Beyond discrete disciplines: inter- and trans-disciplinary education
Many of the presenters during the conference talked about the flaw in the current education system being treating subjects as independent silos. Instead, it was argued, it needs to be recognised how different subjects, parts of humanity and meaning in general are interdependent, relational and systematic.
“As we are in a world of relations and interdependencies, where meaning is created in the relation between things, education should be accommodating this – education should be inter- or even transdisciplinary”
Nora Bateson, independent filmmaker, talked about how we are currently studying things out of context and that we need to put them back into it. Our current siloed way of thinking has fed into the education system and she strongly feels that we need to change this for the survival of our species. As we are in a world of relations and interdependencies, where meaning is created in the relation between things, education should be accommodating this – education should be inter- or even transdisciplinary.
These two terms were especially talked about in the session on transdisciplinary education that I attended. Interdisciplinary education revolves around different disciplines working together, something which is being done more and more. It was for example very much encouraged in my undergraduate degree, which was a liberal arts and sciences programme. However, transdisciplinary education revolves around the idea of crossing subject boundaries completely: not just having subject interact with each other but really merging them so that there are no separate subjects anymore. And as Barry Gills, professor at the University of Helsinki, argued, while interdisciplinary education is starting to become more common, transdisciplinary education hardly is yet.
“A ‘specialist’ way of looking at problems may itself become the issue, particularly when more ‘complex’ problems are addressed”
I enjoyed how Roberto Poli, Associate Professor at the University of Trento (Italy), addressed the misconception that ‘generalists are failed specialists’. He actually argued that a ‘specialist’ way of looking at problems may itself become the issue, particularly when more ‘complex’ problems are addressed.
All of this perfectly fit in with the viewpoints of Edgar Morin, philosopher and sociologist, and Peter Senge, system scientist, who were both keynote speakers on the last day of the conference. Senge talked about how our world is influenced and created by a system. This system approach assumes that all major challenges in the world are not caused by individual people, events or things but by the system, or as Bateson put it on the first day by the interdependencies or relations between people, events or things. Again, we live in an increasingly complex world so we need to be able to unite different knowledges to address these problems.
While I strongly agree with the need for inter- and even transdisciplinary thinking, I was missing a practical link. How do we go about changing the education system to this way of thinking? I think this is still a complex issue as education all around the world is restrained and shaped by different influences like government, assessment and job markets.
Thanks for reading my 3 posts about the Future Education Conference I attended in Rome. Feel free to message me with any questions or comments you might have!