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Education systems too slow to reform, warns the IBE

Education systems must reform themselves much faster and more continuously, to meet demands of the fast changing 21st century and the fourth industrial revolution, the Director of the IBE has warned.

“Policy makers no longer have the leisure, as they once did, of saying it has taken us 30 years to reform our education system,” said Dr Mmantsetsa Marope at the 2017 Lisbon Web Summit.

“We don’t have that time anymore. Education systems have to be lifelong learning systems themselves. They have to achieve the delicate balance of maintaining stability while being agile so they can adapt quickly and repeatedly with the changing context to provide what learners need.”

Education systems also have a further challenge, said Dr Marope. “The bigger issue regarding relevance in education is not just responding to the context. It’s also about changing the context. We need education systems to produce learners who can change the context for the better. But many education systems are stuck in the 20th century – or even earlier. They are stuck in teaching the 3 ‘R’s and subjects for their own sake.

“We’re not saying that individuals should not learn subjects, but those subjects should be tools to facilitate the development of competences. It is no longer adequate that learners acquire discreet knowledge or skills. They need to be able to use these skills in particular contexts to deliver what is needed in those contexts, whether it is at work, or in the family being a parent, or speaking at this summit.”

Dr Marope was speaking at the Web Summit at a special session entitled “Learning inside and outside the classroom”.  Her panel included: Gina Gotthilf, Growth Vice President of Duolingo, a language learning app;  Jeff Maggioncalda of Coursera, an education-focused technology company, which supports online courses from 150 universities worldwide, and   Dr Michael Spence, Vice Chancellor of the University of Sydney. It was moderated by Marjorie Paillon, a journalist covering digital topics for France 24.

Four key features for university courses
Dr Spence described the four features that his university considered essential to equip graduates for future workplaces. “First, you will need a discipline. You need core skills in critical thinking and in effective oral and written communication. All the literature demonstrates that you get that most through the mastery of a particular subject.

“Second, you need to be able to step outside your discipline so we are making it possible for students to take a second major from anywhere across the curriculum and we require them to take a breadth of study in areas such as digital and data literacy, ethics, great world views.

“Third, learners will need an international and global perspective so we are also making it possible for all students, whatever they are studying, to acquire a second language and we are enabling students to have an international mobility experience. We are also thinking about how we can internationalise the curriculum.

“Fourth, learners need to be able to bring all that together so they can work in an inter-disciplinary team and apply their knowledge to real world problems. So the university requires every student to take part in an extended real world problem-solving experience, working with a civil society organisation or a company on a real strategic problem, with a multi-disciplinary academic team to develop those core intellectual skills.”

Jeff Maggioncalda of Coursera, whose on-line courses have 28m individual learners, said that the company had recently developed a new model for learning that drew business and universities together, mixing content from both.

Examples of possible future jobs
The moderator, Marjorie Paillon, from France 24, challenged the panel with an estimate that 60 per cent of the jobs that will exist in 2030 are unknown today. “One new speciality might be as a ‘netomedic,’ providing very small implantable health monitoring and self-medication,” she explained. “We could also have ‘child designers’ who would provide offerings that meet parents’ requirements. There might be ‘memory augmentation surgeons’ to help preserve and improve memory in ageing populations.”

Educating specialists and trans-disciplinarians
Dr Marope highlighted that education systems faced two challenges that might be difficult to reconcile. “Education must still produce specialists in specific areas:  we still need cardiologists, plumbers and tech specialists.  So education is about developing lifelong learners who know their special areas in depth but they should also be trans-disciplinarians. They have to be able to work across disciplines because lifelong problems come to you in untidy packages. This prompts a challenge: to produce specialists in particular areas who are also trans-disciplinarians, who are literate enough across many areas.

“The multi-literate person needs a large number of literacies,” added Dr Marope.  “We don’t just need the three ‘R’s - reading writing and arithmetic - in the 21st century. Learners need financial literacy, health literacy, political literacy, digital literacy; sex literacy  - you need all sorts of literacies that you can bring to bear when you have to apply them.”