How To Make Education Relevant Today
What does it mean to be educated in the 21st century? We live in a world of unprecedented change. Old stories are forgotten and new ones are re-written. Most importantly, how can we prepare ourselves and our young generation in such a rapidly transforming world? What should we teach that generation that could help them survive in this century or, more importantly, what kind of skills will they need to get a job?
Due to rapid changes in technology, we are likely no longer be certain of anything, even of things which were already fixed. Back in the past, for instance, in the 11th century, there were enormous things about which people were not aware, such as the fact that they would see a radical change in their future, in 1057. They were, however, certain that a few things would not change. Such an instance would be if someone was living in India, or China in 1018, they perhaps knew that the Song Empire (960-1279) might crumble in a decade or so, and that deadly plague might swallow up millions. Nevertheless, it was obvious for people living in those days that they would rely on farming and harvesting wheat. Rulers were likewise certain that they needed people for the army and the bureaucracy that the life expectancy would be about 40 years, and that men would dominate women. Indeed, this was the situation in 1051. For that reason, parents were meant to teach their children skills such as how to weave fabric, how to fight on horseback and how to write calligraphy, to name a few. Moreover, they taught their girls how to be modest and obedient housewives.
In the modern world, in contrast, we are not certain about how the future in 2050 would look like. For instance, it is difficult to predict what we would do for a living or how our state apparatus would function. The human body itself might undergo uncanny changes through bioengineering.
Keeping all these uncertainties in mind, what should we teach our children in schools, colleges and universities?
At present, we are drawn to teach our children how to cram information. Is this rote methodology of disempowering our students in colleges and universities compatible with the needs of a changing world? In the past, this methodology seemed rational because there was a scarcity of information. Hence, it was a bit of a daunting task to know much about the world. Furthermore, there were no radio, television and newspapers available.
With the advent of modern education systems, teaching pupils a basic knowledge of history and science was a good start, indeed. But today, in contrast, we witness that people are subjected to an ocean of information. Thanks to the advancements in technology, people are one click away from what is happening in the US or Ukraine or with the melting of ice caps. In situations such as these, an instructor merely adds more information into the naive mind of students. Inevitably, this means nothing more than inculcating a collection of facts. What they need is the ability to grasp the essence of information and to make sense of it. In other words, what they need is learning rigorous mode of thought in which discovery of new empirical relations becomes an almost aesthetic experience. Our current education is slackening on this important element in curricula at almost all levels of the education system. Our academic institutions, and more importantly, our next generation, lack this ability.
Moreover our education systems is are not just focused on inculcating information, but also on teaching students a predetermined set of technical skills such as solving differential equations, writing programming code in C ++ and testing chemicals in a test tube. Many pedagogical experts maintain that academic institutions should shift from these rigid methods to critical thinking, collaboration, creativity and communication. In short, schools, colleges and universities should downplay technical skills and stress more life skills like the ability to adapt, an ability to accumulate knowledge and maintaining the ability to use common sense while interacting with unfamiliar settings. This is clearly from the fact that in order to keep up with the changing economy, we do not merely need to cope with challenging ideas, but indeed, to reinvent ourselves. It is clear, therefore, that curricula should be designed to accommodate such needs.
The prime objective of the curricula taught in universities ought to be to foster curiosity amongst students no matter what their major is. These curricula should further nurture intellectual freedom and practical know-how about the world. Such a well-crafted curriculum is meant to coax forth students’ curiosity to examine issues going beyond disciplinary boundaries and to help them to pursue academic goals. A salutary result of this would be that students would develop a knack for creating an environment in which fellow classmates may engage in a healthy discussion.
Also, sadly, an outdated and even anti-intellectual atmosphere is rampant throughout the domestic universities, including my own alma mater Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad.
Simply put, our curricula need to be changed and an immediate review policy, therefore, is necessary.