Reimagining education

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During this pandemic, business and industry are busy remaking themselves. However, all the reimagining going on in education just isn’t reimagining enough. Rather, we are only looking at incremental changes given spatial limitations. We are essentially reinterpreting the wise man on a platform, delivering a lecture to students arranged in rows and columns, albeit now online through a learning management system.

We are essentially asking how do we deliver the same 21 units over 18 weeks in a term, but over a compressed period. Or, we are finding new ways for students to still obtain their elementary, high school, or college diplomas. And, we still structure education into units, subjects, courses, and degrees.

But the necessity to reimagine education was there long before this crisis. One can even say that before this pandemic, education was already going through a crisis of its own.

Back then though, the thinking was much more radical—with education being deconstructed, not just reordered, shrunk, or distributed through other means. Deconstructing education was necessary as the world of work changed. As companies sought competencies for tasks rather than courses for careers, we had to question the importance of degrees. As the pace and speed of business increased, we wondered if we could afford to wait four years for learners to enter the workforce. As the skills learned today were obsolete in a few short years, we needed to focus on general competencies over particular professional skills. The world’s demands were changing, and education needed to change—not incrementally, but radically. And it just wasn’t changing.

Since this pandemic is forcing us to think about altering the way we do education, rather than merely adapting to accommodate physical distancing, we must use this opportunity to fit the system into the already different world of work. We should not limit our changes to the immediate, but widen our vision to a much larger future which has been with us for some time.

Allow me to propose three ways for us to reimagine education.

On the role of teachers. The advent of the internet has all but eliminated teachers as sources of content or wellsprings of wisdom. Most everything learned in schools students now have at their fingertips. Teachers must be facilitators of learning as opposed to providers of knowledge. They must help students navigate the web, search for and critically analyze information, determine fact from fake. The responsibility for learning shifts to the shoulders of the learners as opposed to those of the teacher.

On content itself. What used to be lifelong careers have become multiple careers over a lifetime, while even these careers have fragmented into jobs and tasks. Companies are looking for people to perform specific tasks for limited periods of time while the young move from business, to culinary arts, to fine arts in just a few years. Therefore, education should refocus to offering competency-based certifications, even micro degrees, as opposed to multi-year degrees. It should also move toward an emphasis on general competencies that apply over a wide range of careers and jobs.

On time and linearity. Most of us grew up in a world where education was a straight line from kindergarten to college then work. Schooling and work were sequential, bounded phases in one’s life. However, the speed of technological change has created opportunities in the workplace sooner and required the constant updating of competencies. This has blurred the edges between the worlds of schooling and work—where people jump from one to another depending on need and opportunity, or one’s workplace is one’s school and vice versa, and where one can take 10 to 15 years to obtain a degree.

Don’t get me wrong. Traditional schooling should continue to exist, but it should do so amid a plethora of new modalities and alternatives. Neither am I saying that we shouldn’t rethink education in light of the crisis. We must. But we must go much, much further beyond just moving it online.

We shouldn’t waste this opportunity to recreate education not only for the pandemic, but also for a whole new world.

Chito Salazar, Ph.D., is president and CEO of Phinma Education, and also president of Philippine Business for Education.

Business Matters is a project of Makati Business Club (makatibusinessclub@mbc.com.ph).

Posted on 23 May 2020 under Business Matters section of The Philippine Daily Inquirer