Trans Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften 16. Nr. März 2006
  Plenum | Plenary Session | Séance plénière

Dokumentation | Documentation | Documentation


Education in the "Knowledge Society"

Alexander Van der Bellen (Head of the Green Party and National Spokesman) [BIO]
Mag.a Christina Heintel (Assistant of the spokesperson of Education for the Green Party in Parliament)
Dr. Johannes Gadner (Assistant of the spokesperson of Science for the Green Party in Parliament)


In the present-day so-called "Knowledge Society" knowledge plays an ever greater role and influences essentially the shape of the world we live in. A crucial question is whether knowledge is really a public, freely accessible good.

In actual fact, knowledge is distributed unevenly. Specific d ifferences and inequalities in the different social classes have led to a gap between those who inform themselves a great deal and know a great deal and those who inform themselves little and know little (information gap hypothesis). An important demand of education policy is therefore to insure equal access to knowledge for all citizens and to eliminate the aspect of social differences.

Education is growing increasingly important in the so-called "Education Society." More and more it determines the individual’s opportunities to participate in society. In order to find one’s orientation in a society which is becoming more and more complex, it is necessary to be able to play an active role in shaping one’s own life. Education opens perspectives to people and is increasingly the best protection against unemployment.

At the same time, a well-educated population is the deciding resource which enables a political system to exist in the competition for innovation with other countries. For this reason all talent must be supported and utilized. Only in this way can a democratic knowledge society continue to develop and assert itself in the international competition.

Education today stands before a social and social-democratic background, which is shaped by accelerated changes of the conditions of life, of the labor-market situation and of the technical-natural scientific developments in the knowledge society. In a globalized society there are completely new forms of work, communication, ways of life and biographies. Education and knowledge are becoming central factors in production and instruments of social differentiation in the knowledge society. This circumstance demands that politicians define a concept of education that goes beyond its economic utility in the labor market. How does a concept of education which is appropriate to an advanced industrial and knowledge society look with respect to globalization, new occupations and the place of working time in one’s career, but is not necessarily reduced simply to the economic perspective?

Education, advanced education and continued education also increase in importance in the knowledge society for the reason that it determines a person’s social position, earning capability, opportunities for integration and active democratic participation in society. This situation raises the central question of how a social education or university policy, respectively, can do justice to social developments, on the one hand, and, on the other hand, engage in it to direct it and change it.



Education is a matter of the future of our children and of the innovative potential of our country. A good education or training is first and foremost the best means to overcome unemployment and poverty. It is therefore disastrous to economize on education. Education must not fall victim to a reorganization of the budget.


Kindergartens are educational facilities, where the development of our children begins. If different backgrounds are to be equalized, one cannot delay that process until the children enter school. In this sense the kindergarten must be utilized as a means of integrating children with a non-German mother tongue. There they are to have the possibility of learning German. To accomplish this goal, we must hire more kindergarten teachers who are trained to teach multilingual groups of children.

In order to meet this need, it will be necessary to institute a new university program for the education of kindergarten teachers. The early fostering of all children and the language development of children in their mother tongue and in German are essential aspects of this new kindergarten education.



The Greens place their focus on individual support. We proceed from the premise that every child has talents. The giftedness of every single child is thus of equal value. It is the task of the educational programs to further these talents in an appropriate way - regardless of whether they are in the cognitive, creative, physical (motor) or social area. The school must consider individual rates of learning and development and make possible corresponding flexible grading and support systems.

It is our goal, by means of individual assistance, to make private help superfluous.

We therefore emphasize the need for a school system, which also meets the needs of the weakest pupils and does not simply ignore them.

In this respect one can point to Finnland as a model: The Finns succeed best of all in "moving even the weakest pupils ahead." The school system pays attention to them and does not simply overlook them. Learning problems are immediately resolved - and not by letting the pupils merely sit there.

In Finnish general school classes more than 20% of the pupils are organized on average in part-time support models, another 6 % are in the "special need education program," that is, in special education. In the first two grades, those who are receiving special support amount to more than 30 %! This special support partly involves individual instruction. The most severely handicapped children are often assigned a person to look after them.

The "historic window" of the retrograde number of school beginners must therefore be used in order to build up also in Austria a comprehensive system of assistance. The number of teachers in compulsory schools is not to be reduced, despite the declining number of pupils, until the contingency number of teachers for assistance reaches 10%. With respect to compulsory schools, there is no provision for additions to the budget, despite the prognosis of numbers of pupils to be enrolled up to the school year 2011/2012, but only concern for balancing the budget. That means that only by renouncing savings can the quality of the compulsory school system be dramatically improved.

A substantial increase in the number of support teachers will enable all children and young people to receive sufficient support and the best possible education in the schools. Success in school will thus no longer be dependent on private assistance. All pupils will be supported and assisted equally and thus will receive equal opportunities for an education.

