The Time for Educational (r)Evolution is Now.
by Rob Lane
On the eve of the Irish referendum on the Fiscal Treaty, many are cognisant that the result may matter little in light of the ever evolving situation across Europe.
The sad truth that has come out from discussion and interview with citizens is that many do not understand what they are voting for or the consequences of the referendum. Can we be content to churn out citizens at voting age insufficiently equipped to play their part in the democratic process?
Furthermore, can we be content with a one-shot education system that facilitates protectionism of elitism in the professions?
Our primary, secondary and tertiary education systems are in dire need of radical reform and no tweaking will bridge the gaps that currently divide citizens from the democratic process and students from the practical work environment.
The bottom line is this: Europe is not competitive, great social injustice exists, the rich-poor divide is widening and nothing that is currently on the table will heal the woes of our historically great continent.
Head of Citigroup, Vikram Pandit opined in a recent interview with Bloomberg that Europe does realise that its global interests are better served by being united and dismissed notions of a politically polarized and socially fractured Europe. He emphasized the fact that business has been mainly focusing on emerging markets leaving the spent and dysfunctional credit structures of Europe behind.
Globalised capitalism favours the ruthless and the nanny states of Western Europe have been told to administer austerity across the board with German efficiency. There is really nothing that Ireland or anyone else can do about this. The false prophet Francois Hollande has already begun to backtrack on his election promises, as have politicians at home. The truth is, they are not liars or conspirators. They simply have been, so far, unable to think outside the box.
What is missing in Europe is innovation.
There is frustration among the employed, unemployed and employers about the existing educational structures. It is my opinion that such are antiquated and no longer fit for purpose. Time and again, company directors tell me of their difficulty in finding suitably educated and practically skilled personnel to employ in the many positions they are seeking to fill. Likewise, the unemployed and those looking to change job sector find it near impossible to do so without getting into debilitating debt.
Already there exists a small number of qualifications which can be attained through autonomous learning and taking exams to achieve certification and recognition of knowledge and ability. In my opinion, this should be expanded without limit.
In this month’s Ireland- Economic Forecast Summary, the OECD warned;
Given the risk that high unemployment might become structural, reforms to public employment services and job training should be fully implemented to help job seekers return to work.
Podcasts of lectures and lecture notes should be made available to all citizens of the Republic, who already largely pay for our educational institutions through their taxes, to facilitate autonomous learning. Such materials are already produced for circulation among attending students. The same standard exams would still be required by all seeking qualification. Should one succeed, one should receive the relevant qualification.
The current system of attendance requirements automatically excludes and leaves those who are working or otherwise not in a position to attend classes and lectures at an unfair and unnecessary disadvantage.
With the technology that currently exists, I can see no defendable reason for requiring lecture attendance. In no way am I advocating dropping standards but if a person is capable and prove themselves so by succeeding at the required exams, academic or practical, their knowledge and ability should be recognised.
Existing structures need not be abolished, what I am proposing could seamlessly run alongside the current framework. In fact, valuable resources may be redircted into research and development with faculties becoming creative hubs. There are obvious benefits from being present for lectures and tutoring; this proposal simply seeks to push for material provision and recognition of knowledge and ability, where and how ever attained, to those whose only viable option is to autonomously study. Primarily this should be focused on those who are most in need of empowerment.
If working from home is no problem, why should learning be?
This empowerment of people, I believe would lead to a great reduction of those on the live register within a few years and boost the country exponentially as a hub for both foreign investment and much-needed growth of our domestic sectors. Let it not be forgotten that many multinationals currently operating in Ireland are forced to look to migrant workers coming into the State for the skills lacking here: the IT and Science sectors being the two stand-out examples.
The cost of such a project would include content creation and maintenance, addition exam correction, IT database and infrastructure maintenance. Some of the cost could be reduced through a volunteer call hopefully offering unemployed volunteers jobs on completion. Such a system would empower citizens to up-skill and where a sector has collapsed, re-skill at their own pace and redeploy themselves. Forced emigration and longterm unemployment should be reduced as a result.
There is no longer a job for life nor is it acceptable or financially viable for an unemployed person to say they are something and be unwilling to change sector. The languishing unemployed can no longer be ignored by squabblers and ivory tower academics of Leinster House and Brussels. A practical training and internship program could be considered as a next step providing much-needed confidence in investors of the quality and work-readiness of the Irish workforce.
By facilitating sector migration and autonomous learning we can better prepare our citizens and perhaps for once set an example for the empowerment of citizens Europewide.
Big business in a globalised capitalist world sees Europe as worse than a stagnant market and will continue to do so until we innovate. Such an evolution may return Europe to the position of global competivness without the need for gross definitive cuts and reduction of living standards across the continent.
The purpose of this piece is to stimulate debate on how we can innovate and work our way out of this dire situation.
I do not purport that the autonomous education revolution would be the only driver in getting Europe up off its knees but I emphatically believe that it must be part of the package of restructuring and evolution. The possibilities are limitless, the consequences of failure bottomless.
Now is the time for (r)evolution.