Liberating Education and Technologies
All societies and the most diverse environments of production and reproduction or life are affected by the changing contexts in which we live. Knowledge and technological innovation today tend to be transmitted more through immaterial than material environments, demanded by the desire of continued momentum of the logic of capitalist enterprise that needs to propagate in scenarios of instability, of uncertainty, and of high competition. Latin America is undergoing a strong reconfiguration process regarding its hegemonic census, in which (re)concentration of the control of power is rapidly increasing. The result is that an ever more powerful minority dominates the majority of the people in our unequal societies. This reconfiguration of the model of the coloniality of power, as a result of instrumental rationality, can be perceived by economic domination, reprivatization of public services, reconcentration of the control of work and production resources, social polarization, exacerbated exploitation of nature, growing hyper fetishization of the market, manipulation and control of the technological communication resources to produce imaginary settings of terror and mystification, commodification of subjectivity, an exacerbation of the individualistic dispersion of accumulation, and fundamentalization of ideologies (Quijano 2014).
In this context of the corporatization of everything, even school and education, the discourses of human capital emerged in the 1970s and 1980s, the concepts of reengineering and total quality appeared in the 1990s, and technological competence and innovation developed in the 2000s, when science and technology were reduced to a technoscience at the service of profit for certain business groups. In other words, in the current globalized capitalism, commodification of science and technology at the service of maximum profit becomes hegemonic. With this instrumental logic, education is focused on preparing people for the market, removing from schools their potential to contribute to the comprehensive formation of human groups and individuals. What are the possibilities of an approach to this situation aimed at thinking and creating alternative experiences directed toward a new hegemony of societies with greater equality and more social justice, spreading good living to all people, in harmony with all other life in the cosmos of which we are a small part?
This essay intends to explore the origin of certain concepts and identify possibilities for overcoming ambivalences, from a historical and critical understanding of educational processes in the contexts of “artificial intelligence” or “Industry 4.0,” also called the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
Insights into Technique and Technology
Modern Eurocentric reasoning, which has placed the ideals of individual liberty and social equality at the center, understanding the future as a goal to be conquered, was imposed as the criterion of truth and the only pattern for life in society. Modern science is consolidated by the path of unlimited progress without measuring the consequences on nature and other forms of existence.
Here it is important to briefly consider the visions of technology. A strong idea, present throughout history and until today, is one that understands technology as a determinant of human, social, economic, and cultural transformations. From this perspective, there are those who think that technology is the ruin of mankind, while, on the contrary, others believe that it is the solution to all evils. The latter is characterized by a pragmatic, positivist view that historically fueled capitalism’s hunger for development. According to this paradigm, there is no need to worry about the destruction of nature, because fatally, in this point of view, sophisticated technical instruments will be created, able to undo any resulting harmful effects. Considered as techno-centric, these views are characterized by the absolutization of technology, which guides human existence with its rationality, either from the catastrophist perspective or according to the idea of technology as a panacea for all “ailments.”
From a critical perspective, technology is the expression of the creative process through which humans create the instruments needed to best transform the world. As Vieira (2005) explains, technology is not the engine of history, which, once created, conditions human existence. “Technological creation, at any time in history, influences the behavior of man, but this does not make it right to consider it the engine of history” (Vieira 2005, p. 69). It is possible to say that technique constitutes the mediation of human praxis for the projection and (re)production of life, seeing as the machine is the result of a particular materialization of technique as a creative process. In this regard, technique is the mediation of human actions, through instruments used by man to counteract nature’s obstacles.
For Freire (2007), the problem is found in the mythicizing trends of technology. This is not a technological problem but a consequence of the political options. If the orientation of technologies is toward consumerism, it will be hard to avoid mythification. But the truth is that, as a being of praxis, man produces techniques in response to the challenges of the surrounding world and creates his own world. While creating the conditions for life, man is influenced by the world created by daily life. Also, technology is part of this created cultural world, and, therefore, we cannot be slaves of these techniques, since, being created by man, they are his “slaves” and cannot be his “masters.” This viewpoint requires an education for critical supervision, in face of the constraints of these technologies that are routinely integrated into human action.
With this critical view, technique and technology contain inherently political and cultural dimensions, and there can be no dichotomies between these dimensions because “man, becoming the being that produces himself, simultaneously establishes himself as a technical animal. By definition, technique is present in every human act” (Vieira 2005, p. 62).
Based on this understanding, we can critically observe the interaction between the tangible and intangible dimensions, forming new subjectivities that permeate the subject’s relationship with themselves and with other human beings. With this awareness, the neoliberal principles that articulate the logic of competition, performance, and productivity are studied in connection with flexible work relationships, where everybody must be their own entrepreneur. The fact is that neoliberal politics go beyond the goods and service markets to form suitable subjects who join the process of permanent competition. Those who don’t accept or fail to compete are considered guilty of being unproductive (Klaus 2017) and will form part of the underprivileged sector, because they are not cable of being capitalist entrepreneurs.
As can be seen, the field of science and technology is fully ideologized, seized by a mythicizing irrationalism that, behind a discourse of neutrality, forms a dichotomy between vocational training and politics. Since the 2000s, countries incorporated education by skill and innovative education to their educational systems, with the logic of transferring technological innovation from the business environment to the educational field. The consequence has been that the pedagogical field has become a favorable arena for the artificial introduction of technical artifacts with superficial, passive, and noncritical adaptations. It is this neutrality that is, truly, the expression of technicality as an acritical perception of the phenomenon of technique and technology. Along this path, education tends to strengthen its reformist character which transforms users of technological artifacts into objects instead of protagonists of the transformation (Freire 2007). When a technical instrument is used without understanding the process, that is, without understanding the basics of the technique, the path of technicality is opened, the consequences of which will affect all individual and social life.
From the pedagogical perspective, it is crucial to understand technology as a human activity that aims toward the production of methods and artifacts; it is not an end in itself. It is a vision that presupposes ethics as a last reference to validate the senses of technology and, thus, avoid technocentrism, in which the only referential dimension of individual and social life is technology in the instrumental sense.
Technical and Ethical-Political Education
The above reflections evidence the possibility of understanding technical-professional training not disassociated from political formation, in which practice and theory, as well as local, regional, national, and international processes, influence each other dialectically. There are political options for conventional technologies which produce consequences completely different from those options that prioritize social technologies, such as those dedicated to the production of organic food. Political and ideological decisions are defined in the game of economic interests, which include science and technology. Then, from that perspective, unemployment is not a misfortune but rather the result of a type of globalization and technological development defined by the head forces of the political and economic power, by the power of knowledge and technological innovation at the service of the dominant elites of those countries.
In this context, how should technical-scientific education be implemented in order to have coherence with politics and ethics of transformation of this unjust reality? As previously mentioned, education includes technical preparation, but it goes beyond that. A liberating education involves affection, joy, creation, and critical preparation for technical-scientific proficiency. In other words, a liberating education involves historical, political, social, and cultural beings capable of connecting with their time, of discerning, under the circumstances that develop historically, the conditions and trends which contribute to a united construction of better societies. The technologies available at each time will be used to the extent that they are able to contribute to this. However, it is necessary to consider that techniques are not neutral and cannot be transplanted from one context to another without being (re)created. On the other hand, the transfer of technologies which may be appropriate for a welfare-oriented methodology exerts dominance over the communities or societies who receive it (Freire 2007).
It is important to highlight the significant role of the educator in this process. This does not contemplate filling the student with technical information, nor providing the student with an adaptation to his environment. When professional educators insert themselves with their students in work of critical knowledge for the purpose of transformation, they will value methodologies accessible to subjects according to their individual realities. Also, practices and technologies can be used which have existed for thousands of years, and yet their results can still be effective for social coexistence, the care of the environment, soil, water, and in other aspects of the reproduction and preservation of life. They are cultural heritages, authentic social technologies that may continue to be (re)created in participative processes of reflection and action with a critical understanding of the implications of technique itself, intimately related to the existential conditions of the subjects involved in the processes. A critical reading of the world and technical-professional insertion are the two margins that define the path to follow. Social technologies can be understood as products, techniques, and/or replicable methodologies, developed in interaction with the community, and that result in effective solutions for social transformation. These are different from the paradigm of technoscience, in which technologies are at the service of the market economy, the basis and engine of which is capitalist profit.
In any case, society as a whole should critically reflect on science and technology to stop if being even more so dominated by an elite that, in order to exercise its hegemony, uses even investments from public funding agencies and public universities, without any guarantee that those investments are applied for the benefit of the entire population of every country.
The world of science and technology has been exceedingly and rapidly transformed, especially 1960 onward. Moreover, for the field of education, new contradictions and new challenges have come into play. This road has inserted education at the center of these contradictions, assuming a dynamic relationship between the micro and macro context of reality from where hope in social transformation must be kept alive. Without the utopian dimension, the central characteristic of the meaning of human existence is denied and falls into fatalism or technological determinism.
A liberating education assumes the challenge of denouncing the wiles of neoliberal pragmatism present in the narrow technicist and scientistic approach characterized by training at the service of a market that tends toward increased concentration. From the point of view of critical pedagogy, it is alleged that the technological creations that make the globalization processes feasible – and at the same time result from these capitalist market globalization processes – can be seen as a form of kidnapping of science and technology by the economic power, who, after commodifying them, uses them to its own interests. The more important technology becomes today, the more it affirms the need for its rigorous ethical surveillance. Coexistence with technique cannot prevent in us the ethical surveillance implied in the radical reflection on ways of life and presence in the world and with the world (Freire 2000). Because we value technologies, we have a commitment not to disregard critical reflection, and the question should be: who they actually benefit? And so, it is concluded that removing the political aspect from technology leads to a reactionary path of education: depoliticization at the service of the fatalistic ideology that has reduced education to mere training.
Our hope is that education can contribute to the formation of men and women with technical and scientific knowledge who are able to understand and interact with the world through non-preestablished knowledge. Otherwise, oppressive hegemonic dynamics will continue to be repeated, such as with the ruling classes who have always governed what the oppressed classes should and should not know.
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