Report on Future Education Symposium
ARTICLE | October 13, 2015 | BY Janani Harish
Higher education has continuously evolved in its purpose and methods. As the demands on education have become increasingly complex today, it becomes essential to determine the needs of the future, and evolve a system of education that equips youth to face the challenges that the 21st century will bring, and scale its yet unseen peaks. The following paper draws its inspiration from the recent WAAS-WUC course on ‘Future Education’ in Dubrovnik, Croatia that sought to explore key issues in teaching and learning, and the means for ushering in a new paradigm in education.
1. The Value of Education
What education has done to improve human life would appear to be, in an age prior to the proliferation of education, a miracle. It has increased human life span, improved health and eradicated diseases. It has delivered us, to a great extent, from superstition and ignorance. It has raised agricultural output to feed over 7 billion people today. It has resulted in the invention of tools and devices that have made life easier. The common man or woman anywhere today has access to what was considered a luxury even to kings a few centuries ago. What was impossible, such as travelling around the world in less than 80 days or speaking to someone beyond shouting distance, has become commonplace. Education has abridged time and conquered space.
According to UNESCO, every extra year of school increases individual earnings by upto 10%, and the national GDP growth by 0.37%.* Girls’ education is the most powerful factor affecting the fertility rate and maternal mortality. Each extra year of the mother’s schooling reduces the probability of infant mortality by 5%-10%. It even boosts agricultural output by 25%! Education is positively co-related to peace, democracy, human rights and sustainable development.
Our educational system offers the entire knowledge that humanity has collected over centuries, and presents it in a capsule to every generation. The more and better the education, the greater is the benefit for all.
2. The Change we Need
Heitor Gurgulino de Souza, President of WAAS and WUC and Ivo Šlaus, Honorary President of WAAS, pointed out the quantitative and qualitative demands of the future. Global tertiary enrolment has multiplied five-fold since 1975, to about 180 million today. But if the forecast global demand for education is to be met, 4 new universities with 40,000 students each have to be founded every week, over the next 15 years. Nothing short of a revolution, not in constructing the university buildings and administering the enrollment process, but in the very conception of integrating these aspiring students into the education system, is needed. Quantitative expansion is one part, perhaps the easier to define, of the challenge in the future of education.
Quality of education is a much researched, much spoken about need. What makes this need most compelling and urgent today is the complexity of the issues that we face. Unemployment, climate change, religious fundamentalism, shortage of essential needs, threat of war—each challenge is multidimensional and interconnected. Garry Jacobs, Chief Executive Officer of WAAS & WUC, pointed out that every one of them is global in scope, defies solution by action at the regional level, and cannot be addressed by sectoral, piecemeal attempts to address it. What is needed is a radical change in economic and social theory, which in turn requires a change in the way we teach them to our youth.
The most fundamental change needed is at the conceptual level. Unless we change our understanding of the knowledge with which we approach our problems, we will not effectively address them. So it is not enough that our policies change. Our conceptions to the whole framework, the theories on which we base our policies need to change. This paradigm change is our best bet for a better future.
Education is central to this process of paradigm change. If the world needs to think freshly about how it can address its problems, that implies that we need to take another look at how we organize our education. It is to initiate the process of change and identification of a new paradigm that WAAS-WUC conducted three trans-disciplinary courses earlier, on the topics of individuality and accomplishment, a trans-disciplinary science of society and effective leadership. The Future Education course was intended to initiate a discussion on the qualitative dimension of the change needed in education in terms of the principles of higher education, how it is practiced, how the paradigm of education can improve and change in future, and thereby impact social thought and political decision making in a way that has not been done before.
The post-graduate certificate course was held from Sept 21-23, 2015 at Inter-University Centre, Dubrovnik, Croatia. The course involved 16 faculty members drawn from the fields of education and educational policy making from organizations in Europe, America and Asia. Apart from WAAS and WUC, The Mother’s Service Society, India; Person-Centered Approach Institute, Italy; Dag Hammarskjöld University College of International Relations and Diplomacy, Croatia and Inter-University Centre, Croatia were the partner organizations for the course.
