good prospects in the competition for the best and the brightest.

This is a global trend. There is a great need to exchange views and experience on this, and that is the opportunity for the World Education Summit. I would like to thank the Robert Bosch Stiftung for this initiative. I am glad to take this opportunity to give an opening talk, especially because I cannot be here tomorrow unfortunately.

(2) Many of you were on the Humboldt Walk which Ms Hamm has just described to us so vividly.

We cannot simply take Humboldt's educational ideal as a blueprint for the 21st century. However, it can inspire us.

At the heart of his vision were two concepts: the autonomous individual, meaning a self-determined human being with a free will. This autonomous individual does not go through life with sole responsibility for him- or herself but, on the contrary, is a citizen of the world who shares responsibility for peace, justice and intercultural exchange.

He or she does so on the basis of his or her own language, origins, culture and insights. According to Humboldt, the goal is therefore not a standard education to produce the world citizen, but education for the sake of self-education, to become a free world citizen.

(3) You have just been on the Humboldt Walk and you are hungry. I therefore promise that the little walk that I will now take you on, will be short.

The programme for tomorrow looks like a ground plan – a ground plan for the house of World Education. We can't just walk in. "Unlock the door" is the first programme point. That will be your responsibility, Ms Hamm and Mr Schleicher. Today, I would only like to say this much: we should really try to open up locked doors and not simply walk through open doors. In other words, we should identify the genuine challenges and start with fundamental questions of understanding:

What do we mean when we talk of education?
And what do we mean when we talk of Bildung?
Is there such a thing as a world education?
To what extent can education be internationalized?
How can the differences between education systems be better used for the purpose of dialogue and cooperation?
What elements of education can be measured and what can't? PISA held up a mirror to many countries and helped to identify problems. Germany learnt lessons from this and has improved significantly. At the same time, there is a growing awareness that aspects which can only be measured with difficulty or not at all, for example creativity or artistic talent, are no less valuable than that which we can measure successfully.

(4) Let us continue our way through tomorrow's ground plan and pass through the door we have unlocked into the kitchen.

There are two questions which arise more or less by themselves:

Firstly: What do we want to cook together?
And secondly: What are we better at cooking on our own?

I am being serious with these questions. I don't think it is necessary or sensible to stir educational contents into one pot.

Rather, I very much think that it can make sense to harmonize part of the education structures. Next week I am travelling to Yerevan for the international Bologna conference. We will be able to draw positive interim conclusions: students are becoming more mobile, especially across national borders; many are starting their careers more quickly and have very good prospects. Many are taking a master's degree later after gaining some work experience.

You remember the criticism of Bologna – some of it hefty. This just goes to show that structural changes like this need time. We could call it slow food. But then they have a lasting impact.

(5) In tomorrow's ground plan we pass from the kitchen directly into the lecture hall. This arrangement of the rooms is interesting but also revealing. This evening we will pass straight through the lecture hall as today is not the day for lectures, and in any case, I don’t want to lecture you.

(6) Now we come to the Plenary Circle, and this has the title in the programme: “What I expect from a World Education Summit.”

As far as I am concerned, I expect three things:

That the different perspectives of academic theory, of practice and government be linked together
That we conduct a debate which is not only European and American, but also Asian and African.
That we allow differences to exist between education systems and between education traditions and draw a clear picture of different interests and approaches.

(7) Now let's move on to the next room, the Ideas Gallery, with the title: “The collection of questions and ideas.”

Let me add some more questions to those which I posed when we first entered the 'house':

What is the aim of a good education? Personality development? Employability? A common set of basic values?
How can we strengthen equal opportunities in education and beyond?
What contribution can an education system make to democracy, the rule of law and acceptance of social diversity? To a certain extent, German society developed in the spirit of this question and the answers to it after the Second World War. We are especially aware of this in the light of tomorrow’s 70th anniversary of the end of the Second World War.
What opportunities and challenges does the digital revolution offer for education?
And what specific lessons can we learn from other, different education systems? And how do such good examples find their way into practice?

(8) Now we come to the last room: The "Room with a view".

"A Room with a View" is a famous novel by E.M. Forster. It is the story of an Englishman and an Englishwoman who meet and fall in love in Italy and who would in all likelihood have never met in England. So that is also a kind of world education.

In the programme, this room has the title: "What the first World Education Summit should discuss in 2016." I believe that two pressing topics concern us all:

(a) What kind of education do we need for a diverse society?

This refers to the different backgrounds of school and university students; it refers to the question of how we accept diversity and recognise the opportunities it presents and how we overcome xenophobia and social segregation.

There is no easy answer. History, both past and present, shows that a lack of education and a propensity for violence often, but not necessarily, go together. At the same time, we must not give up the hope that good education can foster both freedom of the individual and social cohesion.

(b) This ties in with the second topic: How can we improve the educational opportunities of children and young people effectively?

This question is also not easy to answer, because it goes together with the major question of a society of equal opportunities.

We must do all in our power to ensure that better education really does lead to more opportunities, social participation and possibilities for upward mobility – not only here but in all parts of the world.

At the end of our tour of the house of World Education, I would like to mention a room that I missed in the ground plan. It was described by Virginia Woolf 20 years after Forster's work: it is "A Room of One’s Own" – the room that we all need for ourselves to learn in and to study in so that we can then get involved.

This room was something Woolf believed that many women in particular did not have. This room is something that today many women and men and children and young people still do not have.

World Education also means building and preserving that room.

Many questions, difficult answers. I am excited and curious about what will emerge from this conference.