The goal of the measures for individual help is also to avoid as much as possible the need to repeat classes, which experience shows does not lead to a smaller number of pupils with performance weaknesses.

For the lowest classes teaching programs which include assistance have been introduced. Those, who have need of assistance in specific subjects, receive individual help according to flexible syllabi. For a pupil just to sit there ignored is only possible now with the agreement of those in charge of education.

In the upper level of instruction, a course system has been introduced. If a student concludes a course with a grade of unsatisfactory, only the specific course must be repeated, not the entire class..

Classes with more than 30 pupils do not permit any attention to the individual pupils and are unreasonable for teachers. To enable all pupils and teachers to benefit more from the instruction, the highest number of students allowed in a class must be reduced.

In smaller classes the teacher can pay greater attention to the different needs of the pupils. Instead of the teacher standing at the front of the class, instruction will be carried out in the framework of projects and in small groups. This approach makes the instruction more interesting for all, the teaching gains in quality and, in addition, the pupils’ motivation and desire to learn increase.

In Austria social origin still essentially determines the path of education. Following elementary school, children, whose parents earn little, generally attend a principal school offering a practical education, while children, whose parents earn a great deal, proceed into the Gymnasium, which prepares them for entrance to the university. Social standing or ethnic origin should not predetermine the path of any young person’s education.

We the creation of a common school for the 6 to 15-year-old students, which creates social equality and increases the level of performance of all pupils. (School systems with "external differentiation" have done poorly on the PISA-Test with the exception of Belgium. Most of the countries that scored highest on the PISA have a system with inner differentiation and a common school.)

More educational opportunities for all result, however, also through a new form of performance feedback. Verbal grading, which indicates the progress and learning successes, also strengthens the weaker pupils.

We insist that all 6 to 14-year-old children and young people also have a legal claim to care beyond the normal instruction time. This legal right guarantees the parents the unity between school and family and creates more educational opportunities for all. Falling short of the required class size of at least 15 pupils must not be a reason to exclude parents from this right.

An investment program creates not only additional places for care, but also makes possible a corresponding adaptation of the school building. Children, who are there in the afternoon being looked after, must feel comfortable, parents must have the assurance that their children are safe and well provided for, and teachers have a right to suitable working conditions.

In collaboration with athletic clubs, a wide offering of sport and music activities is to be created in the schools.

In order to implement the claim of social equality, we consider it self-evident that the program of full day care is to be offered without charge, analogous to the free traditional education. We should consider the financing of lunch and special offerings (such as the use of sport fields) as socially justified financial contributions.

We want to begin with the fixed 50-minute periods of instruction and make possible open, flexible forms of instruction. The alternation between learning, relaxing and sport activities not only makes better, more concentrated learning possible, but also a more comprehensive approach to the different interests and needs of the children and young people. Problems at school or with learning are resolved immediately instead of being brought home and having to find private help.

Above all, in the first grades of school it is important that the daily program follow a rhythm, which suits the needs of the children. Instruction is carried out ideally according to periods of activity and relaxation, so that the children can learn according to their own working rhythm. A rigid schedule makes little sense for children of this age.

Also in the upper classes we want to begin with the idea that the six hours of instruction should be divided into classes of only 50 minutes. We are striving to achieve meaningfully planned schedules of instruction which consist of learning, exercise, repetition and relaxation.



The Greens hold the view that the primary tasks of the university are those of general education through participation in the process of research and the transmission of comprehensive cultural techniques. The university is therefore initially the place of research and the furtherance of the new scientific generation. Neither the academic professional preparation nor the development of knowledge applicable to social, cultural, technical, etc. needs can be reduced to economic utilization. Basic research cannot serve purely economic interests, but as a priority makes a contribution to cultural self-understanding and intellectual enlightenment: accordingly, basic research is a part of the culture just like art., albeit with specifically scientific methods.

The guaranty of individual freedom of activity is a necessary precondition for the fulfillment of these tasks. To accomplish this goal requires free access to university education, the possibility of participating in the decision-making and the shaping of academic structures and contents as well as level hierarchies to insure improved communication, transparency and greater openness of information and motivation.

The university does not legitimize itself primarily or even exclusively through the production of economically useful graduates, knowledge, patents, etc., but by means of functional social necessities. The meaning of the university is rather to be found in the reflection and reproduction of society - and to be sure not purely with relation to business and administration, but primarily with relation to connections with the world around us. The university is thus a place that serves as a source of the democratic form (with an option for criticism) of society, of its self-evidence and of the knowledge which is appropriate to it. And precisely that is education: It does not aim primarily at economic utility but at the development of self-determined, consciously responsible, democratic people, capable of dialogue. (See the Green Basic Program, 2001, 67ff.).

