TRANSDISCIPLINARY EDUCATIONAL ACHIEVEMENTS IN ROMANIA

 

 

Mircea BERTEA, Maria FLORESCU, Ionuţ ISAC, Adrian VASIU,

Angela VASIU

 

 

1. GENERAL REMARKS

In the later years of the XXth century and the early years of the XXIth, as Romanian society became more and more resolute on its way to democracy - not just as a matter of economy or politics, but also concerning education and research - it appeared clearly that the old manners of thinking have to be dropped out. At first glance, the only obstacle was the communist "legacy", widespread in people's minds and institutional current activity (e.g. the fear of thinking and speaking freely; the overdeveloped, inefficient as well as almighty bureaucracy). Against it were and still are concentrated the efforts of civil society in statu nascendi. However, after a half-century of communist dictature, one cannot expect miracles in about 15 years, because the human personality of Romanians - as, in fact, the personality of all East-Europeans - has been affected in its intrinsic cultural and educational tissue.   

But, beside this particular historical and cultural situation, at the beginning of the IIIrd Millennium the whole mankind must face the threatening resulted from the perpetuation of the modern mechanical model of the world. The physics of the XXth century (especially quantum mechanics) made some extraordinary discoveries at microscopic level, which put under question the previous apparently unquestionable image of the world. Nowadays, classical concepts of matter, space and time - as they have been understood by Galileo and Newton - are not any more functional in order to understand and explain the sub-quantum world. If someone would try today to comprehend the multi-dimensional structure of the world, it must be accepted the idea of coexistence of contraries, expressed by contemporary physics through the famous principle of Complementarity. In philosophy, it leads to the ontology of Complementarity.  Thus, science itself invites us to do a very uncomfortable exercise of thinking, i.e. to give up to our usual perceptions of the world and to re-settle the image of the self according to the recognition of the fundamental dimension given to human being by the affiliation to the sacred. Anyway, it is sure that the great illusions of the classical realism are gone forever.

Obviously, in order to perform such a task it requires a non-classical educational background. For instance, at present moment, scholar education still addresses mainly to the rational or intellectual part of human being, neglecting the whole of it as the result of the interaction between the intellect, affectivity and free will. As a consequence, education comes to a paradoxically deadlock: it claims to prepare the student for the world of tomorrow using the methods and background of yesterday. Furthermore, post-modern society imposes on us all an unprecedented responsibility: to be educated and to educate other people for the future, in the spirit of our whole being, in harmony with the visible and invisible Universe. Thus, human being reveals itself as a dynamical entity which settles links between physical, biological, social, cultural as well as the transcendent reality. Mankind must create and develop an integrative thinking i.e. a more responsible behavior capable to imbalance the individual with society, for the benefit of the self and of the others. In the XXth century, Romanian philosophers like Lucian Blaga, Stefan Odobleja, Stéphane Lupasco and Constantin Noica have written many valuable works on this subject-matter, providing creative approaches which made them some true forerunners of transdisciplinarity.

Every process of learning involves a limitation which could be harmful is interpreted as the inflexible "court" of reason. That is why one of the most valuable skills to be taught and learned is that of getting rid of obsolete information as well as of mental structure which has been engendered hereby. This "unlearning" makes an essential moment of self-education; in fact, it is a subtle method of purifying the mind from cognitive lumber, of helping individual thinking and maintaining its openness. Recent researches made obvious that human being must discover a new model of the wisdom

Having in mind such considerations, some of the authors of the present article decided to open at the beginning of 2002 at the City House of Culture in Cluj-Napoca a special workshop under the name of Professor Basarab Nicolescu Seminar, fully dedicated to the dialogue and debates on transdisciplinarity. This workshop addresses to students, researchers, teachers, professors, medical doctors, clergymen, engineers etc., in fact to everyone who is interested in studying and debating on transdisciplinary paradigm, regardless of participants' nationality, gender, profession, religion or political conviction. Each and every one involved in this activity provides other people by relevant scientific information collected from his/her domain or specialty, insisting on the great change made possible by transdisciplinarity inside the science (i.e. the links between the subject, the sense, the meaning and the values of life).

We believe that our activity, composed of writing papers, publishing articles, books and booklets, organizing public conferences and symposia or just talking with each other, can make the educational purposes of transdisciplinarity to come closer to practical solutions. Specialists from many fields who gave lectures at the City House of Culture have strived themselves to communicate to the audience an adequate information about the paradigm of transdisciplinarity, emphasizing it as a crucial experiment for human personality as well as for the future of the mankind. Thus, the workshop became a room for promoting new ideas which could be eventually taken over by the whole national educational system, especially on the purpose of building an innovative educational policy, centered on the participative knowledge.

