Report on Future Education Symposium

4. Change of Subject
Looking back at the time spent in college, ask anyone to think of a few things that come to mind. Most likely, it will be the friendships made, the teachers they liked (or disliked), the fun during recess and even in class, the group projects, discussions and debates, the study trips and sports! But what about mathematics, economic theories, literary analysis, chemical equations and anatomical drawings? Those were the ostensible reasons for going to college, and the knowledge and degree obtained are valued and recognized as the reason for one’s position professionally and socially. Still, what is cherished most is what appealed to the emotions, what most touched one personally.

True education teaches the person, not the subject. Data, knowledge, theories and subject expertise can be obtained even from a book. There are software and electronic readers with read-aloud text. What elevates the classroom is the personal touch, the relationships that can be forged between the teacher and the student, and among the students. A mechanistic method that is not person-centered throws away this advantage and settles for what can be done with a book or a piece of software.

Teaching is effective not when the teacher is an expert in the subject, not even when he/she knows how to teach. Alberto Zucconi, Secretary General of WUC, stressed that the most effective educator is the person-centered one who has respect, empathic understanding and sincerity. They are mentors who promote student creativity, autonomy and individuality, rather than conformity.

Students often like or dislike a subject because of the teacher who handles it. They choose to pursue a field because the teacher was inspired and passionate about the subject. There are some teachers whose lectures last the entire duration of the class. There are others who make the subject come live. When they read Shakespeare, the students see the drama unfold in the classroom. When they teach Mathematics, they pass on the thrill of solving a problem to the students. Economics becomes a study of real people and situations in their hands. They make History and Geography thrilling journeys through time and space. Electronics and IT move beyond 0s and 1s to show how they can serve people and simplify life. The person-centered approach to education, through such teachers, instills the joy of learning. It creates an environment which cultivates curiosity, trust and self-responsibility. It produces creative, empathic, well-formed individuals with a strong personality and an integrated outlook. Such people are life-long learners, adaptive to new situations and successful in problem solving. Professional success is integrated with personal wholeness, and the person-centered approach to teaching and learning ensures all-round personal development.

American psychologist and educational reformer John Dewey said that schools have too many teachers and too few facilitators. The person-centered approach reverses this, and makes learning more effective by making it participatory. The subject is an occasion. The real subject is the student.

5. From Bologna Onwards
The ancient Chinese proverb “Tell me and I will forget. Show me and I will remember. Involve me and I will understand” gives a wisdom that our classrooms around the world would do well to accept. The Socratic method of teaching by asking questions and initiating dialogue wakened the faculty of thinking. Involvement, rather than passive listening, makes better learning.

However, from the time of the first formal University of Bologna, the lecture has been the primary method for imparting knowledge. Over time, it has been supplemented by discussion, research, project work, internship, service learning, computer and online education, but change in education has not kept pace with change in other fields, or evolved in response to research findings that show the advantage of other methods over the traditional practices followed for centuries. The lecture in the university began at a time when literacy was considered education, knowledge was limited to a few scholars, there were only a precious few handwritten books, and people had to gather around a scholar and hear him speak, if they needed to learn. Today, education has grown in terms of a number of disciplines and subjects, and the amount of information available in each of them. The printing press liberated the book from the manual labour of writing each copy by hand. Digitization has liberated the book even from paper! The internet makes knowledge more accessible than it has ever been, MOOCs have virtually opened up universities around the world to anyone who would like to take a look inside, without leaving their homes or computers. In such a changed scenario, following the same lecture model would be like the early news readers on television who used to read the news from sheets of paper, much as the news readers on radio had done before. All the visual and multimedia potential of the television went unexploited when it followed an earlier model. Similarly, with all the resources and developments, the university classroom needs to look beyond the lecture model, one that is shown to result in an average student retention rate of just 10%. Using audio, video and demonstration improves retention further. But if at least half of what is taught has to be retained by students, discussion in the classroom is needed. Memory and comprehension are enhanced with increasing interest and participation. Multi-sensory learning, using tactile, visual, auditory, kinesthetic and olfactory channels, improves performance.

Practical work raises student retention even further. But as teachers have known all along, the best method to learn, one that results in an average retention of 90%, is to teach others. Stefan Brunnhuber, Medical Director and Chief Medical Officer, Diakonie Hospital, Germany and Vice-Chairman of the European Institute of Health, showed that inter-personal variables involving peer-tutoring, cooperative peer-learning and the interaction between teacher and student oversteer institutional variables by factor 2. An education system that incorporates teaching, which appears to be diametrically opposite to learning, as a learning method enhances the learning curve best. Inter-personal relationships also boost creativity, an essential attribute required to face a future we cannot yet predict. It equips students with the capacity to ask questions never asked or answered before, and address challenges in ways never done before.

