Union

At the intersect between education and technology

January, 2018

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Charting a New Path to Career Success

Old technologies and jobs are either fading away or morphing into something new. Emerging technologies such as AI, IOT, blockchain and analytics can cause massive disruptions in existing jobs and industries, but also have the potential to create wealth and new kinds of jobs. The education system, in its current form, is woefully unprepared to capitalize on evolving job opportunities as it has its roots and was designed to support the age of industrialization. It is therefore time for policy makers worldwide to rethink the existing education system. They need to eliminate the bias towards tertiary education and focus on technical and vocational education.

Educational innovation and change is already in the air, albeit in selective pockets. Finland is poised to become the first country in the world to over-haul its education system by discontinuing school-level subjects and adopting a phenomenon-based learning methodology. In this approach, the students would bridge the artificial divisions between various disciplines by studying a concept through multiple lenses of science, geography, history, etc, thereby equipping themselves to better handle real-world issues. Do-it-yourself or alternative education is also gaining popularity as it teaches relevant skills for a fast-evolving environment.

Technological advances are allowing students to attend lectures without being physically present in classrooms. Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) pioneers such as the MIT, Stanford and Harvard are making top-quality course content available online free of cost, and alternative education providers such as Khan Academy, Udacity and Coursera are supplementing these efforts.

A floating school in Lagos and a gender-neutral school in Stockholm are beacons of innovative thinking in education. Vocational courses in unconventional fields such as jewellery and communication would be another means of riding the disruptive wave. Mass Communication courses are already gaining in popularity among the millennial generation of students. Pet grooming is another interesting career option at a time when people are becoming increasingly animal-friendly and willing to spend money on their pets. Connoisseurs of food and drinks can choose courses and careers in hotel management, wine and tea tasting, while adventure lovers and travel freaks can opt for courses such as scuba diving. Cartography could be an interesting area of study for those passionate about geography and related disciplines.

In the fashion space, gaining an expertise in gems and jewellery is the way forward. There are ample opportunities for designers (who design bracelets, chains, necklaces, nose rings, earrings, armlets, engagement rings, etc), trend analysts, merchandisers and brand managers in the jewellery segment. Film and television courses could bring in the glam factor and monetary returns in equal measure. And with the corporate and film industries coming into their own, the field of image consulting can be a pertinent career choice.

The British author and global educational advisor Sir Ken Robinson has rightly emphasized the need to reform the education system in order to realize human capacity to the fullest. Education needs to evolve to keep pace with the changing societal dynamics or risk being rendered irrelevant.

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What Blockchain Means for Higher Ed

While there has been plenty of buzz around blockchain and the ways it’s going to revolutionise everything from global finance to our daily lives, the implications of this new technology for the Education industry hasn’t gotten a lot of attention.

But, a new patent from Sony has hinted at the idea that the Japanese tech giant might be developing uses for blockchain in education. Back in August last year, Sony announced it was cooperating with IBM on a suite of education services that used blockchain to secure student records and data sharing.

According to digital marketing experts, One Stop Media, the largest users of Blockchain technology will be industries that require strict proof of identity. Blockchain offers a digital identity solution where authentication is secure and indisputable, and using it can mitigate data manipulation by internal or external threats.

Something education providers are all too aware of since universities and colleges became serious targets for hackers throughout 2017.

Adopting blockchain technology could provide plenty of benefits for the higher education sector.

Perhaps most exciting is its ability to permanently and securely store all records. Student records contain life-long identifying information. Maintaining the privacy and security of student data stored by academic institutions is of paramount importance, often involving costly storage and disposal processes for the boxes of paper-files. Blockchain could essentially eliminate paper from the equation; issuing reliable certificates and awards, transferring credits and keeping track of achievements of a student’s entire academic career.

When we breakdown all the hype and jargon surrounding it, the blockchain itself is simply a ledger. A record of transactions. In the case of cryptocurrencies, it’s recording the financial details – who sent it, how much was sent, who received it. It’s a pattern that is ideally suited to recording academic credentials as well. Essentially, a grade for a paper or a course is just another type of value, and the pertinent information is exactly the same as in a financial situation, who issued the grade, who received it, and what it’s total value was.

In this way, blockchain also removes the need for having a central authority validate certificates and transcripts. Instead, the technology will be able to make all diplomas publicly verifiable and available, eliminating the need to submit copies to employers to prove you have a degree. It will even be able to track citations and first publications, instead of relying on a supervising body manually performing the tasks.

Blockchain-based cryptocurrencies also have the potential to simplify payment to institutions, as well as significantly reducing the costs of data management across the board.

But the biggest obstacle to blockchain’s adoption by the higher education sector is a cultural one. Education has always been a slow adopter of new technologies, and it’s often the students at institutions who adopt technology trends first, forcing universities and schools to fall in line with student demands. The blockchain provides a transparent platform on which a rich, secure global network for higher learning could be developed, but it’s up to the education sector to use it to its advantage.

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What our schools should really be teaching

Let’s face it, the world is changing from analog to digital, from hypothetical to practical. Rather than play catch up after leaving school, here are the four things that basic education should include.

  1. How the Internet works

Going online is one thing, but making a virtual home is another and the latter is becoming more and more crucial. From the moment one decides to create a website, they are bombarded with a whole dictionary of vocabulary. There are words that one has never even come across, much less understand or even worse: words that one knows but fail to comprehend, usually technical and accepted as part and parcel of the virtual world we have built around us, but with no true comprehension as to what it stands for. The first thing a new web-owner learns is the difference between a domain name and a server and how both is needed to run a fully functioning website that can receive visitors. Then comes the harder bit, search engine optimization, various plugins and designs. While it is true that one may employ the services of SEO companies if need be, schools should be able to produce people who are capable of working for them.

  1. How to Adult

A commonly shared theme amongst millennials in particular. Many of them feeling as though they missed out on a course preparing them for the ordeal of humdrum adult life. Bills, taxes and various employment or health benefits and laws, the rules that govern a society are either passed down by their parents or learnt through trial and error. However, one might assume that it would be in that government’s best interest if their next generation is already well versed in being a productive and effective citizen upon leaving school.

  1. Empathic Social Skills

Kindness and compassion are both highly desired traits and yet not actively encouraged or taught in school, focusing solely on knowledge and by-the-book-intelligence. While IQ and EQ might stand for very different things, they do have logic in common. The only logic teachers are interested in teaching are mathematics and therefore, creating students with a distinct lack of empathy and social skills. This also leads to difficulties in becoming a well-adjusted adult, especially since younger generations are becoming increasingly self-absorbed and are incapable of seeing past anything but their own desires.

  1. Life Skills

Light-bulb changing seem to revolve around many jokes, yet the joke’s on us – how many really know how to do it, fresh out of high school? How to fix a leaky faucet? How about unclogging a drain? There are even those who do not know how to work a washing machine or that the toilet floor requires a good scrub in order to remove grit and mould. Things that may seem of little to no importance, as they are skills that one pick up with age, but it would be nice to start life with the basic skill set needed to keep a home running in tip-top condition.

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