February 29, 2012

Everything is changing – except education?

Economy

Everything is changing – except education? - The Alessandro Benetton blog

Everything is changing, from social networks to the growth of China and the development of stem cell technology. These are all things that our predecessors knew nothing of and which are now part of our daily life. Not everything, however, changes at the same speed.

Education is one such example. Lawrence Summers, formerly United States Secretary of the Treasury and President of Harvard University, has written a lucid and stimulating article in The New York Times on this very subject.

Summers reflects on how education in America has remained essentially the same since the end of the Second World War. To this day, for example, the format of University lessons is typically front-on, with the lecturer imparting his knowledge and the students intent on committing it to memory. Does this model really make sense in a world where so much information is already universally available at the click of a mouse?

We should, perhaps, be teaching students more how to handle information: by improving their analytical skills, stimulating cooperation and using the tools that technology has to offer. For example, what is the point in listening to a good lesson in class when an excellent one on the same subject is already available online? Would it not make better sense to dedicate the time in the classroom to interaction, discussion and critical analysis of the content?

The question, basically, is how would we design our Universities today if we could start again from scratch? Summers reckons that, in all probability, we would question many of the traditions that have become more a “convenient” habit than a choice suited to our times, needs and technologies. I can only agree with him. The most important point for me, however, is that the University should work in a closer and more concrete manner with the job market. Other changes could be implemented in due course, but this one should take effect very soon.

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