The current "culture of conflict" is an indication that schools and universities need to create conditions that will develop "a new humanism" and "rebuild a spirit of fraternity among people and nations," Cardinal Pietro Parolin said.
"The current context of hatred and contempt among people is constituted by a radical rejection of humanity in the other," said Parolin, the Vatican secretary of state, on Wednesday. "The acceptance of diversity is therefore fundamental for mutual respect and for the freedom to express one's own ideas and religious convictions."
The cardinal was speaking at an event in Paris marking the 70th anniversary of UNESCO, the 50th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council's declaration on Catholic education and the 25th anniversary of Ex Corde Ecclesiae, a document issued by Pope John Paul II for Catholic universities.
The church has never considered culture and education to be "mere instruments" for evangelization, the cardinal said, but rather as a means for full human development with "great intrinsic value." Citing Blessed Paul VI, he said education is necessary for the development of peoples, for an end to their hunger, poverty and sickness.
Education has been and continues to be at the center of the church's mission, he said. But education is in a time of "global emergency," brought about by major societal change and a "reductionist approach" that tends to limit the value of education to "purely economic aspects," he said.
The fragmentation of knowledge, the emphasis on technical know-how and skills, and the lack of community involvement are all symptoms of the crisis, Parolin said.
At at time when education can view people as "machines" and emphasize "efficiency, competition, incentive and competence" in the absence of "values and moral judgment," he said, education must recover the "centrality of the human person."
"Emotional and affective intelligence, the capacity for empathy ... and team work" are "essential and fundamental" in education, he said.
"Standardized, codified and quantitative technical knowledge," he said, tends to promote relationships based on "approval and partiality" at the cost of "personality differences and individual creativity" among both teachers and students.
An educational model based on the economic principles of production and consumption leads to a society in which people are "cast aside and forgotten without any regard to their dignity," he said.
The humanities, which help to develop the capacity for logic, judgment and complex thought, "cannot be eliminated or considered superfluous," he said. Education in art, music and poetry are "irreplaceable," because an education that is sensitive to beauty leads to concern and care for others and for the environment, and a commitment to ideals.
There is also a need to recover the sense of "community responsibility" for education, he said. Schools and universities must create conditions for teachers to collaborate with each other and with parents.
Parolin also urged educational institutions to offer continuing education classes online as a way to promote lifelong learning. The objective "is not the 'degree' but knowledge, learning and a deepening, especially in a society that is always more complex and stratified," he said.
The event in Paris was organized by the Permanent Observer Mission of the Holy See to UNESCO.