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Prof. Alberto Munari

Teacher of Psycology of Education, University of Geneva

Of irreversible changes

Human history has often been the backdrop of upheavals, revolutions and profound changes. They have frequently recurred at different times because the events which triggered them were often of a political and cultural nature. In other words, rather than being due to changes in the geophysical or technical characteristics of the various contexts in which they occurred, such events were related to shifts in power between different movements, governments or religious groups. Only a few centuries ago, which is very little time in our long history, technological changes began to profoundly modify the world in which we live, thus radically transforming our environment and habits.

However, there is a basic difference between these two types of changes. A political or cultural revolution is mostly reversible, as happens when political regimes of an opposite leaning come to power, for example, or when land or markets are lost and then re-conquered following wars. Technological changes, on the other hand, almost always lead to irreversible transformations. Imagine what our life, businesses, health and education would be like today if we did not have electrical power, the telephone, oil, plastic materials, and so on.

Of such irreversible transformations, those that I think would be of greatest interest in this forum are the profound changes that the development of the media and new information technologies have brought to our daily life, interpersonal relations, work, culture, and more specifically to our educational endeavors.

The world as a completely connected place

One of the phenomena which I deem to be most important, because it involves all of our activities and relations, is the compression of time and space. In other words, today we are witnessing the progressive and irreversible disappearance of the “free” space and time which throughout our previous history have enabled us to structure our societies and the values upon which they were founded.

Up until a few centuries ago, there were areas in the world known as “no man’s lands”, which served as “buffers” between the various recognized countries. The buttresses which defended our borders and those that marked the borders of the adjacent country were separated by a space which we could legitimately consider as a “vacuum”, where we could thus dump our garbage, our delinquents, our horrors and wretchedness.

Our “exterior space” was also the exterior space of our neighbor, and we both could use it to fight battles or conduct business which we did not want to carry out within our homes. We could also use it to exclude and confine anything that could be a threat to our social order and wellbeing. Our countries were thus able to become rich and grow, while exporting and confining our refuse and wretchedness to other places.

The challenges in education. Recovering the past, promises, commitments

Italian Episcopal Conference, European Symposium, Roma 1-4 July 2004

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