The course was made available live on the internet. Online participants could watch the lectures and participate in the course by raising questions and responding to the discussion during the course, or afterwards in the online forum.† The course has a permanent dedicated website similar to MOOCs, containing course announcements, recommended reading, video recordings of the lectures, lecture notes, assessment questions and other details related to the course.‡ Apart from this, course details are also permanently available on the WAAS and WUC websites.§
3. Redefining the Purpose
“[I do not] carry such information in my mind since it is readily available in books. ...The value of a college education is not the learning of many facts but the training of the mind to think,” said Einstein, one of the greatest scientific minds. Today, any information, useful, trivial or utterly frivolous, is available to anyone with a smartphone and internet connection. So what should we teach, and with what purpose? What is it that is not available in a book or a webpage?
It is expected that 50% of occupations today will no longer exist by 2025.¶ But disappearing occupations do not result in diminishing jobs, they simply mean newer occupations will emerge. So, what future do we prepare students for? We cannot predict anything else about the future except that we can expect much that is new. Courses do need to teach facts, though in the case of some disciplines, information is multiplying exponentially and constantly going out of date. More essential than information are thoughts derived by the correlation of information, ideas that relate & integrate thoughts, and values as principles to guide accomplishment and growth.
The Age of Discovery saw great developments in the shipping industry and invention of instruments that aided navigation. The voyages and overseas conquests are a piece of information. Development in the science of navigation is another. When a student starts to think of the simultaneity of voyages and discoveries, and wonders if one led to another, or both mutually influenced each other, or were themselves part of a larger movement that was influenced by people’s aspirations, then thinking is born in him/her. Education that encourages original thought is better than the system that simply imparts different pieces of information. That is like stopping with admiring the different pieces in a jigsaw puzzle.
An education that misses values misses a crucial element. Values—personal, ethical, corporate—contain the essence of all human knowledge of accomplishment. Knowledge without values is like building a large and lovely mansion without a foundation. It is of no use, and may only harm.
During the Great Depression in the 1930s, the US was faced with its biggest economic crisis till date. Banks had collapsed, and people were in a panic. They rushed to withdraw their money from whatever banks remained, ensuring their eventual collapse too. The US President, Franklin D. Roosevelt, found that the economic theories he had learnt at Harvard did not serve him. He went on public radio, a new technology then, and spoke to the people open-heartedly. Workers used to rush home from factories saying if the President took the time to speak to them, the least they could do was listen! FDR was able to connect with and reach the people. He reminded them of the greatness of their country and extolled them to believe in themselves and their institutions. He asked them to leave their money in the banks. He imposed banking regulations and introduced economic reforms, but the public emotional appeal he made to his countrymen was a powerful idea. Banking and finance have an existence only inasmuch as they are connected to people. Without people, there is neither money nor economy. Integrating people with the economy, FDR saw that people’s aspirations were the lever that moved larger objects. Such relating and integrating of facts and thoughts to form ideas is a skill that our education could equip students with.
Isolation is impossible in the universe, from the level of the particle upwards, to the level of galaxies, and for all living beings from the microorganism to the human being. The current refugee crisis in Europe shows that an issue can have its origins in one part of the world in one century, and its effects seen in another century in any other distant part of the world. Thinking in silos, being concerned with a narrow cause, ignoring the larger picture and imagining that anything can be ‘contained’ are ideas education has to work on to eliminate in youth. Instilling a planetary identity, as Sesh Velamoor, Executive Director of the Foundation for the Future, described, rather than an identity with the national, state or county border expands the mind and personality. To such an expansive identity, when ethical responsibility is added, we create potential global leaders whom we need so much.
If the challenges of the earlier centuries were puzzling enough, with little pieces that had to be fit together as per a picture, today’s challenges are like jigsaw puzzles where the pieces are constantly changing shape while the big picture is also changing! So education today is more educational when the outcomes are uncertain, not when it is about securing a preconceived set of outcomes. Keri Facer, Professor of Educational and Social Futures from the University of Bristol, pointed out that we need a new contract between education and society, one that no longer prepares youth for or against a future we have already imagined. Instead, education needs to create the conditions that will enable students to assume societal leadership and responsibility, confront uncertainty and to participate in the dynamic creation of possibilities.
