Our Education System Needs a Grand Revival


First it was Greeks and then the Romans. Islamic civilization took their work and passed it onto the West with plenty of additions of their own. Chinese and African civilizations also had their heydays in the past. So, the industrial revolution was as a result of collective efforts of almost the whole humanity until that time.

The enablers of the scientific thought and discoveries were the men and women of intellect who had been educated, trained and taught to think differently and creatively. Whichever civilization and society allowed, invested and made a culture of critical thinking and analysis became the front runner in the path of knowledge and discovery. Education was the key. And it will remain so for further growth and development.

Now if we look at it in the context of today’s scientific and industrial advancements with all the buzz around Industry 4.0, one can wonder if our education systems are good enough. What is it that we should be learning/teaching and how?

Most of our current education systems are based on learning the facts. This, frankly, is not a skill useful anymore. No human can beat Google or any other search engine when it comes to remembering the facts. What we should really be learning is the ‘how’. In other words, logic, common sense, critical thinking and problem-solving skills are the important ones. Soft skills have always been important but now our future progress depends on them. Effective communication, team working, time management, organizational skills, entrepreneurship etc. are the needs of the hour. What can save us from the dangers of our own creation is the sense of right and wrong. But how does the current education systems cope with these new requirements. Are they helping learn these skills?
Our education systems are still fact learning-based. The critical thinking, the ‘how’, is missing. The division of knowledge into different domains is also hurting, as the problems of today require multidisciplinary holistic approaches. One of the most important skills to learn is the process of learning itself. The current education systems fail to equip the students on how to learn new skills. Soft skills are not even part of the curriculum. It is hoped that the students will learn these skills through a few group projects and activities. Ethics and morality were traditionally taught at home first and then continued through the initial schooling years. This is not the case anymore. Although the improvements and innovations in education and learning methods are on the way, the road is rocky and progress is slow. Currently, Scandinavian countries are taking a lead which others need to learn from and follow. Ricardo Semler’s education system is also worth considering.

If the regular degree is to maintain its importance then radical changes are required. UK has begun the consultation process to start a pilot program of reducing the degree program from 3 to 2 years. It will solve the problem to some extent. There is also need for the changes in the type of skills and how they are taught during the degree programs.

This is only part of the story though. Today’s graduates need to keep themselves up-to-date as the rate of change is so rapid that the skills become obsolete very quickly. This is where short-term on-your-own-pace style online courses offered by universities are great. Most of the world’s top universities offer these courses. In a recent interaction, the Chief Technology Officer of Saudi Aramco, Dr. Ahmad Al-Khowaiter, reiterated the importance of these online courses and encouraged King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals to start offering these. With the advances in virtual and augmented reality, online learning will start to replicate and may one day overtake the class room-based learning in both quality and quantity. Teachers will have to adjust and make use of these new tools in teaching and preparing the critical thinkers and visionaries of tomorrow.

Naeem Minhas

Comments

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