…coming with an avalanche. That’s according to the Institute of Public Policy Research (IPPR), a think tank from London. According to their report An Avalanche is Coming, the next 50 years may make or break higher education depending on how all the players in the ecosystem react and seize the opportunity future developments, especially in technology, will open. On the surface, the status quo seems stable as we look at all the infrastructures we’ve put in place in the past century. But underneath is a rumble. Investments are getting pulled out from the businesses of the old, and are getting poured into future technology. Technological growth is moving at an exponential rate; and with it are 2 things: industry and education. Industry produces and makes use of the new technologies, while schools produce the talents that can not just utilize these new tech (for better or worse) but also innovate and influence how technologies are created..
What’s interesting is: top companies around the world like IBM, GlaxoSmithKline, and Microsoft are now investing in education. The primary reason for this is that “educated workers are better equipped to become gainful employees — and profitable consumers.” But although this may seem like investing in vested interest, it is undeniable that education is key to uplifting individuals from poverty. And it’s often left by the wayside.
In fact, investments in Education Technology is at its all-time highest at $9.5 Billion. Microsoft, Google, and Facebook even see billions of dollars in the future of education. Surely, technology will play and even bigger part in the way facilitate learning for our students.
With mobile phones, tablets, and laptops becoming cheaper, and internet connection getting faster, information is democratized now, more than ever. In fact, in 2017, 63% of all internet content was accessed via a mobile device. And this number is expected to grow in the following years. This has caused significant changes in the way people “consume” information, most significant is “Just-In-Time Learning”, a way of learning wherein we search for the information that we need at the time it is needed. For example, if you need to replace your car battery, you can simply search on Google of YouTube “How To” videos on car battery replacements. Just-in-Time Learning is just one manifestations of how new technologies have been changing the way we learn. But as much as it is exciting, it is also worrisome for higher education institutions as college enrollments decline globally. Futurists push it even further and predict that higher education will “die”.
So where do we begin?
Standing on Common Ground
On a common ground would be a good place to start. Given that this avalanche is about people, it’s just right to start where our hearts are. On February 8, 2019 we collaborated with Ashoka Philippines in conducting a heart-opening Common Ground workshop, which puts its participant on an equal footing, whoever they may be. In this particular event we were blessed to have been invited by our innovation partner Father Saturnino Urios University (Urios) of Butuan City to share with them insights on 21st Century learning, and also conduct a Common Ground session to help them envision the future of work and learning for their students and their school.
During the Common Ground sessions, the participants opened up about their most empowering experiences when they were in school. Students and faculty shared their stories with each other, and together they developed rapport through their shared experiences. A faculty member shared a story of a life-changing experience when he was reprimanded and counseled by his teacher after he called a classmate a “squatter.” He said that the firm, yet empathic approach of his teacher was what helped him understand his error and change his ways. On the other hand, a student shared her experience of moving to the Philippines from Europe. She said that her teachers and classmates were a tremendous help in overcoming homesickness and finding a new “family.” The session helped the participants draw a fuller and more colorful picture of a typical student or faculty in their school; someone whom they can relate to, empathize with, and envision the future for
Learners and Workers of the Future
After sharing their stories, the participants shared their ambitions for the themselves and the school. They illustrated persona maps, one for faculty and another for students; which they used as their mirrors to envision their preferred future of education
The personas they developed shared several characteristics. For faculty, the personas were 23–35 years old, whose career drive is to support their family. These faculty personas truly like their teaching vocation, but desire to be financially sustainable. They want to be upskilled and retooled to so they can stay relevant as some students know more than them because of the students’ savvy for tech. The student personas draw a similar picture: they’re driven to finish school so they can land a stable job to support their family and help send siblings to school while trying to balance the social experience of going through college. They may have limited access to technology because of the
“Late Majority” technological landscape in the province, but they know how to maximize whatever they have (like budget, or hand-over smartphones, classroom computers, and computer shops).
Although there was a variety of answers from different points of view, themes among their ambitions surfaced.
Theme 1: Automation and Upskilling
In the past 3 years, automation, artificial intelligence, and deep learning sprung out from fringe topics to public consciousness. The 4th Industrial Revolution is looming (or is it already here, what do you think?) and terraforming society as we know it. This was a major concern for students and faculty alike of Urios because both teachers and students feel like the faculty and the schools are not equipped or skilled to prepare the students of the revolutionized world. “When the world runs on Ai, what will we become?”, one participant said. They believe that to be able to be relevant in the future, schools must first acknowledge the very real social implications of automation before they plan how to move forward. They said that everyone must be upskilled to ride the tide of the 4th industrial revolution.
Theme 2: Value for Human Capital
Aside from upskilling staff to serve a purpose, we must also place real value to humans as a holistic capital. This means treating students, especially faculty not just as instructors that transfer knowledge to students but also as individuals with their own expertise in their fields of work or study that they can share with their school community on different platforms. The participants desire and see the value of having an accessible relationship between the academe and industry. Faculty can learn up-to-date and reality-based information through interaction and immersion with industry, while companies can benefit from the visioning of academics. The faculty are not relegated merely as vessels of information, but as humans that help facilitate learning and growth of the young. This puts irreplaceable value on humans, which machines cannot simply replace.
Theme 3: Empathy for Fellowmen
Third, a paradox: as our society become more and more “systematic”, we also become more entropic. Complex algorithms media platforms developed curate the media we consume to become more and more homogenous to our individual tastes. And instead of helping us become more connected with each other they might argue, it has in fact made us more disconnected. The future of work and learning, if we were still to have one, is about reconnecting with fellow people. By connecting with other people, knowing and empathizing with them, we appreciate their own experiences, learn from them, and develop ourselves. By focusing on our humanity, we can see automation, A.I., and other technologies of the 4th Industrial Revolution simply as new tools to help us develop.
A New Age of Education and Educators
According to Kai Fu Lee, a pioneer and expert in artificial intelligence, A.I. can even help us save our humanity. We normally look at the issue of automation replacing humans as a linear spectrum. A job can fall anywhere between “optimization” to “creative or strategy.” But this spectrum is not appreciative of the intangible value that humans provide: empathy and compassion. He proposes adding a line bisecting the previous line. This line is another spectrum from “compassion needed” to “no compassion needed.” This creates a plane wherein we can identify how humans can prosper with A.I.
Artificial intelligence and all other technologies are tools to help us human accomplish our tasks. The level of capability and intelligence of the tech will not necessarily displace humans in the workforce if we look at ourselves as upskillable wielders of these tools. And with high technologies on hand, we can accomplish more, and more varied tasks that help improve society.
New developments in technology has made learning easy and immediate. The new generation of learners and consumers are spoilt-for-choice with algorithms being able to program personalized content. With this, schools must evolve to be able to cater to this new generation of learners and serve the wealth of new information.
The Partnership for 21st Century Learning released a paper on how schools might maximize the impact of learning for the new generation of learners. The framework they developed for 21st century learning illustrates a learning experience that puts not just core subjects like languages, arts, math, science, and others at the center, but also 21st century themes like global awareness, financial literacy, civic literacy and health literacy. These core knowledges all learners must have are supplemented by technical literacies in innovation, media and technology, and soft literacies like life and career skills. And all these should be supported by a revolutionized support systems.
The role of schools in 21st century learning is important as it is sensitive. On the one hand, there are will be an estimated number of 262 million individuals enrolling in higher education by the year 2025. Imagine having a quarter of billion people learning from organized tertiary institutions; a quarter of a billion who will be navigating their way through life in the 21st century. It is the schools legal (and moral?) mandate to equip them with the correct skills, ideas, values and tools to not just survive, but thrive. And thinking that everything will be status quo is turning one’s head away from the avalanche.
As Dr. Alexander Flor, University of the Philippines Scientist wrote in his paper:
“Indeed, large prestigious universities may be too encumbered by their own bulk and inertia that they fail to seize the moment. Today, newer, smaller and “lesser” academic institutions lead in the offering of innovative ICT programs. Although serious questions about the quality of their instruction are raised, they may be getting the bulk of the future crop of leaders in this knowledge society.
One wonders at times, if these academic debates are really prompted by concern for quality and rigor. Or are they really just products of parochial minds? As the seventies IT dictum states, “Innovate, if not, then stagnate.” We can never be truly globally competitive with a parochial outlook.”