4. Change of Subject
Looking back at the time spent in college, ask anyone to think of a few things that come to mind. Most likely, it will be the friendships made, the teachers they liked (or disliked), the fun during recess and even in class, the group projects, discussions and debates, the study trips and sports! But what about mathematics, economic theories, literary analysis, chemical equations and anatomical drawings? Those were the ostensible reasons for going to college, and the knowledge and degree obtained are valued and recognized as the reason for one’s position professionally and socially. Still, what is cherished most is what appealed to the emotions, what most touched one personally.
True education teaches the person, not the subject. Data, knowledge, theories and subject expertise can be obtained even from a book. There are software and electronic readers with read-aloud text. What elevates the classroom is the personal touch, the relationships that can be forged between the teacher and the student, and among the students. A mechanistic method that is not person-centered throws away this advantage and settles for what can be done with a book or a piece of software.
Teaching is effective not when the teacher is an expert in the subject, not even when he/she knows how to teach. Alberto Zucconi, Secretary General of WUC, stressed that the most effective educator is the person-centered one who has respect, empathic understanding and sincerity. They are mentors who promote student creativity, autonomy and individuality, rather than conformity.
Students often like or dislike a subject because of the teacher who handles it. They choose to pursue a field because the teacher was inspired and passionate about the subject. There are some teachers whose lectures last the entire duration of the class. There are others who make the subject come live. When they read Shakespeare, the students see the drama unfold in the classroom. When they teach Mathematics, they pass on the thrill of solving a problem to the students. Economics becomes a study of real people and situations in their hands. They make History and Geography thrilling journeys through time and space. Electronics and IT move beyond 0s and 1s to show how they can serve people and simplify life. The person-centered approach to education, through such teachers, instills the joy of learning. It creates an environment which cultivates curiosity, trust and self-responsibility. It produces creative, empathic, well-formed individuals with a strong personality and an integrated outlook. Such people are life-long learners, adaptive to new situations and successful in problem solving. Professional success is integrated with personal wholeness, and the person-centered approach to teaching and learning ensures all-round personal development.
American psychologist and educational reformer John Dewey said that schools have too many teachers and too few facilitators. The person-centered approach reverses this, and makes learning more effective by making it participatory. The subject is an occasion. The real subject is the student.
5. From Bologna Onwards
The ancient Chinese proverb “Tell me and I will forget. Show me and I will remember. Involve me and I will understand” gives a wisdom that our classrooms around the world would do well to accept. The Socratic method of teaching by asking questions and initiating dialogue wakened the faculty of thinking. Involvement, rather than passive listening, makes better learning.
However, from the time of the first formal University of Bologna, the lecture has been the primary method for imparting knowledge. Over time, it has been supplemented by discussion, research, project work, internship, service learning, computer and online education, but change in education has not kept pace with change in other fields, or evolved in response to research findings that show the advantage of other methods over the traditional practices followed for centuries. The lecture in the university began at a time when literacy was considered education, knowledge was limited to a few scholars, there were only a precious few handwritten books, and people had to gather around a scholar and hear him speak, if they needed to learn. Today, education has grown in terms of a number of disciplines and subjects, and the amount of information available in each of them. The printing press liberated the book from the manual labour of writing each copy by hand. Digitization has liberated the book even from paper! The internet makes knowledge more accessible than it has ever been, MOOCs have virtually opened up universities around the world to anyone who would like to take a look inside, without leaving their homes or computers. In such a changed scenario, following the same lecture model would be like the early news readers on television who used to read the news from sheets of paper, much as the news readers on radio had done before. All the visual and multimedia potential of the television went unexploited when it followed an earlier model. Similarly, with all the resources and developments, the university classroom needs to look beyond the lecture model, one that is shown to result in an average student retention rate of just 10%. Using audio, video and demonstration improves retention further. But if at least half of what is taught has to be retained by students, discussion in the classroom is needed. Memory and comprehension are enhanced with increasing interest and participation. Multi-sensory learning, using tactile, visual, auditory, kinesthetic and olfactory channels, improves performance.
