The question first arose in the 1980s, with the advent of the personal computer: were we all going to have to learn to program? The development of the software industry seemed to have given one definitive, and negative, answer to this question. Yet it is coming back, with a vengeance. Why exactly should we take it seriously this time around?
With the rise of machines, an important number of skills are bound to disappear. But the emergence of new issues also requires new forms of human expertise. Facing worldwide problems that we are yet unable to solve, we need to develop different forms of intelligence, learn to cooperate and achieve results that aren't possible for individuals alone. Will our education systems, fundamentally based on competition, meet this challenge?
Children of the digital era are accustomed to receiving information really fast. They like to parallel process and multi-task. Philosopher Michel Serres describes them as no longer having the same heads. Is it a generational question? In any case educators cannot ignore the new thinking patterns. Our schools must take them into account, not only in adapting teaching methods but also in inventing a new role in a Society that consumes knowledge instantly.
Knowledge is becoming increasingly important in our economies and Society at large, to the extent that a new expression has been coined to baptize this new development phase: the knowledge-based economy. Characterized by the growing contribution of production, dissemination and uses made of knowledge (intangible or immaterial capital) to the competitiveness of enterprises and nations, the knowledge-based economy calls for future citizens and workers to be taught a renewed set of skills, differing partly from those developed during the industrial era.
The Internet has revolutionized our access to knowledge. Why should education not be affected? Institutions are evolving, but the arrival of new technologies and practices such as MOOCs have only had a limited impact thus far. Yet it is now apparent that we stand at the dawn of major changes. It is not just the new tools that will change matters but an in-depth evolution of Society and our economies.
Today's researchers are enduring a tough period compared to other scientists throughout history. Due to funding and institutional constraints, they have to work on short-term contracts serving commercial interests and must make promises that they can hardly live up to. One example involves quantum computers. Scientists should devote themselves to basic research crucial to tackling long-term world issues, says Nobel Prize Serge Haroche. This does not prevent him from advocating a strong sense of humanity among scientists. He supports an ideal education and research system combining science and humanity that stokes people's curiosity and enthusiasm for science, while at the same time cultivating an atmosphere encouraging imagination and innovation.
The irreversible momentum of MOOCs is penetrating all levels of China's education system, providing students with unprecedented freedom to select courses and access the best educational recourses at home and abroad. Some institutions have taken the lead, but the question is not just one of strategy for universities. In a nation where education reform is imperative, it is MOOCs that are forcing the Chinese education system to move.
The sudden and widespread advent of Massive Online Open Courses took universities by surprise and could potentially bring in-depth changes in the Higher Education scene. Still, major questions remain unsolved, such as: what business models are adapted to the new educational actors? Have the major American platforms already won the day, or is there still room for outsiders?
The arrival of MOOCs both fascinates and scares our Higher Education actors. Is it a game changer? Institutions may be challenged, but to-day the most significant difference seems to concern the teaching experience. Five pionniers share their experience.
Modern economies really need high level research scientists, but there are difficulties when it comes to proposing job openings to the PhDs. We have reached a point now where question has become: what is the real value attached to a doctoral degree, both for Society as a whole and for those who register for demanding studies at this level? Might we be faced with a glut of PhDs? The issue is on the table and when we reframe it, it opens up a new prospective.
Advances in neuroscience have shed a new light on our understanding of classic issues about learning. How does it work? Is it different for adults and children? During a recent lecture, Stanislas Dehaene, a neuroscience researcher, gave an overview of recent discoveries in this field. A revolution in the making.
Here we have yet another of those crazy ideas that excites California, but this one potentially sounds a shade more ominous. In order to meet the shortfall of qualified engineers in Silicon Valley, a group of young entrepreneurs of the Golden State have proposed to anchor a floating city in international waters, off the Californian coast, capable of accommodating 2 000 engineers from all round the world, none of whom having a US entry visa. This would cut the dire and endless thirst for grey matter in the USA, a country where young students are shunning scientific and technical courses. Here we are witnessing a situation that is taking on the proportions of a national, strategic crisis. Other countries, other difficulties. But eveywhere the same question arises: how to train tomorrow's engineers?
With massive open online courses, university is the latest facility to be overwhelmed by a digital tsunami. Online learning is not new. But MOOCs take it to a unprecedented extent, and it's for free. Is there a trick? Strategies, prospects, impact, one should have a look at the entire landscape to get an idea of what is going on.
In the late 1980s, the explosive boom of leisure video games literally left educational productions behind. They are back! In areas such as health, safety, education or management, they are becoming ever more important. Why? What does the market and prospects look like?
In October 2012, the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology (OIST) will be welcoming its first students. How does one develop a world-leading center of excellence in the lush jungles of a subtropical island? This is a story of political will – but also of strategic intelligence. A Japanese story… which has consisted in not doing things the Japanese way.
Globalization has given rise to a new definition of competition and the capacity to innovate has become the new international standard for differentiation. France's elite engineering schools are now more than ever being measured for their performance against the world's most prestigious universities. The Institut Montaigne recently published a report entitled, "Adapting our engineers' education to globalization", in which the challenges of the new reality are made clear. First and foremost : "making innovation the motor of the engineering curriculum".
Wikipedia just turned 10. The largest reference work ever produced, the Web site makes vast amounts of knowledge available to everyone that was once available to just a few scholars in major university libraries. But some thinkers say the volunteer-written encyclopedia is itself a sign of something still more important: the rise of social production.
Is engineering destined to remain a man's world? Not everywhere. In China, 40% of engineers are women and in the USSR of the 1980s, women accounted for 58% of the engineering workforce. But in Western countries, and in a large number of emerging economies, the feminization of the profession continues to be very slow and now seems to have reached its limit. This plateau is of concern to policy experts. For the last 10 years, the European Commission has highlighted the risks related to the shortage of engineers and has called on member states to draw more widely on the pool of female talent. In Australia and India, the press has taken up the matter. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics warned last year that the demand for computer engineers would see an increase of 36% by the year 2012 in the United States alone. It seems urgent in these conditions to train more women. But first, one has to ask what the obstacles are.
Mathematics, and by extension mathematicians, have been blamed for precipitating the financial crisis. Poor understanding of the nature of risk, allowed financiers to take refuge in elegant formulae they did not fully understand. In the short run, the profits were too compelling and instant for anyone to question the sustainability of a model mathematicians always said was imperfect for risk assessment. So who's to blame?
This first article in our Zero/base series, like all the ones to come, is purely an intellectual exercise. This one describes what a secondary education system might look like if it ignored all existing educational models and was based on current information technology resources and on the way children and adolescents behave today.