During the last 2 years, the workshop of Cluj-Napoca had a substantial activity, concentrated on debating some fundamental documents of transdisciplinarity, such as Basarab Nicolescu' s "Manifesto of Transdisciplinarity".  We also realized that, through the meaning of their works, mathematicians like Pythagoras, G.W. Leibniz, A.N. Whitehead or R. Penrose have become universal forerunners of transdisciplinarity.

 

2. TRANSDISCIPLINARITY THROUGH FOUNDATIONS OF GEOMETRY

The authors of the present article consider properly giving an example of what might be called the spirit of transdisciplinarity as applied within the workshop, from the perspective of the "inner geometry". 

The formalized theories give us an easier way of understanding the great diversity of human kind. However, the truth contained in this proposition has not always been perceived as evident. When the first new geometry (non-Euclidean) was discovered by N. Lobatchevsky and J. Bolyai in the XIXth century, even the great mathematician Gauss said: "The people are not prepared for a new Geometry".  

            In a short time, other new different types of geometry appeared. The first new geometry denied only one of the axioms of the Euclidean geometry. More axioms were denied later and F. Smarandache, in his works Paradoxical Mathematics and Anti-Geometries, denied all axioms of the Euclidean geometry.

            Along so many new geometries, our transdisciplinary research allowed us to formulate the "inner geometry", which represents a "map" of combinations and permutations of our internal dispositions as openings or as inhibitions. Here arises the question: what are the basic axioms supposed by our existence? As any other reality, the human existence should have some axioms, sentences, theorems, conjectures etc.

            By three books (The Foundations of the Natural Integration in the Life; The Geometry - a Support of the Formative Teaching and The Inner Geometry), we tried to emphasize some entailments of the foundations of geometry in our life. We would like just to mention above some of these ideas.

 In order to prove the non-contradiction of the Euclidean geometry, we use the real numbers. This is a relative non-contradiction, which results from accepted non-contradiction of the real numbers. It is likely with our very strong "inner bio-computer", which makes possible any living process and brings us to some important considerations about the noblesse of life.  

            The incredible progress of science and its astonishing discoveries give to us many opportunities to improve the trust in our internal powers or potentialities. Through all these we could see the huge capacity of the human being; thus, we could increase the joy of life. All these, naturally, lead us to a corresponding progress of the self-knowledge. The importance of the self-knowledge was accepted by enlightened people from all times. Many scientists do sustain that if we did use more of our inner possibilities, we could have a better life, i.e. we could increase new-dimensions of perception as well as work with more passion and energy than ever before.

 J. Bolyai, the genius-discoverer of the first non-Euclidean Geometry, was convinced that this conception represents a crucial point, not only in Mathematics, but in the whole history of the thinking. The passion of searching the truth has been a dominant feature of his personality. So, we should recognize him as a great thinker, concerned with the problems of integrating human beings into the life harmoniously.  

            Beyond the intrinsic mathematical contributions of the discoverers of the non-Euclidean geometries, their works also mean as many meditations on human existence, which still have not been enough explored. Feeling the potential of these opened windows toward the understanding of the human complexity, we dared to suggest them as directions of research for all the scientists.

            We insist on saying that transdisciplinarity involves a new attitude in our researches and in our life, which have as finality the understanding of the present world and of the self-knowledge. The openness toward this energetically connection which unites us is guided by the logic of the included third; thus, we can get a new level of perception and of self-improvement. We can always get even higher levels of responsibility, sincerity and dignity.

 

 

3. THE SCHOOL OF REFORM: TRANSDISCIPLINARY EXPERIMENTS OF THE REGIONAL RESOURCE CENTER "EDUCATION 2000+"    

The Center Education 2000+ is a non-governmental organization, founded by the Foundation for an Open Society, Romania. The main objective of the programs initiated by the Center Education 2000+ was to develop models of implementing reform in Education at local level, models that can be then multiplied at national level, thus making easier their visible impact on the whole educational system in Romania. This was the specific objective carried out with the support of the Ministry of National Education within the framework of a cooperation protocol between Education 2000+ Center and the ministry. The process of implementation started in 1999 in 8 centres, whose projects were selected by open contest from a bigger number of projects drafted by Local School Inspectorates, Teaching Staff Centres, Training Departments in local Universities and Pedagogical Colleges. These institutions became partners in the framework of the Program Education 2000+. The program is being implemented in the districts of Cluj, Galati, Iasi, Timis, Constanta and Hunedoara as well as in Bucharest.

