EDUCATION – Not what we think it is

EDUCATION – Not what we think it is

This article was first published in Business Times on 8 June 2019

EDUCATION – Not what we think it is
by John Bittleston, Terrific Mentors International

Great learning has history from which it draws its inspiration and stability. Indeed, civilisation itself is dependent on education and history from both of which it develops and adapts. The rules of living together in a village with primitive communications were about cooperation, minimum aggression and maximum order. Those rules apply today. When they break down, first order falls apart, then civilisation disintegrates. Degeneration sets in, aggression and protectionism start to dominate. Soon the society is unrecognisable against the original cooperative model.

Education as equipping

The role of education in all this has been to equip people to increase development, because growth, the consequence of development, has been the engine of progress, of wealth and therefore – some conclude – happiness. We all know intellectually that this is not the consequence of development but there are many attractive benefits of it on the way – longer life, less suffering, reduced starvation, greater comfort, more free time and so on. It is right that education equips us to develop and will continue to do so if we get it right. At present, we are only just beginning to see how to do that. Future methods will be very different from those of the past. Some people have yet to acknowledge this or, indeed, to realise the need for change.

Distributed trust

The tussle is between immediate benefits and fundamental understanding, which involves a longer view. The discipline of education is to achieve life standards and self-control, rather than simply to acquire equipment to do a job and earn money. According to Rachel Botsman the rise of distributed trust means that technology is shifting power away from single sources, such as large organisations, and sharing it across a wider range of sources.

A clear example of the way in which distributed trust is happening is the reaction to the Boeing 737 Max crashes. Social media and other forms of fast information have created a society in which everyone, whether personally affected or not, is encouraged to read about, have an opinion on and express their opinion. So much so that not only has confidence in Boeing’s self-discipline been shaken but, it seems, the whole business of flying is being reviewed by many people. Another, slower but more insidious, example is the mistrust building in the processed foods market.

Education where trust is distributed

Education for an hierarchical society was somewhat lineal. That isn’t to say that creativity was discouraged, it simply wasn’t encouraged. That was not because it was thought to be useless but because the disruption inevitably associated with it was thought to be damaging and irreligious. In some places the same thoughts still persist. Trust was and still is significantly associated with institutions. ‘Rolls Royce cars don’t break down, doctors behave according to the Hippocratic oath, Boeing aircraft have several levels of safety built in.’ Institutional trust has taken a bigger hit than the Boeing tragedies. Paedophile behaviour in some religious institutions, improper selling to the vulnerable by many financial advisors, internet scams – there are so many examples of institutional misbehaviour that it is easy to understand the breakdown of trust in them.

Unfortunately every breakdown confirms a general distrust of institutions including educational ones. What do we want from our education today?

Clearly scientific and technological skilling is vitally important. So important that half of educational time is inevitably going to be devoted to it. There will still be a substantial element of ‘input’ education as knowledge is needed to understand the way digitisation, artificial intelligence and human health comprehension will affect our lives. Much of this education will demand creative approaches to information received – learning and developing will often be the same thing.

Humanity as important as technology

If the human side of our lives is to keep up with technology, then creative arts, history, space, philosophy, deep earth and deep sea geography must all be the other half of education. We have not before been faced with a situation in which there are so many options for human development. Choosing what will be the best is no easy matter. Will enough people have the intellect to grasp both the importance and the substance of what is being taught? That seems, on the basis of current evidence, to be unlikely. How will that be remedied?

We are learning a lot about the brain and how a personality is formed. So much, in fact, that we will be able to manipulate brains within the next century. Whether we do that usefully or dangerously will be decided by others than those reading – or writing – this article. Meanwhile education has to extend far beyond the concept of (virtual) classroom and differently from the concept of teacher. Education bodies are struggling to introduce more appropriate learning. They are hampered by parents whose view of education is too rigidly exam-passing and job-finding.

Business can enable weapons of mass instruction

This culture is unlikely to change as fast as we need it to. All cultures change slowly; parental views of children achieving wealth and (supposedly) happiness will persist. Given that education must also be lifelong, to attempt to keep up with change, employers must become more active participants in the education scene. At present their involvement is mostly about upskilling, desirable – but skimming the surface of acquiring wisdom. A deeper understanding of the organisation they work for, of the industry it is involved in, of the relationships with and effects on others, are all increasingly important. Soft skills matter when work is largely robotic.

Training has been the successful player in the upskilling and refocusing of employees. Interactive classes work better than passive lectures. Space for, and encouragement to ask, questions livens up the learning process. Education should be extraction of latent potential, not injection of knowledge. Coaching enables a deeper relationship with growing employees, especially when one-on-one. Coaches will usually come from outside the business. While their methods will be encouraging they will also be quite disciplinarian, demanding order and visible progress.

The big growth in education will be through mentoring. Apprenticeships worked well at one time because the experience of one generation was interacting with the initiative of a younger one. This is exactly the right mixture for the fast approaching New World. Where apprenticeship was largely confined to specific skills, mentoring has a broader sweep, embracing the spectrum of management and development. This allows the experience of few to become the assets of many.

The integration of education and work life has begun; that with leisure life – an increasingly important time – has barely begun. In a world where brains may be more equally efficient and where knowledge is already universally available, education for purpose and to better understand what leads to the joys of life will be a whole new challenge.

Achievement will bring a whole new concept of life.

*Please watch Rachel Botsman’s video clip on Distributed Trust. Just search her name.