Practical work raises student retention even further. But as teachers have known all along, the best method to learn, one that results in an average retention of 90%, is to teach others. Stefan Brunnhuber, Medical Director and Chief Medical Officer, Diakonie Hospital, Germany and Vice-Chairman of the European Institute of Health, showed that inter-personal variables involving peer-tutoring, cooperative peer-learning and the interaction between teacher and student oversteer institutional variables by factor 2. An education system that incorporates teaching, which appears to be diametrically opposite to learning, as a learning method enhances the learning curve best. Inter-personal relationships also boost creativity, an essential attribute required to face a future we cannot yet predict. It equips students with the capacity to ask questions never asked or answered before, and address challenges in ways never done before.
The strong neurobiological link between health and academic performance too merits more attention. Physical exercise has a positive impact on cognitive enhancement. It improves memory, attention span, mathematical skills and overall performance. Adequate rest, yoga, meditation and mind-body medicine improve the brain’s executive function. In our fast-paced world, as we try to get more and more work done, we think we are being efficient if we do more than one task at a time. Multitasking is a relatively new word in our vocabulary, but it has firmly taken root. But in truth, multitasking is neurobiologically an illusion. We think we are doing two things more effectively, but we are not doing two things. We are lowering performance. If we are involved in a mental task, and are interrupted every 3 minutes by an SMS, we end up with a functional reduction of IQ by 10 points. The use of Internet and Communication Technology 6-8 hours or more a day, in order to learn, is negatively co-related with the development of executive function of the brain and lifestyle, and is positively co-related with dissatisfaction. But the reality is, the average global smartphone user looks at it, on an average, 150 times a day. How that affects our collective IQ and productivity does not need Mensa level IQ to estimate.
Just as letting go of the past is necessary in some cases, going back to basics and rediscovering the wisdom that has been known for centuries are essential in some. Wisdom is to know and educate others about when we need to look ahead, and when to turn back.
We do not need more, new disciplines, what we need is a creativity response—a creative change in our education that boosts the creativity of the learner. We have seen a steady rise in the number of disciplines and subjects, and greater and greater fragmentation of knowledge. As we break it up into smaller, more manageable parts, we begin to look at a large beautiful painting from closer and closer, and lose sight of the beauty of the whole, staring at the individual brush strokes that have neither meaning nor beauty when seen in isolation from the rest of the picture. This results in a horizontal divorce between the different categories in education. Divorce of another type is seen in the complete disconnect that many students feel from studies, because they cannot relate to it from their life and experience. As we try to teach the knowledge collected over centuries in a three, four or five year course, we condense it by abstracting knowledge of many life experiences into a series of generalized abstract principles. This divides truth into fragments, all of which together do not recreate the whole. Each aspect is partial and incomplete when isolated from the wider context of which it is a part, and leaves the student asking, ‘Why am I learning this stuff?’. They do not see what it signifies, and where it fits in real life.
We take a flower, separate each petal and show it to the students, and expect them to visualize the whole and appreciate it. In other words, we teach them individual subjects, evaluate them, rank them and create competition. But in the real world of work and life, what is needed is cooperation and collaboration. Somewhere between graduation and employment, we expect them to figure that out by themselves. This disillusions students and leaves them unprepared to face the world of work, with its interconnected issues that transcend narrow disciplines.
All issues and challenges that were effectively handled in the past were done so only because those who were in charge saw the issue within its context, not isolated from it. To understand any part, we also need to understand the whole and the relationship of the part to the whole.In the same way, our education acquires meaning and comes to life when we make it contextual. The context abridges the skills gap in graduates, and equips them to seamlessly move into the world of work and real issues.
Olga Melykh, Lecturer, National University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy and President of the “Young Generation will Change Ukraine” Association, pointed out the comprehensive curricula that equip youth to think contextually. One way of adding context to content is to teach and learn a subject, not in isolation from all other subjects, but with reference to them. Instead of teaching history as a uni-dimensional study of the major epochs and events in chronological order, it could be related to all other subjects and made multi-dimensional.
A study of art and literature can be taken up beginning from history. Examining the evolution of art, the influence of the times and the lives of artists sees art from a historical perspective. Similarly literature can be studied from within history—How and when did writing and its various forms evolve? Do writings reflect the sentiments of the period? Conversely, did writing influence the course of history?
