Education for the future


Last autumn I ran a course with my colleague Peter Paul Gerbrands  about strategic foresight in Aalto university.  As we collected feedback from the course there was five particularly positive  issues (there were negative ones as well, believe me!) that students brought up: first one was that we had a fresh approach for making the course. In practice that meant that we designed the course  as participatory right from beginning, with the idea that we could learn as well from the students. The second was that we used lot of our own actual experiences as illustrative material. That made a rather abstract topic more concrete. Third positive signal came from delivering a lot of new and rather unusual points of view. We extended the whole topic of strategic foresight into those realms where we actually think ourselves as instruments: what does it take from us as human beings to become a highly qualified expert of foresight.

Fourth issue was  that students enjoy that they came from so many different study streams: there were students of architecture, global business, design and so forth. It created nicely diverse points of view and atmosphere.  Lastly, there was a lot of engagement - we frequently rounded  the chairs in the classroom  and started a real conversation. with students. All this, students told us, created a feeling of care, which I think was the feedback I am really happy about.  True, some of the students suffered in these situations and were asking for more formal  approach. But when you take something in something else has to be left out.

In the field of education I can see some very controversial developments. Some suggest that everything has to be measured because then the results can be compared. That is why we have PISA-assessment  that has taken a huge role in redesigning national education systems. Particularly some Asian countries have made it an ultimate objective to fare better in the rankings.  This cannot be a good thing since it totally misses the point of creating education system that fits to cultural context. What is more, it emphasizes the role of mathematical skills and underestimates those competencies that may turn out to be much more fundamental in the working careers of the emerging new generations. I mean those skills that have to do with engaging team work, assessing the quality of information or producing new knowledge.

Others, including me, see that learning itself has much to do how we grow as human beings. This is becoming all the more important as our immediate environment  is filled with complex, often very technical structures. The aspiration of doing something relevant and meaningful for the society needs to be nurtured right from the beginning. The true challenge of our societies is how to build technology and economy with human face. This cannot be tackled unless we strive for making it more real: how to build more human friendly health care system, for instance.

Talking about the role of health care  is not a minor issue. According to recent assessment in US, the job markets are growing exceptionally rapidly in many fields of health care. However, the job field that had the highest expected growth rate was industrial-organisational psychologists. In other words, those guys that go to workplaces and build bridges over diverse opinions and disputes. It is  about taking care of peoples mental health. For me, taking into account the demographic fatcs -such as aging and longevity - make the picture of the future rather obvious: there are huge amount of new demands arising out the fact that people live longer, they want to live full life to the end and quite a few of them have more money every year  to spend for health care costs.

The question about the future of education have two sides. One is about what subjects  should be studied reflecting the growing needs of society. Here another example may serve: knowing the terrible impacts of runaway climate change, in a world where average temperature has risen four degrees. Recently, insurance company Allianz  - my former employer - came up with an interesting study where they assess the needs for rebuilding more eco-efficient infrastructure for cities. Since 70% of the greenhouse gases are actually produced in urban areas, this is definitely the right target.  In the coming decades, Allianz is expecting to see a massive growth of new kinds of developments as urban areas need to be rebuild to meet the challenge of climate change.  So there is plenty of evidence to support the idea of that "green growth" is an area where new skills are needed and new jobs are about to pop up. A study in Ireland shoved that  green growth in green Ireland could bring 30 000 new jobs only in five years of time. These just serve as examples of  growing fields of activity and our education system should somehow reflect on these rising needs.

Another aspect is that the idea of education should really be about how we grow as human beings. This is particularly important since we know that jobs of lifetime are vanishing as we speak. Whether we want it or not, we need to nourish  more  generic skills of the students. We need to prepare for  the future, where the learning itself will happen in multiple phases of life  and where degree  such is no guarantee for a job .  The clear-cut routes from education institutes to job markets may work in the future differently as people are requested constantly to engage with some new issues.

All this requires from us educators a lot. But it also gives, particularly when we remember that education - even after the upcoming changes -is and probably will be the most important corner-stone of the modern society.

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