Anka Mulder

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Education in the digital era

In April 1989 I visited West Berlin and I briefly crossed the border to East Berlin. Food was different there, smelled different. Eastern and Western Europe were divided; the Soviet Union still existed. Tomorrow, on January 1, 2015, Lithuania will join the Eurozone. It will become the 19th country to introduce the Euro. In 25 years, Europe has changed beyond recognition. Not so long ago, all three Baltic countries being members of the Eurozone would have been unimaginable.

EU logoBut the European Union still faces problems. The political situation in Ukraine affects the European Union and instability on Europe’s southern borders results in thousands of refugees trying to enter the European Union. We have all seen the distressfull images of desperate people in the Adriatic Sea and at the Spanish borders. Additionally, Europe’s economy remains fragile. Economic recovery is slow. The youth unemployment rate is over 20% and much higher in some member states.

What does all of this have to do with education? One of the strong points about education policies in the EU and its member states has always been the focus it places on education as an equaliser; in other words a way to address inequality. Another strong point was the Erasmus programme: set up in 1987, almost 3 million students have since benefited from this programme. That means 3 million young people crossing borders and, perhaps, becoming true European citizens. Higher education standardisation has also been a success i.e. the bachelor-master structure, the European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System (ECTS ), and the mutual recognition of diplomas. And the Framework Programmes have had a positive effect on research opportunities at European universities.

But for European economies to become really competitive, more needs to be done. Education policies in Europe have focused on addressing inequalities and on promoting mutual understanding. Important as this is, it is not enough. A competitive European economy also needs strong players who can compete with the world’s best. Competitiveness means helping those not so fortunate, but also giving room to excellence. Because excellence drives innovation.

On 11 and 12 December a European High level Conference on “Education in the Digital Era” took place in Brussels. At the conference, Education Ministers were asked what their dream was for Europe five years from now. My dream would be a Europe with a sound economy, based on sustainable principles. A politically stable and economically strong Europe. Without youth unemployment. That means investing in education now, in life-long learning, closing the skills gap, and in excellence and innovation. And not to forget inclusivity, quality and competitiveness.

Estonia has introduced e-residency. This gives people access to Estonia’s digital services and an opportunity to use digital signatures in a secure electronic environment. Innovation and excellence can take place everywhere. In the Baltic States for example. Happy New Year!

3mE

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2 comments

Thanks for sharing you view Pranav!

More of academic content from the best universities and institutes in the world has been made accessible to learners across demographics and beyond geographic borders via MOOCs, online distance education and OCWs. Testimonials of students who have leveraged this new mode of learning demonstrate its potential for social impact through innovation. A few universities also collaborate with industry and government to render courses digitally for skill development at all vertical levels in the organisation structure.
This digital era in education has created new opportunities and a fresh set of challenges for students, educators and policy makers alike.

For instance, distance education through e-learning using virtual class-room environments have reduced cost of education (primarily for students) and allowed quality content to be delivered to a larger learner base. This opens up new opportunities for universities in developed economies to make an impact in emerging economies which have a very young population and lower nominal and real per-capita incomes. For educators the primary challenge would be to render context to content and enable learners to make strong local impact and scale later on. For learners, the primary challenge would be to build a network which could drive synergistic collaborations. While learners have better success at internalising skills and knowledge, they have yet to crack the problem of creating a multinational student network essential for a mobile workforce. For policy makers, a critical challenge would be to leverage the comparative advantage arising out of such exchange. The comparative advantage in this case would be that developed economies can offer knowledge, skill and network at a lower cost while emerging economies can offer man-power. Perhaps the one way to address these challenges is through real-time experimentation and analysis of large data to find both macro and micro trends. Such endeavours would require significant investment –time, capital, resources and intellect– in conjunction with high precedence in priority.

Along with building, honing and internalising the skills and knowledge — assuming a meaningful amount can be externalised digitally (SECI model of knowledge process)– it is an imperative to also offer a digital opportunity to apply it. And a contemporary idea to this is cloud innovation where problem statements are posted online, collaborations permitted and solutions rewarded with cash prizes of up to $200,000 or more! Again the success of these platforms have to be tested with better experimentation. Universities and institutes could perhaps pioneer experimentation by hosting their own cloud innovation/cloud research platforms with problem statements seeded from state, industry and academia. This would link education to real-life challenges making it easier for learners to penetrate the job market.

Having benefitted greatly from online education through MOOCs, I’m hardly surprised about TU Delft having 250,000 students online (more than 10 times that on campus) in fact I’d be surprised if that number didn’t grow. Perhaps an increasing % of students pursuing these courses would consider applying for programmes at TU Delft. In which case, it would be interesting to learn how our admission policy would factor in an applicants MOOC experience.

© 2011 TU Delft