Excerpted from Faure, E. et al. 1972. Learning to be. Paris: UNESCO.


A learning society: today and tomorrow1


                         Normal man is designed to be a success and the universe is designed to support that success.


Educational activities, at first scattered, fragmentary and elitist, appear across the ages and the infinity of historical contrasts to have been moving irrevocably towards one and the same conclusion: the establishment of solidly structured and centralized school systems with a universal vocation. Yet when these constructions appeared to be approaching completion, more and more out-of-school activi­ties and institutions emerged or re-emerged, most often without any organic attachment to formal, official education, which was too narrow and rigid to contain them. Then, enlightened people en­deavoured to remedy this lack of harmony by amalgamating school and out-of-school systems. But just as they appeared to be winning the theoretical—if not the practical—battle, other horizons were unveiled. New realities and potentialities have enriched life. For present-day societies—and still less for those of tomorrow—the prospect is already not limited to setting up systems capable of grouping and adding up all kinds of education by multiplying and diversifying at will the educational edifice. Another scheme of things must be envisaged, going beyond a purely systemic con­ception.


‘It is out of the question for education to be confined, as in the past, to training the leaders of tomorrow’s society in accordance with some predetermined scheme of structures, needs and ideas or to preparing the young, once and for all, for a given type of existence. Education is no longer the privilege of an elite or the concomitant of a particular age: to an increasing extent, it is reaching out to embrace the whole of society and the entire life-­span of the individual.’


But there are those who, starting from similar premises, end with a radical conclusion, inverting the system into a non-system:


‘It seems that what is needed in an age of unprecedented de­mands for education is not a system but an “un-system”.’


Education is overreaching the frontiers which confined it in cen­turies-old tradition. Little by little, it is spreading, in time and space, to enter its true domain—that of the entire human being in all his dimensions, which are far too vast and complex to be con­tained within the limits of any ‘system’, in the static, non-evol­utional meaning of the word. In this domain, the act of teaching gives way to the act of learning. While not ceasing to be taught, the individual becomes less of an object and more of a subject. He does not receive education as if it were a gift or a social service handed out to him by his guardians, the powers-that-be. He assim­ilates it by conquering knowledge and himself, which makes him supreme master and not the recipient of acquired knowledge.


‘The school of the future must make the object of education the subject of his own education. The man submitting to education must become the man educating himself; education of others must become the education of oneself. This fundamental change in the individual’s relationship to himself is the most difficult problem facing education for the future decades of scientific and technical revolution.’


Education, although based on an objective knowledge of the world drawn from the latest scientific data, is no longer focused on the learner, nor anyone, nor anything else. It must necessarily proceed from the learner.


‘The stress today is on the “mathetic” principle of instruction and learning rather than on the traditional pedagogic principle of teaching.’


Society cannot exercise broad, efficient action on all its components—in any domain—through one single institution, however exten­sive it may be. If we admit that education is and will be more and more a primordial need for each individual, then not only must we develop, enrich and multiply the school and the university, we must also transcend it by broadening the educational function to the dimensions of society as a whole. The school has its own role to play and will have to develop it even further. But it will be less and less in a position to claim the education functions in society as its special prerogative. All sectors—public administration, industry, communications, transport—must take part in promoting edu­cation. Local and national communities are in themselves eminently educative institutions. As Plutarch said, ‘the City is the best teacher’. And especially when the city is capable of remaining within human proportions, it does indeed contain immense edu­cational potential—with its social and administrative structures and its cultural networks—not only because of the vitality of the exchanges that go on, but also because it constitutes a school for civic sentiment and fellow-feeling.


‘In Athens, education was not a segregated activity, conducted for certain hours, in certain places, at a certain time of life. It was the aim of the society. The city educated the man. The Athenian was educated by the culture, by paideia. This was made possible by slavery. . . Machines can do for every modern man what slavery did for the fortunate few in Athens.’


Certainly machines can accomplish this if employed in suitable social conditions. It is also certain that society as a whole has a more important educational role to play. But this vision, increasingly widespread, will have many consequences. Every single institution will have to change in order to respond more effectively to man’s new needs. New types of organizations will arise. The study of indirect methods of acquiring knowledge must be intensified, their efficiency improved and the value of their results objectively appraised. Need and demand are forcing existing institutions to consider an increasing variety of choices and streams, and points of entry, exit and transfer—the first stage of a powerful drive towards real democratization of education. Societies have successively consolidated or transformed their structures—the necessary foun­dation for man’s ‘right to be’. They have created material wealth, required for man’s ‘right to have more’. These, throughout history, have been societies’ fundamental objectives. Now, should they not establish as their primordial priority the ‘learning of fulfilment’, that is, the education of mankind?


