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Skills for the new world

As the information age and globalisation change our context, education must transform itself to deliver skills that are pertinent to our age reports Pankaj Mullick

education Updated: Jan 27, 2011 09:22 IST
Pankaj Mullick
Pankaj Mullick
Hindustan Times

It can safely be said that if a surgeon from the 1950s were to enter any of today’s operation theatres, he or she would be lost and think of most of the technologies and techniques as nothing less than magic. The same would not be true for an educator from the same era walking into today’s classrooms. He or she would be completely at ease because, sadly, nothing in the chambers of primary and secondary education reflects the change that the world has undergone.

The same charts and blackboard dominate and rote learning is still how we are expected to learn.

ENIAC to supercomputers
In fact, the most significant change in our world has been the pace of change itself. "The context has changed" to one of "accelerated change," said Marc Prensky, education consultant and author of Teaching Digital Natives: Partnering for Real Learning. He designs games for learning that are a result of partnerships between teachers and pupils. He said that with the advent of the internet and various other sources of information, the role of teacher has changed completely. Pupils are as, if not more, informed as their teachers and textbooks seem passé. Teachers should adapt to this change and work as facilitators, Prensky added, while speaking at the World Innovation Summit on Education in Doha, Qatar - a congregation of over a thousand educationists from across the world.

Another aspect of a teacher’s job that has become important is that of being an agent of inspiration. It has always been the teacher’s foremost duty to incite curiosity among students about the world around them.

"Passion is the most important thing about learning. I remember reading somewhere - ‘don’t teach a person to build a ship, inspire them to desire the whole wide world’," Prensky said. Once you have inspired someone to learn, all you need to do is step out of the way, he concluded.

One world, one people
In many ways, a rapidly changing, globalised world has forced us to wake up to many realities. Khalil Hindi, president, Birzeit University, Palestine, and an educator for more than 30 years, talked more about that as he enumerated skills people need now. He said that skills pertinent to this century include: efficient processing of information, tech literacy, awareness of ethics, and motivating oneself to lifelong learning.

Synthesising information, approached as a skill to be learnt consciously, to get a grip on reality is extremely essential, Hindi said. Else, as we are all aware, indiscriminate information intake can overwhelm us.

The one phenomenon that has been unprecedented in human history is globalisation. Acceptance of this fact, Hindi said, brings new realities to light. We can no longer live our lives in silos of nationalist or linguistic identity. Information flows too freely in our times for us to assume that our silos are impervious to change.

Thus, more than ever before, foreign language skills have become pertinent. The educated classes are mobile and work across geographies, whether moving physically, or communicating with the aid of telecommunication networks. Without foreign language skills not only can communication become difficult in a globalised world, mistrust can easily pervade the simplest transactions, Hindi added.

Going further on those lines, he said that another skill relevant to this century is cosmopolitanism - the ability to appreciate the beauty of different cultures. He pointed out that he did not mean "just tolerating" other cultures but celebrating each others’ cultures differences. For this, one must also reconcile the various identities that one carries within. This means that, in our context, while we are Indians, we are also world citizens, as well as humans sharing a planet in desperate need of help. We also carry other identities of being sons, daughters, mothers, fathers, students, teachers, employees, activists etc. throughout our lifetime. Hindi added that the ignoring one identity over another - the trait recognised as essentialism - is what is tearing the world apart almost as rapidly as information sharing could bring it together.