Is it time to change the way we learn? Traditionally, education occupies the first stage of a person’s life, and is therefore seen as the preserve of children and young people. After education, we imagine ourselves entering a career and then working in the same job (rising steadily through the ranks) until we retire. Is this still how the world works?
The twin pressures of globalisation (bringing with it increased competition from overseas) and technology (including automation and machine learning) are challenging old certainties. It’s already likely a person will change jobs many times within their working life, and its not uncommon for a person to change careers entirely. Likewise, technology is developing at such a pace that skills constantly need updating and refreshing. Do we need to rethink our approach to education?
What do our readers think? We had a comment from Iveta says: “We do not know the future and the jobs of the future, so I would say that schools should orient students towards a lifelong learning attitude – when graduating, a student needs to have a clear sense that his/her education will not end with a degree, but would continue throughout one’s life.” Do you think education systems do that today?
To get a response, we spoke to Simon Marginson, Professor of International Higher Education at the University of Oxford, and Director of the Centre for Global Higher Education. What would he say to Iveta?
We’re not achieving lifelong learning goals in the way that Iveta suggests, which I think is a good proposition and one that many people support. The limitation of our current provision is that in most countries we still see the upper-secondary education stage as the crucial stage, because it’s the stage where students are selected into elite and non-elite institutions, and then we focus on the first degree as a young person’s experience.
There are a small number of systems, particularly the Nordic systems, and to a less extent the English-speaking world, where there is substantial provision of adult education, but much of it is occupied by people who’ve already got degrees or have been in degree programmes. There’s not much re-entry into education by those who’ve dropped out earlier by that stage, and the larger notion of lifelong learning, therefore, is being carried by those degree-holders who go back into adult [education], and they’re a relatively small minority of the population. So, we haven’t yet established lifelong learning as a norm, but the resources are there to do it – especially through information available on the internet, through the availability of free or low-cost programmes in a whole lot of course content areas, and so on. So, we could do it.
For another perspective, we put the same comment to Stéphane Lauwick, President of European Association of Institutions in Higher Education (EURASHE) and Director of the Institute of Technology (IUT) of the University of Le Havre. How would he respond?
Well, the short answer is: no, they don’t do that at all. Basically, the reason is that professors, lecturers, academic staff generally are trained and selected in terms of their discipline and their perceived excellence in one discipline. And, of course, they are usually – or have been so far – trained to impart that knowledge to students. Of course, this is all very well for the more able students, or students who know what they want, but it doesn’t prepare most students to adapt in life.
As Iveta rightly says, we don’t know what the jobs will be perhaps even in five years. The issue now is how do we go from a discipline-based higher education to a competence-based higher education, and one of those competencies is how do we learn to learn? How do we reflect on our learning? That’s the ‘meta-level’, as it were.
I must say that I think all education systems in Europe, and probably in North America and other places as well, are aware of that challenge and are really working on how to effect that change. It’s quite a difficult job, but we’re working on it. Having said that, no, [education] systems do not provide this type of competency yet, but they will do soon, I’m quite sure. In fact, I’m very optimistic at the turnout of events.
Do we need a new education model? Should education systems focus more on lifelong learning? Should we promote alternatives to higher education, such as vocational training? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions!