Saturday, April 26, 2014

'Futureducation': On Educational Change

Education should be changing: The kind of education that helped us create the workforce during the industrial expansion may not, would not, work at a time of computerisation and globalisation. While this may appear kind of obvious, this is not what we are discussing though. Indeed, there is a lot of discussion about globalisation and computerisation, but the discussion is focused not on the educational challenge, but on the politics of it: For some, this is an elitist conspiracy which needs to be resisted at all costs; for others, all debate on the path to profit is utterly futile.

In the middle of this charged debate lies the somewhat ignored issue: How can we create an education that helps people to adopt to this changing world of work? From this position, that change will happen is a given: One could clearly figure out that such changes have happened and those tried to resist it, rather than trying to benefit from it, usually ended up on the losing side. So, teaching people to deny change is doing them a great disservice, as many of those well-meaning individuals in denial of this impending change are guilty of doing.

This is not about accepting the cold economic rationality that all action is futile and we must submit to change as it is imposed on us. One aspect of an educator's practice is to make sense of the change, and in so doing, preparing the learners to take advantage of such change. At the time of such massive change, this becomes the preeminent responsibility: Without such sense-making, not just a vast majority of people is condemned into meaningless life, the changes, with all the inherent possibilities of making life better, become monstrous tools to cause human misery, which, in the end, becomes self-defeating.

The search for a political middle ground may also mean the quest for an educational middle ground. Even those who don't think all is well with our current educational models, usually keep their faith in tried-and-tested models of the past. Those who see the world going to dogs with the mindless pursuit of profit advocate a retreat to a monastic ideal, which perhaps never existed, of an education outside the realities of the day. On the other side, those 'realists' who ridicule this ivory tower thinking want to create their model with the businesses in charge of education, despite the evident problem that businesses are firmly rooted in the present, and the present is changing. Today's jobs, which most education today focus upon, are going: Educators are sleepwalking down a road to the past.

One may claim that education essentially looks backward, because only the tried-and-tested ideas and models can be taught, should be taught. The quality assurance systems, that nation states around the world have put together so painstakingly, are designed to maintain standards, not to disrupt the same. The students, looking for certainty, reward heritage and track record, and are usually suspicious of the new. The governments, belatedly conscious of the asymmetric information problem in education, insist on reducing educational outcomes to simple consumer standards, as does the industry of ranking and comparison. 

However, this is discontinuous time. The discontinuity is not just rhetoric, but very real as jobs, institutions, governments and ideas all face roller-coaster change. Life in the future, and therefore education, will not be anything like we had in the past, recent or remote. And, indeed, education's current success, as evidenced by its rising popularity across the world, is its handicap; inability to change in sync with the world means that the whole institutional structure of education is likely to be undermined. The new life-forms may therefore be emerging: Who would have imagined that we will have a movement called 'un-College' in America, and efforts will be made in Britain to encourage those 'Not going to Uni'? One may look at the past and say how difficult discontinuous innovation in education usually was, but one must also remember that this is not an usual time by any measure

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