Steering the heavy education tanker away from a head-on collision with the future

Our current entrepreneur in residence Karen Boers, co-founder & CEO of Startups.be and European Startup Network; has returned with a second blog post. This time she gives us her views on the current European education system and whether it really prepares the youth of today for the challenges they will face.

portrait_karen_boersWe’re always talking about the fast moving societal changes and how digitalisation is changing every aspect of our private and professional lives and will continue to do so. This is absolutely true – digital technologies have connected and empowered nearly every citizen on earth. After the industrial revolution, this trend could very well be the paving the way for different societal and economical models, which in their turn could lead to severe power shifts from the happy few, to the well-connected within the next decade.

Some very striking images have been circulating social media recently, showing the differences between what we called a ‘telephone’ a century ago and today, and the huge difference between what we called a ‘vehicle’ (i.e. horse & carriage) and modern cars and transport. There was also a comparison between what a classroom looked like 150 years ago – and its modern equivalent, it is unchanged!

We are preparing today’s youngsters for their future in very much the same way we have been preparing labourers to go into the factories for the past decades. We are training them to be silent, listen carefully and not question orders but rather execute them in the efficient, large-scale way we have grown accustomed to. We are training them to think hierarchically and obey – day after day and year after year. The reason being this is the way our society was structured for many years and how our economies thrived in the mass production age.

But now we are facing different challenges. Mass production is suffering in the western economies. Hierarchical icons are being disrupted by flexible, agile businesses. Collaboration, creativity and the ability to change are becoming ever more dominant in the new business paradigms, and it’s clear that there is no way back. Millennials are already exhibiting signs of not caring too much about steady careers, future-proof choices or life-long guarantees. They think very differently about ownership, citizenship, sharing, learning and professional careers. They are self-organising, always connected and pay it forward much more than previous generations.

There is no way that the education that we are currently providing Generation Z youngsters is preparing them properly for what is ahead, and there is growing consensus that future generations might not put up with the inertia of the current system, eroding it from the inside out. The information overload is growing, and we need to urgently transition into a system that educates youngsters to deal with that, to find their way in an ever-connected and saturated network of information sources, opinions and potential expertise. Self-learning and life-long learning are gaining in importance. Additional skills are often acquired outside of the school system at present, through volunteer programs and alternative schooling. Learning how to learn is therefore growing inherently more important than any kind of knowledge transfer.

I would not argue for a total disruption of our school system, though. Europe has been on the frontlines of (free) quality education, equal opportunities for all and innovation for a long time. Let’s now make sure Europe initiates a power shift in traditional education, slowly steering the heavy tanker towards a coaching environment, with expert inputs from all societal angles, project and applied learning and a wide range of soft skills on top of purely academic knowledge transfer. That way I am sure we will keep nurturing generations of renowned business and academic leaders, as well as a flexible and future-proof workforce.

Read Karen’s last blog post: Failing is not contagious, but success is 

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