Two seemingly unrelated events should serve as a wake-up call to the dangers facing education systems around the world.

First, in France, it has become so difficult to find and keep teachers that they are now recruited by interview. Already in 2021 there was an accelerating decline in the number of candidates for the mathematics recruitment exam; in 2022 there were a third fewer eligible candidates than there were positions available in mathematics, and even fewer candidates in German, classical and modern literature. In some academies, we have been reduced to recruiting teachers after a half-hour interview on such vague topics as: “What are your views on school, workload, discipline” or “Can you punish a child? If so, how? Candidates deemed suitable after this moment in front of a jury will then be introduced to the basics of pedagogy in a few weeks.

Some will say that this is not so serious. After all, this is already the case in many countries and is even the usual practice in higher education institutions, where former students are very often called upon to teach without having received any pedagogical training; in particular, in Africa, almost all contractual teachers, at all levels, have no training at all.

Secondly, in China, a few universities, at the moment of provincial level (the People’s University in Beijing, the University of Nanjing and the University of Lanzhou) have just given up evaluating their position in the current world ranking of universities, known as the “Shanghai ranking”.) This decision was taken after a reduction in the teaching of foreign languages in secondary schools, the abolition of the international “Advanced Placement” test used massively until now by Chinese baccalaureate holders to gain access to American universities, and an address by Xi Jinping on 25 April, who said that he wanted to continue to make Chinese universities world-class references, but “with Chinese characteristics”, and no longer, as before, by following foreign “standards”. This change is all the more surprising given that China had succeeded in imposing its own conception of excellence, by undervaluing the importance of academic freedom in the ranking criteria, which enabled it to place ten Chinese universities in the top 200 in the world. This renunciation does not concern the country’s most important universities for the moment; it could herald the return of what is once again being called “red thinking” in China, as it was during the Cultural Revolution. It could lead one to think that, once again, China will decide to do everything on its own, without contact with the outside world, if not in a situation of hostility towards it.

These two events are not anecdotal:

One reveals the great difficulty of recruiting enough competent teachers, and keeping them, when this profession is disparaged, underpaid, under-trained and competing with many others, better valued, such as engineers or computer scientists; and by others still, fantasised, such as the entertainment or sports professions. This is particularly true in France, where teachers earn 10 or 15% less than the OECD average, and much less than their German, Dutch and Swedish colleagues.

The other reveals the political tension of the development model in many countries, and not only in dictatorships, and announces the retreat of the teaching of sciences, languages of others, universal values and freedom of thought.

If these two weak signals, which are still in the minority for the moment, were to develop, then we could fear the worst: poorly trained teachers, teaching without understanding.

Even if no one can dispute the mortal danger that climate change represents today, we cannot ignore the fact that, on a planet with a temperate climate but where no one would know how to do science and would think that their language and culture are the only ones worth knowing, we would die of ignorance and barbarism.

Education and the environment therefore both require actions whose effects will take a long time to be felt. All the more reason to start now.