|Environmental Change and International Law: New Challenges and Dimensions (UNU, 1992, 493 pages)|
|A. Global learning: concept and applications|
Essential for global learning is the impact in different situations and different cultures of factors such as permission to learn, encouragement to learn, direction and mode of learning, preventing or forbidding certain learning, and learning outcomes. Relevant questions include: who is learning what, under what conditions, towards what objectives, and at what and whose expense?
We have already mentioned some of the current learning needs, with explicit and implicit reference to the societal requirement to facilitate such learning in support of inter alia environmental policies and practices designed to introduce adoptive and preventive measures in response to global change. This perspective opens a series of difficult and controversial questions.
It would go beyond the scope of these reflections even to attempt a comprehensive analysis. The selection has therefore focused on certain issues that have a clear legal dimension, nationally and internationally, and that require consideration from a different perspective than has been used in the past.
1. New media
Given this perspective, a set of socio-cultural activities becomes crucial: those that concern themselves with the means, methods, and modes of handling, generating, processing, storing, transferring, accessing, and disseminating information. While there exists a certain societal competence in dealing with traditional media such as the written and printed word, and traditional performance of dramatic or musical works, confusion abounds about how to deal with new media such as television, video, high-speed data systems, and new technologies such as microwave, cable, satellites, and computers - which tend toward technical convergence of different forms of expression and transmission. Proof of the current confusion is the constant change of national legislation everywhere, which often appears to be a desperate attempt to catch up with technical novelties and cultural changes. The result, at both the national and international levels, is legislation that risks being "incompetent, inconsistent, incompatible, and inefficient."17 The competition between political, economic, and cultural considerations largely remains unsolved. An example, in light of the recognized need for changing practices that satisfy environmental requirements, is that the required learning or relearning at all levels of society makes it necessary to use all available means for getting the information, training, and learning required. A basic question is: can society afford not to use a medium like television for this purpose? There are splendid but isolated examples of the use of television for global learning, ranging from documentaries on global issues to Live Band Aid as a showing of global solidarity. With the trend of reducing television to no more than a commodity-producing industry, there are urgent questions about the emphasis in much of the television programming, and on the behaviour patterns that go directly against the need for new conduct, particularly with respect to such global issues as environmental protection, energy conservation, and developmental needs. The question, therefore, is whether society can avoid grappling with the problem of priorities between claims for the "free flow" of entertainment and advertising, and environmental requirements.
2. The "public" and the "private"
In recent years, confusing changes have occurred in the conception and practice of what properly belongs to the public sphere and what belongs to the private sphere, thus changing the relationships between the public and the private domains. Activities that traditionally were assigned to the private sphere have become issues in the public domain. Striking examples include reproductive behaviour and associated family and personal relationships. These have traditionally been anchored in the private sphere. A series of profound and simultaneous socio-economic and cultural changes have catapulted the processes of biological reproduction into the public sphere. A similar development has taken place with respect to economic and social behaviour, thereby having major environmental effects. The need for increasing environmental legislation is proof that certain activities, previously managed in the private sphere through decision by individuals and enterprises, can no longer be left to private initiative except under public scrutiny and accountability.
There has also been a movement in the opposite direction for which the expression "privatization" is often used as a shorthand to indicate a range of phenomena, including denationalization, deregulation, commercialization, and commodification. The current trend of privatization based on ideology or economic pragmatism has, in theory and practice, also hit areas of immediate concern to global-learning ventures. A basic issue would be: what are the effects either facilitating or hindering the movement of technology and information? How do they access both the public sphere and the private sphere?
It is clear that global learning requires wide and open means and access to information and knowledge. While there has always existed an unresolved tension between the "free flow of information" and intellectual-property rights, the situation has changed radically under the influence of both new technologies and wide claims for different kinds of proprietary rights. Thus, difficult issues have arisen in the scientific field that have succinctly been described in the title of a recent book, Science as a Commodity: Threats to the Open Community of Scholars.18 Thus, in the context of global learning, there is a need to consider questions such as: will an increase in the private funding of research lead to a decrease in the volume and type of knowledge that reaches scientists, policy makers, and the public? If indeed whole sectors of education and training are to be removed from the public domain into private operation, how will intellectual exchanges and academic development take place?19 Another similar trend that has not been given sufficient attention is the increasing commercialization of publicly-produced information, paid for by public means. that was previously made available on an open and non-discriminatory basis.
These trends must be set in the context of controlling information and knowledge; it does not matter whether this control is exercised by public authorities or private enterprises. It is a tricky field because it is ideologically loaded. It has, however, taken on a new sense of urgency through the advent of new communication and information systems. Particularly through the convergence of computer and telecommunication systems, these problems have become pervasive and awkward, evolving mainly outside of the scope of public accountability.
Thus, a basic question about privatization is whether or not it will represent an obstacle to global learning. Privatization would, from one perspective, be a factor in a series of potential obstacles to global learning. These obstacles may arise from a range of situations and conditions, including the cultural area, via institutional-legal rules, and socio-economic trends, to psychological factors.
There exists abundant information on various aspects of this complex problem. Some of the problems include obstacles to innovation, the dissemination of innovation, the transfer and acceptance of information, and the simultaneous phenomena of information overload and information under-use. However, as far as is known, these findings have never been analysed in a coherent fashion from a global-learning perspective.
In addition to phenomena that appear obvious and relatively easy to understand, there are other, more subtle practices that might constitute obstacles to global learning. One such practice is the ancient phenomenon of the "professionalization" of knowledge, which nowadays has degenerated into the reign of the expert, and the descent of instant experts from the North upon developing countries.