Experts from around the world call for cross-cutting changes in the education system
The need for reform of the current education system was one of the main conclusions from the Transformative Changes in Education: System-wide Approach international seminar which took place this week at Barcelona’s Media-TIC building.
UOC President Imma Tubella highlighted in the seminar’s opening keynote that it would combine theory “with the best practices” and stressed how the new paradigms were transforming the pedagogical model. “We need a new social contract that adapts to the needs of the real world”, she said. In turn, Emma Kiselyova, Executive Director of the UOC UNESCO Chair in E-Learning highlighted that “technology has taken firm root at every level of education, though not to the same degree”. Kiselyova warned that, faced with the demands of change, “primary and secondary schools are more reticent than universities […] there is a great distance between the possibilities offered by technology and the reality. We are talking about reinventing the educational process and, to do so, we need to propose and evaluate alternative models.”
Manuel Castells, Full Professor and Director of the UOC’s Internet Interdisciplinary Institute (IN3), seconded these ideas and reminded those present that, according to the United Nations, 97% of the information existing in the world has been digitized and most is accessible via the internet. “The problem is how to convert this information into knowledge”, he said. He also stressed that “all the functions of the university system are being transformed by new digital technology, which is cross-cutting through all of them.” Castells underlined the importance of the quality of teachers, which explains the success of education systems such as Finland’s, of cooperation between academic disciplines and education centres. “What is sad is that the reality of universities is one of a bureaucratic institution that cannot adapt, that maintains faculty’s privileges and that does not respond to the demands of society or the needs of students”, he said.
In turn, James Tooley, Professor of Education Policy and Director of the E.G. West Centre at Newcastle University, UK, talked about his experience with low-cost private education in developing countries like Ghana. Ten years ago, this British expert discovered the existence in different countries of centres designed for poor families. They were schools developed by the families themselves as a low-cost alternative to the public system. Despite having very few resources, these schools achieve better results than their governmental counterparts. Since then, Tooley has worked on a project to increase the standards of quality. In just three years, 20 schools have been created in Ghana serving 12,000 students. One of the key aspects at these centres is their use of technology, educational innovations, quality controls and continuing development for teachers.
Another of the keynote speakers, Kurt Fischer, Director of the Mind, Brain and Education Programme and Charles Bigelow Professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, USA, highlighted that most schools do not stimulate learning in their students. He also criticized some of the popular myths surrounding the brain, such as the differences in girls’ and boys’ brain (“they are more similar than different”) or that some functions of the brain are autonomous. In reality, according to Fischer, whose research looks at the educational applications for discoveries in neuroscience on the plasticity of the brain, the latest studies show that brain activity is “like an orchestra, like a symphony. It is organized into networks and is a lot more complex than we thought.” He presented research into the brain activity of students in terms of reading or dyslexia. The main conclusion was that there is no one optimal learning model for everyone.
In turn, Yong Zhao, Full Professor, Presidential Chair and Associate Dean for Global Education at the College of Education and former director of the Center for Advanced Technology in Education (CATE), University of Oregon, USA, criticized the homogenization of the current education model and showed recent data on the large number of unemployed graduates (53% in the United States and 51% in Spain). According to this expert, the current education model dates back to the industrial age, whereas humanity is now diverse, the economy has changed, information is everywhere and the world has globalized. “Traditionally, education provided the skills and knowledge needed to find work in society, but that is no longer the case. The education system should now create entrepreneurs to generate jobs”, said Zhao. He believes in the need for a system that empowers individual talent and teachers with a changing role who “know how to motivate their students”.
The seminar was designed to act as a meeting point for professionals from around the world; there were representatives from 14 countries this year. It also provided a showcase for innovative educational projects. The speakers included Rosanna de Rosa, from the University of Naples, Italy, who presented an innovative digital project, the Frederica System; Azra Naseem from Aga Khan University, Pakistan, who presented the pedagogical innovations in her field, faculty professional development, and experts from the Montserrat School, led by its director of education and a pioneer in the application of the theory of multiple intelligences Montserrat del Pozo.
9th International Seminar website
Full programme of the seminar
UOC UNESCO Chair in E-Learning blog