A generous program of sustaining the reform of Romanian education, coordinated and financed by the Center "Education 2000+" in Bucharest, offered us the following opportunities: to participate at educational programs offers and auctions (the first stage); to involve ourselves as an institution of pre-service and in-service teachers training, in experiments and applications on a basis of some of the most important concepts of Romanian educational reform, such as new national curriculum, school development, strengthening school-community connections and, mostly, developing co-operation between key-institutions in education (the second stage).

The outcome was a number of team-projects, promoted by the representatives from Training Departments of universities, Pedagogical College, School Inspectorate and Teaching Staff Center. This was meant to be a "School of Reform" for a college preparing future young innovative school-masters and teachers, i.e. a college promoting the "cutting-edge didactics", active learning and transdisciplinarity. The studies and projects already developed under the coordination of Regional Resource Center "Education 2000+" are an eloquent proof that transdisciplinary methodology has become our "second nature" at level of school-masters and teachers all-over the district of Cluj.

Thus, we have experienced a new kind of education, which refers to the imperative of "consciousness arises" and to the growth of participation of somebody who builds his/her own destiny. We continuously encourage the elaboration and affirmation of original opinions, the making of rational choices among many other possible options, the problem-solving and responsible debates of ideas. One may add to this the social dimension of a valuable working team, its ability to appreciate different points of view and the recognition of the way in which an assumed experience could influence us in our attitudes and perceptions.    

Inside an "information out bursting" society, where the changing remains unique for the whole history, we have chosen the transdisciplinary perspective for education. This is not a new "classroom subject matter", but a natural manner of interaction between fundamental ideas and information in the field of transdisciplinarity as well as a certain option for a new kind of education. The problem of  education in a transdisciplinary perspective is discussed in UNESCO studies on the future of education in the first century of the IIIrd Millennium as well as by the International Center for Transdisciplinary Research in Paris, whose President is Mr. Prof. Basarab Nicolescu.

 

3.1. THE EDUCATION 2000+ SUMMER SCHOOLS  

In the context of the above-mentioned objectives and actions, the Summer Schools 2000-2002 (supported by an outstanding logistics in Holiday Inn Hotel, Sinaia), organized for the first time in June 2000, played an important part. They have made effective the program area Pre-service and in-service training, focusing on student-centered learning, on improving classroom atmosphere, on using new methods and developing support materials as resources for students and teachers. The subjects were related to the novelties in teaching Romanian language and literature, History, Mathematics and Sciences, as well as in the teaching process as a transdisciplinary approach in primary and high secondary schools.

Here, the main objective was that of training a professional group of "resource teachers" in the new methods and techniques of teaching, curricular reform implementation and didactics. The overall objective of the workshops was that of strengthening teachers' competencies and skills. Therefore, the workshops highlighted new teaching-learning methods, focusing on those methods and techniques that enhance the chances to meet educational international standards. The presentations and training sessions tackled topics such as international trends in teaching subjects, interactive teaching and cooperation learning, evaluation of students' skills of effective learning, developing teachers' capacity to anticipate methods of experience acknowledgement.

The program of the Summer Schools included a lot of kind of activities: debates, panels, projects focused on new trends in teaching-learning-assessment. Each class of the Summer school spanned over 48 hours, distributed over a week. They were directed by trainers from our country and abroad. Their contribution was effective not only for the design of the workshops plans, but also through the opportunity they offered to draw a comparative analysis between the Romanian educational environment and the means or strategies of improving its characteristics. The evaluation was to be carried out over the first semester of the school year 2001-2002, experimenting in the classroom the practices acquired during the Summer School. The follow up took place at the Winter Transdisciplinary School (January, 31st - February, 4th). The trainees received a Certificate of attendance, issued by the Center Education 2000+ and endorsed by the Ministry of National Education.

 

3.2. THE TRANSDISCIPLINARY CLASSES

Starting with the requirements of the educational reform and the priorities of the project "Education 2000+", the Summer Schools aimed at following outcomes: an increasing of the level of knowledge in transdisciplinary education; practicing of specific competencies and skills; building on the trainees' professional experience; fostering awareness of transdisciplinary issues; heightening motivation for assimilating new knowledge and skills; improving communication and interpersonal relations at the group level; to orientate the group on the coordinates of the team that can solve coherently transdisciplinary issues. In this context, the problems deal with things relevant for the transdisciplinary area: class management, theory of multiple intelligence, communication, evaluation, teaching styles, teaching/learning methods, self-awareness, dynamic of the group, planning and taxonomy of values.            

The trainees consider that the training course is an opportunity for self-development, quick and better learning, enriching feelings and professional development; also, it is an opportunity to meet new people, to seek for a new outlook; a starting point to set up new projects in schools; it is a chance for long-term collaborations as well as a contribution to accomplishing teachers' cohesion.