How have inventions, beginning from the wheel, shaped history? When, how did science part ways with religion? How have new inventions and theories been received? Is science responsible to society? Do scientists have moral obligations? Science, studied from a historical perspective, is as equally informative as the scientific principles themselves.
When was democracy born? Why does monarchy still exist in some places? How did governments, political system and law evolve? How has society changed since the time of the hunter-gatherer, in what ways is it essentially the same? How has human psychology evolved with evolution in society? What circumstances create dictators, what creates visionaries? How is the personality of great leaders shaped? Sociology, politics, law, psychology—all these can be related to from history. We can study history and detect patterns to understand the present and anticipate the future.
What is illustrated here with history study can be done with other subjects as well. By establishing interconnections between all disciplines and making education contextual, we enable students to see the part in the context of the whole. This ability is essential if we are to find effective, permanent alternatives and solutions.
6. The Value of Values
One of the top technology companies, Google, believes that when it comes to recruiting new employees, technical expertise is the least important criterion! Intellectual humility, sense of responsibility, empathy, and willingness to work in and for the team are more important. Grades determine one’s career for the first two years, according to Google’s head of People Operations. So the rest of one’s career depends on the value one adds to work, and that is determined by one’s own values.
Knowledge without values is catastrophic. After the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Oppenheimer became the emblem of a new type of technocratic power. He became a household name and appeared on the covers of the magazines Life and Time. But five years later, during the arms race between the US and USSR, Oppenheimer lobbied for international arms control. He opposed the development of the hydrogen bomb for ethical concerns. With growing concern about the social and ethical responsibility of scientists, Oppenheimer joined Albert Einstein, Bertrand Russell, Joseph Rotblat and other eminent scientists and academics to establish WAAS in 1960.
When conflicting interests prevail, it is values that one is committed to that set the direction. Values are the quintessence of the knowledge of human accomplishment. They represent a universal ideal of conduct, an idealized goal of perfection. The common element in all instances of progress or accomplishment, in any field, at any level, individual, regional, national or global, is positive values. Just as physical skills are the channels through which physical energy is directed so that it produces results, values play a similar role at the psychological level. The quality of the values and the intensity of our commitment to them determine the level of our accomplishment.
As Winston Nagan, Chairman of the Board of WAAS and Director of WUC emphasized, at the root of the multiple crises confronting humanity today is a crisis of values that must be resolved before there can be any hope of lasting solutions to the problems facing humanity. An education without values is destructive. Civilization offers us knowledge, culture provides values. When knowledge and values are unmatched, we move towards dystopia. As Einstein suggested, new knowledge should be a blessing and not a curse to humankind. Learning and work are effective and productive only when they are based on positive values, and these need to be incorporated in every subject and course.
7. Towards a Bolder Future
We have not yet fully explored the infinite potential there is in human capital. We have disproved predictions that earth will not be able to produce food for all and devised ways to turn desert into farmland, grow plants without soil, and continuously boost agricultural productivity. Food shortage in any part of the world today is not because of shortage of food but due to political and organizational folly. Concern over depleting oil reserves has been removed by the discovery that the sun beams enough solar energy in an hour to satisfy global energy needs for a year.** We have deciphered the structure of the DNA, split the atom, and mastered rocket science. Now we are looking to move out of the earth, to other worlds. We made computers, connected them together, and have created a virtual world with unlimited possibilities. No resource is as resourceful or unlimited as the potential in the human being. The human mind has amazing resources at its command. It has faculties we have not discovered yet, and the potential to evolve and accomplish much more than we have ever done.
With all the focus that education gives to science, on closer examination, we see that much of that focus is on the process of validation of discovery, and not really on the process of discovery itself. An understanding of this process, and of what constitutes intellectual genius will move us closer to discovering the method that develops genius through education.
Today, our mental processes have a strong bias for physical reality. Though we know that if we went only by our senses, we would still be saying that the sun goes around the earth; even in our thinking process, we give primacy to the physical. Reality has many dimensions. Reality is in the material, emotional and conceptual planes. But our scientifically validated, rational education places great emphasis only on the material dimensions of reality. Our thinking process in general is conditioned to emphasize on what is physically verifiable and dependent on our senses. Our education often downgrades the reality of the subjective dimension and places great emphasis on being completely objective, even though the subjective reality is what we live in to a powerful extent. Ignoring the subjective dimension robs us of a rich knowledge we could discover otherwise.
