Peter Hinssen addressed politicians and policy-makers in the Flemish Parliament on 7 February to make them aware of the technological wave of disruption that is overwhelming us. He warned us, Europeans, that we are on the brink of completely missing the boat on the technological revolution if we are not about to show more decisiveness and nerve. Large economies like the UK, but especially China, are in the middle of an up and up and companies in the technology sector are heading the list. One thing is clear: now it's time to act proactively because this is just the beginning of this wave.
Education: ripe for disruption?
Prior to his reading, Hinssen asked his followers through social media what topics he should definitely tackle. He was inundated with responses. What takes the biscuit, though, is the fact that nearly 80% of the responses were about education. Subsequently, he showed a fresco from the 13th century that displayed an auditorium. The similarity with today was striking: a professor standing in front and teaching a group of listening students. Nevertheless, our world has completely changed in the 700 years since then. Nobody knows how the future will look like, which is what Hinssen was arguing as well, but there is one thing we can be mathematically sure of: our life will have to be one of lifelong learning. Learning new things and unlearning old things over and over again. This is the only way to surf on the wave of change and for our skills to follow the speed of technology.
The importance of lifelong learning
Flanders does not know a tradition of lifelong learning. We are dwelling somewhere at the bottom of the list in European statistics and we remain far below the EU-standard of 15% participation in lifelong learning. Once we graduate, we start working and would prefer never to return to a school desk. We are strongly convinced that we all have to achieve (the highest possible) diploma at the start of our school career and that this is all there is to it for the rest of our lives. Colleges and universities also offer few possibilities for working people to continue to learn. Rightly so, Hinssen questioned the role of the government.
It's time to launch lifelong learning. This is what needs to happen:
Source: Dekocker, V & Sodermans A-K (2018) Leren duaal leren, Acco
Institutionalise a system of lifelong learning with:
- Appropriate financing. The Flemish model where people themselves are responsible for their learning career through a package of measures such as educational leave and career checks appears to be insufficient. Shouldn't we think of another financing model? The United Kingdom has recently implemented a reform where the companies get the financial means to educate their people instead of the schools. In addition, dual learning is strongly stimulated there so that the working people can continue to learn while they (continue) to work and earn.
- Use of new technologies. The opportunities offered by artificial intelligence, virtual reality, big data and block chain are enormous, but they are underutilised.
- Personalise learning. A Dutch study by STT asked experts from the education sector, the business world and science what the future of learning holds. It is anticipated that by 2020-2030 the majority of students will have a digital assistant that accompanies them in the long term and teaching them to learn, that big data analysis of previously acquired knowledge will lead to fully personalised learning programmes, that teachers will evolve from experts to learning coaches, and that half of the universities will offer a free and open online learning platform.
- Make it dual. It appears that employees are better at lifelong learning in countries where dual learning is strongly embedded. The statement brought forward by Van der Werfhorst is the fact that the dual education method encourages students to continue to learn on the work floor. They learn, as it were, to learn on the work floor which is nothing but advantageous throughout their career.
- Make the system self-learning and flexible. A system of lifelong learning will only survive if it succeeds in leaving room to keep reinventing itself time and again, to keep adjusting to unite the fast-changing environment and different parties (employers, students and training providers) with one another.
What are we waiting for? It has become urgent and necessary that politicians and policy-makers focus on the day after tomorrow instead of engaging in day-to-day problems. We have a gigantic potential of knowledge, but it is high time that we focus on a new learning model that ensures that people remain adaptive. Because, actually, today is already the day before yesterday.
The above blog was originally published in Dutch before being translated into English.