VITAL INGREDIENT: Trust is the missing link relating education, institutions, and economic development
I RECENTLY returned from a staff retreat for my work. The getaway was held in a small coastal town known for its tourist attractions and it brought together employees from multiple campuses who work in the academic field.
As academics, we often feel somewhat alone and disconnected from each other.
Despite the discourse on collegiality, the reality of workload, publish or perish and the general pressures of an increasingly demanding and complex work environment mean that we find it more difficult to maintain the simplest social interactions.
So when I returned from the break, I felt reminded of the joys of simply being able to interact without having to always be somewhere else or do something else.
I did not bring my laptop so my "email withdrawal syndrome" took some time to overcome.
Once that was addressed, I found that I enjoyed having the time to talk to my colleagues and listen to what the school and university were doing.
We had time to listen, time to talk; time to just socialise a little.
As I discussed this and that issue or research idea with my colleagues, it struck me that the time to get to know each other was so useful; indeed it is precious.
For example, I went for a walk along the beach early in the morning.
It was a joy watching the waves come to shore and admiring the occasional surfer as he went out into the cold ocean to catch a morning wave.
Bringing a colleague back to a coffee shop I had found and enjoying a well-made espresso led to me actually getting to know my co-worker.
The result of this time to talk and listen was a deep sense of the hard work that everyone is doing, and the interesting contributions that my workmates are making in so many areas.
One of the things that is built up during retreats such as the one I attended is that it helps to foster relations, trust and mutual understanding between workers.
This point struck me again as I read a research paper by Christian Bjørnskov and Pierre-Guillaume Méon titled Trust As The Missing Root Of Institutions, Education And Development (Universite Libre de Bruxelles Working Papers CEB Working Paper 12/031, 2012).
In this paper, Bjørnskov and Méon argue "that trust is the missing link relating education, institutions and economic development.
"We argue that increased trust both increases education and improves legal and bureaucratic institutions, which in turn spurs economic development (ibid., page 1)".
The essential argument made in this paper is that trust leads to higher levels of economic development and that it "also affects the level of education enjoyed by the population, which also contributes to long-run development (ibid, page 17)".
Bjørnskov and Méon maintain that "a relatively larger share of the contribution of social trust on long-run development appears to run through the education mechanism (ibid., page 17)".
The long-term influences of trust are critical to development and growth, and it appears that the role education plays in this is crucial.
Trust is the glue that holds societies together.
It is also the vital ingredient in successful educational institutions.
The extent to which education also contributes to trust levels in society is of central importance in debates over education's responsibility for developing mutuality, social solidarity and habits of positive regard for others.
Such attributes are also crucial to long-term economic and social development.
From our small individual relations with colleagues and friends, through to the capacities of our institutions to realise their goals, all the way up to broader national social solidarity and developmental targets, trust is a key component.
The role and importance of education as a long-term contributor to the development of trust is essential in a world where credence, mutual respect and understanding are necessary for growth and social cohesion.
I realised that the trust that was built and broadened during the process of discussions and engagement at the retreat would greatly help our school and faculty realise its aims.
Trust is indeed essential to education and a good process of education can help build trust in institutions and in society more broadly. Perhaps this observation is commonplace.
However, understanding the need for trust, how it is built and maintained and the role that educational institutions play in engendering trust may be one of the most vital issues for the even bigger picture of national development and prosperity. It is in education that we place our trust.
Part of our commitment to education also lies in our understanding of the central contribution it makes to deep and necessary habits, mores and dispositions that inform a trusting society, one built on mutual respect.
James Campbell | email@example.com New Straits Times Learning Curve 02 December 2012