The strong neurobiological link between health and academic performance too merits more attention. Physical exercise has a positive impact on cognitive enhancement. It improves memory, attention span, mathematical skills and overall performance. Adequate rest, yoga, meditation and mind-body medicine improve the brain’s executive function. In our fast-paced world, as we try to get more and more work done, we think we are being efficient if we do more than one task at a time. Multitasking is a relatively new word in our vocabulary, but it has firmly taken root. But in truth, multitasking is neurobiologically an illusion. We think we are doing two things more effectively, but we are not doing two things. We are lowering performance. If we are involved in a mental task, and are interrupted every 3 minutes by an SMS, we end up with a functional reduction of IQ by 10 points. The use of Internet and Communication Technology 6-8 hours or more a day, in order to learn, is negatively co-related with the development of executive function of the brain and lifestyle, and is positively co-related with dissatisfaction. But the reality is, the average global smartphone user looks at it, on an average, 150 times a day. How that affects our collective IQ and productivity does not need Mensa level IQ to estimate.

Just as letting go of the past is necessary in some cases, going back to basics and rediscovering the wisdom that has been known for centuries are essential in some. Wisdom is to know and educate others about when we need to look ahead, and when to turn back.

We do not need more, new disciplines, what we need is a creativity response—a creative change in our education that boosts the creativity of the learner. We have seen a steady rise in the number of disciplines and subjects, and greater and greater fragmentation of knowledge. As we break it up into smaller, more manageable parts, we begin to look at a large beautiful painting from closer and closer, and lose sight of the beauty of the whole, staring at the individual brush strokes that have neither meaning nor beauty when seen in isolation from the rest of the picture. This results in a horizontal divorce between the different categories in education. Divorce of another type is seen in the complete disconnect that many students feel from studies, because they cannot relate to it from their life and experience. As we try to teach the knowledge collected over centuries in a three, four or five year course, we condense it by abstracting knowledge of many life experiences into a series of generalized abstract principles. This divides truth into fragments, all of which together do not recreate the whole. Each aspect is partial and incomplete when isolated from the wider context of which it is a part, and leaves the student asking, ‘Why am I learning this stuff?’. They do not see what it signifies, and where it fits in real life.

We take a flower, separate each petal and show it to the students, and expect them to visualize the whole and appreciate it. In other words, we teach them individual subjects, evaluate them, rank them and create competition. But in the real world of work and life, what is needed is cooperation and collaboration. Somewhere between graduation and employment, we expect them to figure that out by themselves. This disillusions students and leaves them unprepared to face the world of work, with its interconnected issues that transcend narrow disciplines.

All issues and challenges that were effectively handled in the past were done so only because those who were in charge saw the issue within its context, not isolated from it. To understand any part, we also need to understand the whole and the relationship of the part to the whole.In the same way, our education acquires meaning and comes to life when we make it contextual. The context abridges the skills gap in graduates, and equips them to seamlessly move into the world of work and real issues.

Olga Melykh, Lecturer, National University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy and President of the “Young Generation will Change Ukraine” Association, pointed out the comprehensive curricula that equip youth to think contextually. One way of adding context to content is to teach and learn a subject, not in isolation from all other subjects, but with reference to them. Instead of teaching history as a uni-dimensional study of the major epochs and events in chronological order, it could be related to all other subjects and made multi-dimensional.

A study of art and literature can be taken up beginning from history. Examining the evolution of art, the influence of the times and the lives of artists sees art from a historical perspective. Similarly literature can be studied from within history—How and when did writing and its various forms evolve? Do writings reflect the sentiments of the period? Conversely, did writing influence the course of history?

How have inventions, beginning from the wheel, shaped history? When, how did science part ways with religion? How have new inventions and theories been received? Is science responsible to society? Do scientists have moral obligations? Science, studied from a historical perspective, is as equally informative as the scientific principles themselves.

When was democracy born? Why does monarchy still exist in some places? How did governments, political system and law evolve? How has society changed since the time of the hunter-gatherer, in what ways is it essentially the same? How has human psychology evolved with evolution in society? What circumstances create dictators, what creates visionaries? How is the personality of great leaders shaped? Sociology, politics, law, psychology—all these can be related to from history. We can study history and detect patterns to understand the present and anticipate the future.

What is illustrated here with history study can be done with other subjects as well. By establishing interconnections between all disciplines and making education contextual, we enable students to see the part in the context of the whole. This ability is essential if we are to find effective, permanent alternatives and solutions.

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