Thinking is a critical faculty that education needs to develop. Thinking itself can be of many types. One is the analytical, where we take one part of the whole, concentrate on it, gain extensive knowledge and specialize in the part alone. Another is synthetic thinking, where we try to see the big picture. We put all the parts together, and find the commonality in all. We combine a number of disciplines and subjects, and make up an education course in this way. The third type of thinking, integrated thinking, sees the oneness among the parts at a fundamental level, it recognizes the essentiality in all. It reconciles apparent contradictions as complementary dimensions of a wider reality—truths completing truths—to reveal the underlying transdisciplinary principles. If our education can shift from analytical, to synthetic, to integrated thinking, we evolve collectively to function at a yet undiscovered plane of thinking, working and creating.
The unrealized is not necessarily unrealizable. Many a thing that is possible today was unimagined, or science fiction in the past. But we have an inherent bias to believe in the reality of what exists today, and downplay the reality of what has not yet materialized, even if it is inevitable, simply because it is not intelligible to our senses. The determinative power of anticipation and aspiration are not taken into account in our understanding of any development in science or the humanities. A holistic education not only imparts facts, it reveals the great powers of the mind, develops the personality and individuality, and makes students discoverers of unthought realities.
All knowledge is based on a conceptual framework. Problems are not solved when we insist on working within the existing paradigm or the intellectual framework. We are constantly learning new paradigms, but we do so unconsciously. We move to new paradigms without knowing we are doing it. In our classes, if we can teach the knowledge we are teaching, and make conscious the progress that we have made, and the process by which we shift from one paradigm to another, we will create not just knowledge but the capacity to create new paradigms, and to come out of the box.
The natural progression in the educational paradigm is a gradual shift from ‘Learning to Know’ to ‘Learning to Do’ to ‘Learning to Be’ to ‘Learning to Live Together’, as described by Stephen Yong-Seung Park, Dean at the Office of International Affairs and Professor of Human Resource Management, Kyung Hee University, South Korea. At a fundamental level, education must prepare us to strive for Truth, self-development and self-knowledge. The focus on the external that teaches one how to make a living must be balanced by a focus on how to make a life, an idea that Pierre Antoine Barraillé, President of Praneo, put forward.
In order to meet the increasing demands on quality and quantity of education, and to effectively handle the challenges we face today, our educational model along with all the involved people (teachers and students), pedagogy (of research and teaching) and organizations, should transform into a more conscious, person-centered, value-based, holistic system.
Comprehending the challenges in present and future education, identifying the changes needed, and determining a course of action are easy when compared to the task of translating the action plan into action. Change almost always meets with inertia and resistance from long time practitioners who believe in the superiority of their practice. To shake the beliefs of an old, established organization is more difficult than to move its physical structure from its foundation. Even when there is clear knowledge of what needs to be done, existing forces in society prevent or impede the execution of the knowledge from a hundred ulterior motives. Vested interests with limited vision are hostile to change that threatens the status quo. Even when change is implemented, the policy has to be tailored specially for each country, region or university. What suits one may not work elsewhere.
The challenges to be overcome in order to revolutionize education are enormous, as Zlatko Lagumdžija, Former Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs of Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Tibor Tóth, Ambassador, Executive Secretary Emeritus, Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization PC, said. But the stakes are high enough, and they are rising perpetually. Education is our best hope for the future. We need to translate the thoughts and ideas generated from the WAAS-WUC course on Future Education into a working reality. We could make a start with one or a few progressive universities and countries, as suggested by Erich Hoedl, Vice-President of the European Academy for Sciences and Arts. As the saying goes, nothing succeeds like success, and others around the world will follow. Many a revolution had a modest beginning.
We do not know exactly what the future will look like. A phrase from Indian philosophy talks about knowing that which all is known. Translating that into the educational context, we can teach students that knowing which, they can handle all. Alongside teaching them the facts, we can train them to handle complexity and make them capable of being adaptive and constantly reassessing the future. So no matter what the future turns out to be, our youth will be well formed individuals equipped to face it. Better still, they will invent the future.