‘Instead of delegating educative power to one, single, vertical, hierarchical structure constituting a distinct body within society, all groups, associations, unions, local communities and inter­mediary organizations must take over their share of educative responsibility.  .  . Apparently self-evident ideas are losing their meaning. Such, for example, as the distinction between active and inactive life or the present conception of public and State authorities’ statutes; from now on it will be possible for people other than specialized officials to teach; vertical compartmentaliz­ation is tending to fade away; the border-relations between the domains of school and what is known as the parallel school, be­tween State and private enterprise, between the official or contracted teaching profession and those performing particular or occasional educative tasks no longer have any meaning.’


This carries us well beyond simple systematic change, however radical. The very nature of the relationship between society and education is changing. A social configuration which accorded such a place to education and conferred such a status on it deserves a name of its own—the learning society. Its advent can only be con­ceived as a process of close interweaving between education and the social, political and economic fabric, which covers the family unit and civic life. It implies that every citizen should have the means of learning, training and cultivating himself freely available to him, under all circumstances, so that he will be in a fundamentally different position in relation to his own education. Responsibility will replace obligation.


‘In this light, tomorrow’s education must form a co-ordinated totality in which all sectors of society are structurally integrated. It will be universalized and continual. From the point of view of individual people, it will be total and creative, and consequently individualized and self-directed. It will be the bulwark and the driving force in culture, as well as in promoting professional activity. This movement is irresistible and irreversible. It is the cultural revolution of our time.’


Is this a utopian vision? Yes, to the extent that any undertaking which aims at changing the fundamental conditions of man’s fate necessarily contains a utopian element. Or to the extent that even if a powerful movement in this direction were to emerge in the near future, and if the means for such a change happened to be available, it could still not take place from one day to the next. But it is not utopian when this prospect seems to conform not only to the present-day world’s fundamental needs and major evolutionary direction, but also fits many phenomena emerging almost every where and in countries whose socio-economic structures and economic development levels are very different. Moreover, it is not so paradoxical as one might think to say there is no good strategy without a utopian forecast, in the sense that every far-reaching vision may be accused of utopianism. For if we wish to act resolutely and wisely, we must aim far.


‘At the extreme, we might even dare claim that firstly, the more a philosopher allows for a utopian dimension in his thought, the more he acknowledges the importance of education; and that secondly, the more conscious of that dimension he is, the more he will stress the liberating aspect of training.’


Any innovative concept in education will, of course, face difficulties and lack resources. Drastic measures are often required, which involve the discipline, austerity and uniformity needed to build development infrastructures. To associate creativity with freely accepted discipline, to prepare the wealth of personal happiness amid the restrictions imposed by penury—this may be the right morality, particularly in developing countries. It is also true that any innovation in education admittedly runs into strong resistance, conscious and unconscious, practical and metaphysical. From the traditionalists, whom their opponents label outdated, and from speculators over the future, whom the former call utopian. From the inside, among educational structures, and from the outside, among political reactions. In the name of legitimate fears inspired by the frailty of children’s psychological mechanisms, and in the name of unjustified horror at the idea of alleged disorders following real reforms. It is vain to claim to be ‘fighting’ for a learning society which will spring up one fine day, fully formed and equipped, shiny as a new toy, under the effect of ringing phrases. At the most, it may be one of the slogans on the banners in a rough political, social and cultural battle, leading to the creation of objective con­ditions, a call for effort, imagination, daring ideas and actions.


‘Can it conceivably be done?. . .The first step is for politicians to take the issue seriously—the whole problem, the philosophical challenge. Who will begin?’


Yes, indeed! Who—and how?


It is not for us to answer the first question. It will be answered in practice by nations and governments. In the following pages,

shall try to give a partial answer to the second question.






1.             The quoted texts have been borrowed in particular from the following authors: R. Buckminster Fuller, René Maheu, George Z. F. Bereday, Radovan Richta, Giovanni Gozzer, Robert Hutchins, Edouard Lizop, Henri Janne, Pierre Furter, Anthony Lewis.