Hundreds of Israeli educators and education researchers had the good fortune to monitor an online discussion organized by the Taub Center with Prof. Andreas Schleicher, the Director for Education and Skills at the OECD. In the days following the meeting, most public attention was given to what Schleicher said, he is one of the foremost education researchers in the world, and one of the developers of the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA). Reports that were published in the media and posts and opinion articles that had wide distribution in social media, focused on the educational shortfalls of the Israeli education system which Schleicher had already pointed out in the past, and were further exposed during the Corona pandemic – in particular, the aspects dealing with teachers’ roles, teaching and learning, the overly centralized education system and the methods of assessment.

Schleicher pointed out that Israeli education put an emphasis on centralization, knowledge and memorization and that less attention was paid to teaching complex ramifications, creativity and criticism. Perhaps that’s the reason why the public aftermath of the meeting focused on our narrow problems and not on what was discussed in the wider context, and why the acute global educational problems that Schleicher touched on remained peripheral to our public conversation following the meeting.

In the last minutes of discussion, Prof. Zehavit Gross (Bar Ilan University) brought up an issue that apparently was not included in the question list  prepared in advance for Prof. Schleicher’s response. She noted that there was mass concern about the future of the world in terms of democracy, education for peace and liberal values, and asked – “what are you at the OECD planning to do in order to enhance these values?” Prof. Schleicher’s hesitant response on this pressing issue was perhaps the most troubled and unsure response that has been heard from him in recent years.

Here is a short video clip with the question and answer:

Schleicher replied that these issues were not political or a product of a specific government. He made a connection between these issues and technology and the danger of becoming enslaved to algorithms that divide us into groups and tell to go left or right and what to think and what to do. He finally replied forthrightly: “I think that this pandemic has not done a lot for this. I think it has actually weakened civic and democratic structures and has strengthened autocratic approaches to problems. If it were for three months, it would have been ok, but if it becomes a year, people adapt and get used to these kind of structures.” Following this direct and concerning reply he added: “it’s true, the OECD isn’t handling this. I wish we were! We should have done something about this.”

All the same, anyone listening to Schleicher and looking for some hope for change in existing indecisive policy, may have noticed that he hinted at going forward and deepening the exploration into education for democratic values. For the last few years I have been researching and specializing in activist pedagogy – an area of research about redefining the role of educators, as people with the responsibility and ability to promote activist citizenship and encourage independent learners, critical and with the motivation to enact social change. A fascinating and developing area that encompasses a response to some of the educational and global problems that were reflected in the meeting.

The term activist pedagogy refers to several directions and paths and has any number of interpretations. Some of the central interpretations put an emphasis on activism in the teaching and the learning of teachers – in school, in class with students (physically or virtually), in activities and in all subject matters. That’s right, not only during citizenship and education classes but also during math and science lessons. You can read more about it here.

Generally, implementing activist pedagogy is also related to cultural and social theories and focuses on a change in awareness and in mindset through education, by concentrating on matters of principle. Training programs in this area offer teachers strategies of action that combine an activist approach to teaching and also promote social agendas in education, as well as tools and skills for instruction that nurture democratic values and combine current affairs, politics and activism in all fields of study.

Apparently, as in so many other subjects, the educational response to these issues will not come from the top, and it falls to us – teachers and educators. The community of educators working to bring a liberal-humanist social change is getting larger globally and in Israel, and you. You are welcome to join in different ways, for example, if you’re educators you can sign up for a continuing education program in activist pedagogy, here.