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OP-ED: Winds of change in education

  • Published at 01:55 am January 28th, 2021
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What skills will matter in the future?

Unnoticed by many, one of the biggest casualties in the move towards a Fourth Industrial Revolution has been education. It is a revolution that squares on green technology, phasing out or reducing dependence on fossil fuel, recycling and indeed re-creating food from waste, and a far greater emphasis on artificial intelligence. 

That’s great as a policy towards making life more sustainable. The resultant impact on employment and agriculture the way it now is hasn’t been worked out. Tucked away in a remote area somewhere near the North Pole there is a controlled environment storing all forms of flora and edible greens and fruits. More is added to the growing list. 

How traditional farmers will have access to such agricultural techniques hasn’t been made known. These are just a few examples that suggest a major re-haul of education is on the cards. The pursuit of knowledge, methodology, and application will all change.

It all seems far removed from the evocative, at times impassioned assertions that education is the backbone of all nations. A bat in blinkers will know this basic assertion hasn’t been reflected in resource allocation. To a major extent, scant resources have been targeted at infrastructure rather than quality of education. 

Likewise, the yawning gap in standards between urban and rural schools, colleges, and universities have led to a pursuit of certificates rather than knowledge. Developing countries struggle to find quality teachers and methods of making learning fun. Developed nations struggle to make education meaningful and forward-looking. It doesn’t help when different countries take different approaches to their curriculum.

Japan has decided to close many liberal arts faculties given they want to focus on the priority area of science and technology. Schools in the UK have advised teachers to go easy on spelling mistakes in order for passing-out rates to improve. The US has found out to their chagrin that their elementary students are way behind when it comes to math and algebra compared to Russia. Australia is changing literary syllabi so as to exclude literature based on religious or colonial perspectives such as Chaucer.  

And in our own Bangladesh, Rajshahi University, a couple of years ago, didn’t have a single student interested in urban planning. On the flip side, Scandinavian countries have begun to change science education from mere theory to more practical, by demonstrating the everyday examples of science in action. 

That’s no indication that elementary education will in any way become redundant. Literature and science both seek a truth -- one that enriches mind and soul and refreshes the search for innovation based on the way the world itself evolves. If ever we needed a reminder, the ongoing pandemic has been a stark one. 

Lifestyle changes bereft of acquiescence of nature are not sustainable. The fundamentals are therefore essential to build and nurture the citizens of tomorrow, no matter which vocation they choose to pursue. Rounded individuals are what is sought by employers. That and new entrants who not only understand theory but also practically translate such theories. There will always be the need to segregate at some stage inquisitive minds towards their particular area of interest. 

That, as time has proven, can’t be decided through exams as we know them. How theory is perceived and approached or challenged is the key. Relevance of syllabi requires re-looking at to ensure that “minds,” and not “process” driven output, are obtained. 

The future will be about technical and vocational skills, but far ramped up from current practices. Economists are already changing the indices of development. Science will drive this further. Businesses will have to change and adapt beyond robotization. The new normal has to incorporate a “new” education system that is not only practical, but informed as well.

Mahmudur Rahman is a writer, columnist, broadcaster, and communications specialist.

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