Asia Pacific Education Review

, Volume 15, Issue 1, pp 13–19 | Cite as

Cultivating humanity or educating the human? Two options for education in the knowledge age

  • Gert BiestaEmail author


Ever since the idea of the ‘knowledge society’ came into circulation, there have been discussions about what the term empirically might mean and normatively should mean. In the literature we can find a rather wide spectrum, ranging from a utilitarian interpretation of the knowledge society as a knowledge economy, via a more humanistic conception of the knowledge society as a knowledge sharing society, up to an explicitly political interpretation of the knowledge society as a knowledge democracy. Although in theory there is a wide range of interpretations and manifestations, in practice there has been a strong convergence towards the idea of the knowledge society as a knowledge economy. On this interpretation the particular task for education is seen as that of the production of flexible lifelong learners who are able to adjust and adapt to the ever-changing conditions of global capitalism. In this paper I raise the question how we might conceive of the educational task in light of the particular expectations that come from such an interpretation of the knowledge society. Against the idea that an adequate response requires that educators focus on the cultivation of the human being’s humanity, I challenge the humanistic underpinnings of the idea of education as cultivation. Instead, I suggest a different direction that moves the educational task away from the cultivation of the self towards the exposure towards the world.


Knowledge society Knowledge economy Cultivation Humanism Humanism of the other Nussbaum Levinas 


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Copyright information

© Education Research Institute, Seoul National University, Seoul, Korea 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Faculty of Language and Literature, Humanities, Arts and Education: Institute of Education and SocietyUniversity of LuxembourgWalferdangeLuxembourg

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