Leadership in Education

The Future of Education – Karel Van Eetvelt, CEO UNIZO

Karel Van Eetvelt 1The Future Leadership Institute* asked thought leaders and decision makers to write down their view on the Future of Education. How should education look like in 2050 ? The below article comes from Karel Van Eetvelt, CEO of UNIZO, Belgium’s most prominent SME Association.(*Between 2007 and 2011 the Institute carried temporarily the name ‘The Wall Street Journal Future Leadership Institute’)

One of the core tasks of the educational sector, aside from ensuring the personal development and general schooling of the individual, is to prepare students as best as possible for their integration into society and the assumption of their social responsibilities. One crucial factor in this process is to hone their ability to function profitably within the labour market.

Education today
The Flemish educational system and standards are generally ranked amongst the very best in the world. Our students achieve very high scores on tests in mathematics, languages, and sciences. Yet, at the same time, these strengths are also experienced as chronic weaknesses within the system: the acquisition of knowledge has become so centralized a theme that there remains too little time for imparting skills and attitudes to the students. Competency-based education is still far from being a common, standardized feature embedded within our society. The fact is that this is not the only shortcoming in our educational system. We have to face up to the reality that very few graduates decide to venture into business as independent entrepreneurs. In fact, studies have shown that the longer youths remain at school, the less they feel inclined towards embarking on creative ventures and upon a course of entrepreneurial activities. A third handicap that exerts its stifling influence upon our educational system is what we may call the ‘Ivory Tower’ syndrome: students graduate without having acquired adequate knowledge or understanding of what is actually happening on the plant’s workfloor. It is really an absurdity that just graduated youngsters should need to receive guidance or be required to follow upgrading or re-orientation courses in this respect. But, as it is, their education takes place in the classroom and they are only introduced to the labour market at the moment of their graduation. Their theoretical knowledge cannot cope with the practical experience required of them, meaning that the infrastructure within the classroom is hardly being adapted to, or prepares students for, the demands of modern-day employment or the labour environment.

Education in 2050
A living, viable educational system evolves at the same pace as the society in which it operates. Ideally, it points the way, anticipates on anticipated social trends. In addition, education in 2050 is to be characterized by a few other aspects:

1. A central entrepreneurial trend
An essential aspect that the economic crisis has taught us is that society has to learn to cope better with unexpected evolutions and developments. To achieve this, you need creative minds, individuals with an entrepreneurial sense. To this end, education needs to foster a different mentality amongst its charges. It is inside the classroom that the seeds must be sown towards an entrepreneurial mentality. The inclination and tendency towards entrepreneurship is to be present everywhere within the educational system, and, certainly, amongst the teachers. This will obviously stand the appreciation of entrepreneurship in good stead. The entrepreneurial sense is to be widely promoted within the system.

“Having an entrepreneurial sense is possessing the ability to detect opportunities within certain situations and to think of profitable initiatives as a result. Through the optimal application of available resources, the necessary actions can be implemented towards the actual realisation of the perceived opportunities. To engage in entrepreneurship is to be able to redraw boundaries, to create something novel, to produce something sustainable that will add to the quality of life.”

It is in this aspect that education can play a significant role, foster a sense that imbues youngsters with the spirit of entrepreneurship, in collaboration with entrepreneurial organisations such as UNIZO, for instance.

2. Without borders
By 2050, we may expect Europe to have become a unified social and political structure. As a consequence, opportunities will have increased within the educational sector. Students will be able to study within a European context, their study programmes and graduation diplomas being judged identical and valid throughout the entire European territory. Europe will likewise take the lead in delineating the framework wherein educational systems need to be organized. Pedagogical freedom will remain fully respected, however, as this is an area for which the member states will remain individually responsible. Nonetheless, thanks to a uniform European framework to define context, education within the whole of Europe will have become transparent and uniform. In this manner, the intra-European mobility will be reinforced, a development that will greatly benefit the entire EU territory.

3. Multilingualism as an asset
Indissolubly attached to this concept is the aspect of multilingualism. To know multiple languages will become a necessity. Each and every person will master first of all the prime language that is most important to the region where he or she resides, in other words, his or her mother tongue. This will assist him or her to enter the employment market. Education in 2050 will, in addition, also offer various language modules, as courses in foreign languages will have become standard features by that time.

4. Binary education
By 2050, digital education has become a standard feature within the system. There exists, on the one hand, a balance between digital and remote learning and, on the other, the added value offered by joint education and social interaction. The educational system is by now geared to accommodate and reconcile both. Practical classes will invariably be organized in order to fit into the modern-day norms.

5. Away with the waterfall
In 2050, the waterfall effect as we know it today will have been eliminated and every instructional programme will be seen as equal to any other. General instructional programmes will not be rated higher than vocational programmes, rather the contrary. The development of competencies is considered an essential feature. The required basic knowledge is being enhanced with the teaching of skills and attitudes. Learning within the work place ensures a healthy balance as the knowledge acquired inside the classroom is being complemented and refined by practical experience. Practical, on-the-job learning is an ubiquitous feature within all instructional courses, both in programmes that guide students into different education streams as well as courses that are specifically oriented towards the employment market as a whole.

6. And the upshot of it all …
Each and every individual, from early childhood onwards, keeps a personal portfolio that contains details on one’s life career and, later, when entering into the labour market, a personal development plan. The present system of issuing diplomas will no longer exist in 2050. As it is, all of the present varied attestations lead only to great confusion and a degradation of educational formats and norms. One type of instruction is now valued above another since it comes with a diploma but, to eliminate this discrepancy and dysfunctionality, everybody will be issued with a diploma. In this manner, also the practice of life-long learning and self-upgrading will become a valuable and recognized asset.

In 2009, education within Flanders rated amongst the world’s best. In order to maintain that ranking, the educational system needs to be re-assessed in function of an evolving societal and social reality. In the preceding paragraphs, I have sketched out some characteristics of a desirable and profitable educational track for the 2050, based on the experiences and the knowledge at our disposal right now.

by Karel Van Eetvelt, CEO UNIZO Belgium

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