Cadmus

Towards a New Paradigm in Education: Role of the World University Consortium

5. Person-centered Education
Education as it is conceived and practiced today focuses on the transmission of information, knowledge and skills from one generation and one person to another. Yet the century that is emerging is one in which information is ubiquitous and available at our fingertips (or eyelids). Technology is rapidly eliminating the demand for many physical and mental skills that were once deemed essential for survival. The compartmentalized, fragmentary knowledge of the past is increasingly inadequate to meet the needs of a society that is rapidly changing and multiplying in complexity. The essential knowledge, skills and facts needed for survival in the 19th or 20th century are insufficient for the 21st. The capacity to adapt has become far more important than the capacity to repeat what has already been learned. The capacity to innovate, invent and imagine is of greater practical utility than the capacity to retain and recall. The capacity to relate socially and organizationally to an ever-expanding physical and virtual network of others requires a shift in values from acquisition and competition to cooperation and sharing, from hierarchy and authority to freedom and equality. How far does the present and emerging system of global higher education answer the needs of humanity in the 21st century? Far less than is needed, far less than is desirable, far less than is possible.

The need for a new paradigm in education calls for a shift similar to that which is required in every other dimension of modern society, a shift from quantity to quality, from impersonal massification to personalized customization, from mechanism to live interactivity, from things to people, from collective conformity to individual innovation, from conventional wisdom to independent thinking. Fortunately, recent developments are creating opportunities to freshly conceive, design and orchestrate a radical shift to a new person-centered paradigm. The shift to a new paradigm in education involves a change in focus, emphasis and methodology in at least five dimensions:

1. Development of capacities: There needs to be a shift in objective and emphasis from the transfer or transplantation of information and understanding to the awakening and development of the capacity to inquire, search, learn and think for oneself.

2. Active Learning: As every good teacher knows, we learn most by sharing our knowledge with others. It is time to extend that privilege and opportunity to everyone. There needs to be a shift in reliance from passive learning by listening and receiving to active learning that comes from sharing, communicating and teaching others. As Wikipedia shifted responsibility for encyclopedic knowledge from a few specialized experts to the reservoir of knowledge and experience possessed by millions of people, education should enlist the interest, release the energy and actively engage the faculties of each student to learn for oneself and also help others learn.

3. Life-Centered Knowledge: There should be a shift from the emphasis on narrow fields of specialized knowledge related to a specific career to a more inclusive knowledge that encompasses major dimensions of human life, including the social skills and psychological attitudes needed for adjustment and achievement in a networked society, knowledge of the increasingly complex organization which modern society has become, values that promote cooperation with others and harmony with the world around us.

4. Integration: There needs to be a shift in emphasis from classification and analysis to synthesis and integration, from studying the parts to discovering the interrelationships and interdependences between them, from contrasting apparent opposites to reconciling contradictions within a wider perspective and conceptual framework.

5. Individuality: The greatest, most important type of integration needed is to relate and integrate education and its accumulated knowledge with the real needs of society and the individual, to impart to each person capacities for wider adaptation, initiative, self-reliance, leadership, cooperation, innovation, independent thinking, imagination, creativity and harmony.

6. Conclusion
Society does not advance in a homogenous manner. New paradigms do not emerge in a day or supplant existing paradigms overnight. The new emerges under cover of the old and gradually grows in prevalence until it becomes dominant. The old persists long after it has lost its supremacy and may long continue to serve a functional purpose. Today we have arrived at a critical juncture where perpetuation and extension of the existing paradigm in education and other fields are grossly inadequate to meet the needs of humanity. Emerging technology has created the opportunity for a rapid extension of the existing paradigm in education to many who, until now, lacked sufficient access. That quantitative extension is both essential and inevitable.

New paradigms build on the old, as Einstein built on Newtonian thought. Saturation of achievement at the previous level is a condition for evolution to a new level, as agricultural revolution is an essential precondition for industrialization. Universalization of the existing system of education is a necessary basis for elevating the quality, content and nature of education, and can be of immense practical benefit. But at the same time, there is also a pressing need to move beyond existing concepts and models to conceive and implement a system more capable of tapping the rich human potential that remains largely undeveloped and neglected by the existing system. The World University Consortium can play an important role in promoting advances in both spheres, facilitating more rapid extension of the old paradigm while creatively catalyzing the emergence of a new one.


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