Should education be all about the needs of industry and the economy or is it something more fundamental?
Have universities, colleges and schools become too obsessed with what they imagine employers are likely to need from workers in the future?
And is this obsession with the skills we suppose will be most in demand actually leading us to prevent students acquiring precisely the skills that will be most valuable?
These are some of the questions likely to be raised at this year’s OEB Global debate on Thursday 28 November, when experts discuss the direction education is taking. The motion for debate is ‘This House believes that an obsession with economics is harming education and undermining the skills we need for the future’ and it is likely to “stir up a storm of controversy,” according to the event organisers.
“This is one of the most controversial issues in contemporary education,” says OEB Global event director, Astrid Jaeger. “For the last few years, universities, schools and colleges, as well as education planners and administrators, have been told that they need to focus not just on becoming more cost-effective, but on what are likely to be the needs of employers in the markets of the future. Now, however, many people are starting to think this is the wrong approach. They are beginning to question it and to wonder whether we’re not throwing the baby out with the bath water.
“The problem is that it’s very difficult to predict what the needs of employers will actually be in the future. The pace of technology-driven change is quickening all the time. A skill that we think will be relevant in five years’ time may very well not be. What is likely to be much more relevant are the sort of fundamental, timeless skills that allow people to adapt in rapidly changing circumstances, such as judgment, discernment, literacy, numeracy, communication, attention to detail – the sort of things that, actually, a traditional education, which is in an end in itself, rather than one that is focussed on the supposed needs of an economy or an employer, can provide.
“On the other hand, there are those who think that we are letting down a whole generation by not focussing enough on what are likely to be the core skills of the future, which are predictable and likely to be driven by the needs of the digital economy, in which artificial intelligence, machine learning, virtual reality and near-ubiquitous access to information are likely to be obvious features”.
Keynote speakers in the parliamentary-style debate will be: Edith Hooge, who serves as the Chair of the Education Council of the Netherlands; Olivier Crouzet, Head of Pedagogy at “42”, a disruptive educational model and coding school; Professor Paul Kirschner, an internationally recognised expert on interaction and collaboration in learning; and David Toborek, Head of Talent and Head of IT at Metronom GmbH.
The two sides are already preparing to do battle. Professor Kirschner, who will propose the motion, quotes American educator Alexander Flexner in support of his cause:
“…most of the really great discoveries which had ultimately proved to be beneficial to mankind had been made by men and women who were driven not by the desire to be useful but merely the desire to satisfy their curiosity…Institutes of learning should be devoted to the cultivation of curiosity and the less they are deflected by considerations of immediacy of application, the more likely they are to contribute…to human welfare…” (Alexander Flexner, 1939)
Edith Hooge, who will oppose the motion, says:
“Economic trends always shape education, and vice versa, education – or a lack of it – always influences the economy. School, society as a whole, and the world of work need to be closely intertwined to breed critical and resilient citizens. An economical perspective on education, as well as perspectives of social cohesion and human development, are needed to equip people fully for life, including empowering them to cope with economic trends such as labour markets in transition due to rapid technological development or the emergence of transnational networks and trade.”
The debate will be chaired by former British parliamentarian and OEB Global Council member, Harold Elletson, who is expecting a very lively discussion.
“As always,” he says, “after the leading speakers have set out their case, I’ll throw the discussion open to the floor. We usually have an audience of three or four hundred at these debates and, this time, as it is such a controversial topic, I expect there’ll be many more than usual. OEB Global has over two thousand people taking part, so we could have a very big audience this year. I certainly hope so because it’s a great opportunity for people to make their views known about what is, after all, a very important issue for education.”
The OEB Plenary Debate will take place on Thursday, November 28 from 17:45 – 19:00.