The Greens have always considered higher education as a central premise for a self-determining form of life as well as for a responsible social group with a feeling of solidarity and a capability for dialogue in a democratic society. Opening up the entire sector of higher education, therefore, remains a central goal of the Green educational policy. The university and professional schools as well as offerings of continued education must also be available to those who have gained their qualifications through their professions or through other social activities. The university quota must be raised. In Scandinavia more than 70 % of a given age group is studying, while in Austria it is only 30 %. Free admission to the university must be maintained as one of the achievements of Austrian university policy, for solely this possibility has enabled many students of different classes to gain admission to a university education at all. Free admission to the university means for us, however, not only to study "without cost," but also to create an acceptable social frame conditions as well as a corresponding system of support for those studying. Therefore frame conditions must be created to provide students with financial security during their goal oriented study such as, for example, an expansion and improvement of the stipendium system. The Green model for basic security views the universities as a part of the infrastructure, which must remain without cost for the students. In addition, it looks ahead to the support for the education of young adults. That would mean providing financial security to students in order to free them from the necessity of having to work in addition to their program of study..

The Green concept of the human being aims at the education of self-determined, consciously responsible individuals, who share equally in the decision-making processes. Therefore the Greens consider the democratic sharing of the decision-making process an important principle at universities as well as at other educational institutions. This practice must be retained and expanded. We therefore advocate more autonomy, less bureaucracy and freedom from state direction. It is our goal to insure that at universities team-oriented structures with flexible and level hierarchies become possible. In concrete terms this means the restoration of proven instruments of opinion building and co-determination as well as the deconstruction of hierarchical, authoritarian structures with condition of dependency which demotivate youngr researchers. This means, however, that important strategic decisions are to be made by democratically legitimized collegial organs, in which all recognized groups at the universities are represented. The matters under the control of the university council are to be reduced to consultation and oversight and those of the Senate correspondingly increased again. In place of the old curia model, from the doctorate on there will only remain an inner curia composed of university teachers. Participation of the graduates (professors and lecturers) must be arranged in such a way that the new group of scholars (the new blood) is assured an adequate right of representation in the councils. The co-determination of the students must be guaranteed. It is also of relevance to this situation that foreign students (not only citizens of the European Union) also receive a passive voting right in university elections.

As a result of the reform of the university and the existing rights of service and salary, the career models for the new researchers are scarcely attractive any longer. Therefore, specific and adequate support for the new blood is required. Here especially changes are requested in the service rights, which no longer support years of dependency on a professor but rather mobility and change, while still also providing a certain degree of security for young scholars. The Greens support an innovative right of service - based on the Anglo-American "tenure track system" - with an internationally comparable salary scale and attractive career possibilities for young scholars. The well-tested "tenure track system" provides motivation and enhances the creativity of the young scholars by granting early independence and career possibilities. To provide adequate support to the young scholars, the stipendium for foreign students should be doubled, 500 additional Post-Doc-positions should be created and the basic salaries of academics at the university should be increased.

The contents of the teaching program and the teaching methods must be continuously updated and adapted according to the newest information. Accordingly, reforms of the study programs, which take these new findings into consideration, are a necessity. Fostering teamwork, critical examination of the teaching program, support of mobility and scholarly independence as well as orientation toward practice, where it is necessary, should stand in the foreground of study reform. The Greens see interdisciplinary studies as an opportunity to understand higher education as a basis of education for broad segments of the population and not as an impossible ideal. The goal of education is to connect and network knowledge. Students at the university level of education are to be given the possibility to shape their own course of study, their education, themselves. Study plans (syllabi) are to provide a rough framework, which the students then refine and shape according to their own judgment. In order to realize such an education, which goes beyond specific majors, it is necessary to prepare the study program in such a way that it supports this kind of interdisciplinary approach. The need to mediate connections can thus not be limited to the universities, but must already be implemented in the middle schools, where students will be introduced to independent, group-oriented study. The middle schools will prepare their graduates for the university by orientation visits to get the feeling of the university and by including university teachers in the teaching during the last two middle school years.

© Alexander Van der Bellen (Head of the Green Party and National Spokesman)
Mag.a Christina Heintel (Assistant of the spokesperson of Education for the Green Party in Parliament)
Dr. Johannes Gadner (Assistant of the spokesperson of Science for the Green Party in Parliament)

Plenum | Plenary Session | Séance plénière

TRANS       Inhalt | Table of Contents | Contenu  16 Nr.

For quotation purposes:
Alexander Van der Bellen/Mag. a Christina Heintel/Dr. Johannes Gadner (Vienna): Education in the "Knowledge Society". In: TRANS. Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften. No. 16/2005.

Webmeister: Peter R. Horn     last change: 17.3.2006     INST