As a consequence of the Summer Schools experience, the trainees decided to make significant changes in their own in-class activity: to introduce new interactive methods and new evaluation methods; to use the information about class management and improving learning environment; to build on activities that make students work in teams; to make a wider use of reflection, self-awareness, self-assessment; to implement new methods to improve interpersonal communication and student-teacher relationships.

The transdisciplinary means responsible, enthusiastic, dynamic, creative teachers. A teacher, who trusts his /her experience and wants to multiply it, also will keep up with the dynamic and innovative spirit. He/she also will send positive messages and build a real team, able to act as a catalyser for social and educational change. That means achieving flexibility, becoming aware of learning needs, assimilating a creative and critical thinking i.e. the reflexive and inquiring spirit of problem-solving.

The Summer courses of Education 2000+ Center have brought clarifications and the agreement of all participants on the concept of a transdisciplinary perspective, being an invitation for them to reflect on how they perceive the situation:

- Learning as a one-destination, subject-centered (i.e. a rigid, hierarchical and authoritarian structure of the class interactions, based on a teacher-delivered knowledge), whose result is a" one-way street" or

- Learning as a journey, learner-centered, where there are many types of intelligence, every individual is considered to have a mind that works in a specific way and the role of education is to develop the different the potential of every student. Then, education is seen as a lifelong process, where the knowledge may change in time; teachers and students do no longer assume roles dissociated from themselves as human beings.

            In the XXIst century, education allows pre-eminence to the individual development, in order to develop fundamental ways of learning in the post-modern society:

a) Learning to know (to acquire a vast orientated knowledge, able  to develop instruments of understanding; learning "how to learn");

b) Learning to do (to develop creativity in order to manage different situations);

c) Learning to live together with the others (to appreciate interdependence, to come to understand the others, to get to cooperate with them);

d) Learning to be (to know yourself, to make decisions on your own, to take responsibilities, to relate with others with respect for all aspects of their personality).

    The challenge for the teacher is the attitude that fosters student development: rigor, openness, tolerance (as defined by B. Nicolescu).

- transdisciplinary rigor is a deeper form of scientific rigor, because it takes into consideration all the facts and data of a specific situation. It concerns not only facts but people as well and the relationship they establish with one another;

- transdisciplinary openness indicates the emergence of a new type of thinking equally oriented toward asking and giving answers. Transdisciplinary culture is based on a permanent doubt and wonder, while taking answers as temporarily accepted;

- transdisciplinary tolerance was defined as the acceptance of all the ideas and truths that might contradict the fundamental principles of transdisciplinarity.

These topics as well as the study of the Chart of Transdisciplinarity, adopted at the First World Congress of Transdisciplinarity (Portugal, 1994) have brought us to reflections on the future of  education, to think about new ways of bringing the education near to the young generations in the XXIst century.

 

3.3. REGIONAL RESOURCE CENTER EDUCATION 2000+

            We intend to present here only one of the six school departments where we have implemented in Cluj, at the Regional Resource Center Education 2000+, New Didactics in a Transdisciplinary Perspective.

            What was our starting point? First, it was the opportunity of the programs proposed by the Center Education 2000+ from Bucharest; then a great challenge and a great promise - the reform of education; finally, the persistence of an excessively specialized curriculum in Romanian schools.

            Who were the participants and what were the entrance criteria? Any teacher in the country (specialist in education, teacher, or schoolteacher) had the chance to participate. The admission at this course supposed a selection of projects on personal development in the field of applied didactics. Since the number of places in each class was limited (24), the competition was fierce and the selection of the candidates rigorous - as they had to prove themselves not only well-prepared, but also highly motivated.

            The curriculum included the initiation in the theory and practice of active didactics and inter-, multi-, and transdisciplinary methods, both correlated with the New National Curriculum of Romania. We insisted on innovating methods of organizing teaching and study, of stimulating personal creativity, of managing the group, the class and the school, as well as of preventing and solving conflicts. We also had in mind the active collaboration and communication between teaching/learning actors and institutions of education. These transdisciplinary schools took advantage from the contribution and the experience of experts in education from United States and Europe.

            The fundamental feature of these activities consists in their practical-applicative nature, for most of the activities were organized and carried-out as workshops, which suppose exercises of project conception, debates, negotiations, communication, team work, evaluation and auto-evaluation.

