The New Unesco Chair
On January 24, the world celebrates (or should celebrate...) the International Education Day. This is the opportunity to always resound the arguments about the need of educating mankind, so that prosperity comes egalitarian for all, violence and wars cease, honesty predominates over the “small corruption” of everyday life, and creativity and competence progress together at work and in the economy. Skeptics will say that all this is an illusion, a vain and unrealizable hope. Mathematicians perhaps will console me, arguing that goals and plans are always similar to a mathematical limit, that point in infinity to which we get closer and closer, never reaching it. The fact is that Education is necessary to all peoples, we know. And that many of its goals that seem unreachable right now, may become closer, mainly if international cooperation takes place along the process.
The Brazilian Network of Science for Education (Sci4Ed Network) claims for an intensive participation of science in search of intelligent, plausible and efficient solutions for education. And we now also celebrate the inauguration of our international arm – the recently approved Unesco Chair of Science for Education. The Chair was approved in 2022 by Unesco, proposed by 15 researchers of 11 countries in Latin America, United States and Canada, and various European countries. The institutions responsible for the Chair are the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro and the D’Or Institute for Research and Education, with the Brazilian Sci4Ed Network as the operator, in charge of materializing its activities, which are already starting in 2023.
The main goal of the Chair is present in the title of the project originally sent to Unesco: “to build a bridge between the laboratory and the classroom”; that is, between researchers and teachers. This bridge has once been considered too long by psychologists such as the American John T. Bruer , who focused mainly on the relation between neuroscience and pedagogy, for him necessarily mediated by cognitive psychology. The perspective of the Unesco Chair, following the mantra held by Sci4Ed Network, is broader than neuroscience, following the perspective called “Pasteur’s quadrant”, coined by the American social scientist Donald Stokes, author of a seminal book with this title .
For Stokes, there are at least three kinds of scientific research, which occupy “quadrants” according to their answers to two essential questions: if the research addresses fundamental issues of human knowledge (fundamental or basic science), and/or if it responds to practical needs of human life (applied science). Stokes named his quadrants after iconic names of science history. Thus, when it comes to fundamental science, the scientist honored was the Danish physicist Niels Bohr (1885-1962), pioneer of quantum physics. Within Bohr’s quadrant, researchers look for fundamental themes of nature, without practical worries. When it comes to applied sciences, Stokes honored Thomas Edison (1847-1931), the well-known inventor of incandescent light bulbs. Within Edison’s quadrant, researchers are dedicated to invent products and processes, with no concern about the fundamentals of their inventions.
The socially more efficient pathway, however, would be to combine the two polar alternatives – that of Bohr with that of Edison. This was done by the French Louis Pasteur (1822-1895), to whom it is attributed the defeat of the Aristotelic conception of spontaneous generation of life, the identification of microorganisms as causes of diseases, and the invention of a technique to eliminate them: pasteurization of foods and beverages. The “Pasteur’s quadrant”, therefore, would be the best alternative to invest in science and technology, by creating ecosystems fertile in ideas and productive in solutions.
The Sci4Ed Network and the Unesco Chair of Science for Education intend to contribute for the development of this such promising ecosystem, unifying researchers of whatever field, who would be willing to understand either the more basic fundamentals of this social and mental process we call education, or to invent and assess practical solutions to the most urgent issues in education. Therefore, it aims to build the bridge denied by Bruer, between “lato sensu” researchers and the education professionals who work on site at the schools. This is possible, if the players on one side of the bridge do not detract those on the other side, crossing the river that separates them and trying to find virtuous confluences.
Sci4Ed Network already gathers around 180 Brazilian researchers of the most varied specialties – from economy to neuroscience, from psychology to computer science, from biology to pedagogy. Besides, our new team of Friends of the Network has been fast-growing, with around 170 affiliate members: teachers, policymakers, journalists, and other professionals. And this is the planned road of the Unesco Chair, for the moment in smaller scale. Similarly, the Network counts on many institutional members that provide financial and logistic support to our activities.
Science for Education already offers many examples of connections between basic and applied sciences, a true transversal bridge between both worlds. Economists and social scientists have performed longitudinal studies that indicate the great importance of investing on children education. The economist Daniel Domingues dos Santos, from São Paulo University at Ribeirão Preto, wrote a review of these studies in one chapter of a book recently published by the Network and Editora Atheneu . In two other chapters of the same book, the associate members, computer scientists André Ponce de León Carvalho, São Paulo University, and Edmundo de Souza e Silva, Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, report their studies about machines that learn and machines that teach. Neuroscientists, as well, have also contributed to build the bridge, as the recent book by Ana Luiza Neiva Amaral and Leonor Bezerra Guerra  shows, recently published by the Social Service of Industry, a branch of the Brazilian Confederation of Industries.
These few virtuous examples do not do full justice to an enormous number of other researchers from Brazil and many other countries, inserted within the contours of the Pasteur’s quadrant, who try to demonstrate the importance of science to the implementation of public policies in Education. Let’s celebrate the International Education Day with the Brazilian Network and the new Unesco Chair of Science for Education, welcoming 2023 and the new times that open luminous horizons to this area of social investment, so important to all countries.
1 J.T. Bruer, Education and the brain: A bridge too far. Education Research vol. 26, pp. 4-16, 1997.
2 D.J. Stokes, O Quadrante de Pasteur, Ciência Básica e Inovação Tecnológica, Campinas: Editora Unicamp, 2009.
3 Ciência pra Educação, Uma Ponte entre dois Mundos (org. R. Lent, A. Buchweitz e M.B. Mota), Rio de Janeiro, Ed. Atheneu e Rede CpE, 2018.
4 Neurociência e Educação, Olhando para o Futuro da Aprendizagem, SESI, 2020.