            Since at present moment the Romanian theory of education considers students as partners and co-organizers of their own formation pattern, the teachers attending these courses had to assume themselves the role of co-partners (of students) and to evaluate the activities from this perspective as well. The result was a dynamic and a persuasive range of activities, with a great impact on the projection, the organization and the evaluation of the didactic activities carried-out by the participants within the modular workshops. Each participant had to apply the knowledge acquired at the transdisciplinary workshops in his/her school, being supervised and requested to present the plans of activity at the beginning of the new session of the summer or winter schools.

            The evaluation questionnaire of these workshops proved that most of participants not only learned and experienced many new concrete things but, above all, they had the chance to be free and inventive, to learn how to communicate with others, to get a better knowledge of the self by knowing the others. They have also discovered the advantage of giving deeper significations to their activities, the pleasure of exercise, of shared work in groups and teams; the regaining the enthusiasm of work.

Obviously, the Transdisciplinary School doesn't claim to prepare transdisciplinary experts. The development of transdisciplinary study requires time and hard work. We strongly believe that there are no real standards in developing transdisciplinary study. There are only means, concepts and a transdisciplinary vision. That is why we have structured the three-year curriculum, dividing it as follows:

 

 

1. First year of study:

a. Communication;

b. Negotiation and communication;

c. Group and class management;

d. Prevention and resolution of conflicts in the educational environment;

e. Interactive methods;

f. Methodology of the projection, organization and evaluation of interactive didactic activities.

 

2.  Second year of study:

a. Presentation and auto-evaluation of the interactive didactical project;

b. Educational partition;

c. Introduction in transdisciplinarity:

2.1. Preliminaries;

2.2. Transdisciplinarity: concepts, meaning, determinations;

2.3. Transdisciplinarity: institutions and representatives;

2.4. Transdisciplinarity: personalities and fundamental texts;

2.5. Transdisciplinary applications;

2.6. Bibliography;

d. Methodology of the projection, organization and evaluation of the educational activities in a transdisciplinary perspective.

 

3. Third year of study:

a. Workshops on the projection, organization and evaluation of educational activities in a transdisciplinary perspective;

b. Elaboration of a transdisciplinary project (team work).

c. Evaluation and certification.

 

In Romania, the great advantage of these courses was first of all that that it made the participants aware of the need for communication and change.

The perfect slogan of these schools may be found in the very inspired definition of transdisciplinarity, uttered by Basarab Nicolescu in an interview for the magazine "Convorbiri literare" (Iasi, Romania): "Transdisciplinarity  represents the eternal desire of the mankind to re-found the primary unity of knowledge".

            Can the system of contemporary education rediscover the object of this desire? It is one of the troublesome questions that the transdisciplinary ways of thinking and acting in Romania intend to answer.

 

 

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Bertea, Mircea, Învăţarea activă şi transdisciplinaritatea (Active Learning and the Transdisciplinarity), Cluj-Napoca, Editura Promedia Plus, 2003

Delors, Jacques,  Learning; the Treasure Within. Report to UNESCO of the International Commission on Education for the Twenty-first Century, UNESCO, 1996

Florescu, Maria, Educaţia adulţilor în căutarea unei paradigme integratoare (The Adult Education in the Search of a Creative Paradigm),  "Paideia", nr. 2, 1997, p. 42-44

Idem, Binomul învăţare-dezvăţare şi formarea gândirii integratoare (The Binome Learning-Teaching and the Development of Integrative Thinking), "Paideia", nr. 1, 1997, p. 33-36

Idem, Educaţia - o perspectivă transdisciplinară (Education - a Transdisciplinary Perspective), "Paideia", nr.  3-4, 2000, p. 38-40

Isac, Ionuţ, În căutarea modelului paideic (In the Search of the Paideic Model), Cluj-Napoca, Editura Casa Cărţii de Ştiinţă, 2000, 2003

Nicolescu, Basarab, Manifesto of Transdisciplinarity, State University of New York, New York, SUNY Press, 2002

Vasiu, Adrian; Vasiu, Angela, Bolyai invites Us to more Wisdom, to our Awakening, in Proceedings of Symposium in Geometry 2, 1993, p. 209-216, University "Babes-Bolyai" Cluj-Napoca, Romania.

Idem, Fundamentele integrării naturale în viaţă (The Foundations of Natural Integration into the Life), Cluj-Napoca, Casa de Editura Dokia, 1998

Idem, Geometria în sprijinul învăţământului formativ (The Geometry - a Support of the Formative Teaching), Cluj-Napoca, Casa de Editură Dokia, 1998

Idem, Geometria interioară (The Inner Geometry), Cluj-Napoca, Editura Albastră, 2001, http://www.gmi.ro. 

Vasiu, Angela; Vasiu, Constantin, Logica terţiului inclus (The Logic of the Included Third), Cluj-Napoca, Editura AcademicPres, 2002