The most important raw material of any country are its people. The country’s prosperity depends on the abilities of its citizens, their diligence and their innovative potential in global competition. But politics is mainly administering the area of education, not shaping the future with best intentions. Merely administering blocks courageous and goal-oriented reforms.
“Fit for Future” means training children and young people from kindergarten to graduation.
We must not forget their soul, emotions and enthusiasm. We want them to grow up happily and later make positive contributions to the community.
Education is by far the most important engine for a better future. This is a truism. We do not have a problem of knowledge, but instead a typical implementation problem due to a crusted and ideologised policy management.
Best training is the basis for the global competitiveness of nations. Education is a building block of economic and social policy.
In the Fourth Industrial Revolution, investment in the substantive education is essential for the future of young people and prosperity in each country. Without modern digital expertise encompassing programming, digital services and platforms, the economies of industrialised countries are bound to perish generating fewer jobs and less tax revenue. Only individuals with a perfect command of the new digital technologies will have an opportunity of a safe job.
At the meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos in January 2018, Jack Ma, the very successful founder of the Chinese Alibaba Group, presented his vision of future-oriented education: “We have to change the way and means of teaching or we will have serious problems in 30 years. Today we are still teaching children the knowledge of the last 200 years. Consequently, we cannot teach our children to compete with machines in the future. Because they are smarter. We have to teach them something unique. This includes values, beliefs, independent thinking, teamwork and compassion for others. For this reason, we should encourage our children in these areas: sports, music or art, in everything that makes humans different from machines.” An appeal for more creativity and humanity at school.
How can we make the children fit for the future? What do they need to learn?
What does their real school world look like today?
Far too often neglected and antiquated schools
A shame. Despite thousands of speeches about the importance of education and schools, too many are rotting away. Even in the prosperous Federal Republic of Germany: According to a survey of the municipal treasurers responsible for finances, the investment backlog in June 2019 was an incredible € 42.8 billion. The result: Dirty toilets, leaky windows and rotten floors. In addition, insufficient cleanliness and hygienic conditions. Does this encourage learning for the future? Why not build smart new buildings where learning is fun? Following the best examples from around the world?
In the Corona crisis, many students have to stay at home. Are schools and teachers prepared for remote learning? Or for acquiring digital skills? There is often a lack of a digital infrastructure including computers, cloud technology, WLAN and system administrators. Important services such as WhatsApp, Skype or Zoom are perfectly suited, but are facing massive bureaucratic and ideological hurdles, such as excessive data protection. This in turn prevent the use of new teaching opportunities in many countries. Teachers lack digital training. Often this applies to the younger generation as well. It utilizes Google, WhatsApp or Instagram. But basic knowledge rarely goes beyond that. That is too little for a successful career in the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
Grandpa’s and grandma’s school lives on like a zombie.
One worst case, the industrial country Germany, a motor of the European Union, was once praised and honored in the old German Empire as “the country of poets and thinkers”, i.e. a country of new thinkers. And today? In the last 30 years the Federal Republic of Germany has completely overslept the digitization of schools. The disastrous results are reported in the European Union’s “Education and Training Monitor 2020”. The digital equipment of German schools is far below the EU average. Merely nine percent of children attended “well digitally equipped and networked school” in the school year 2017/18 – 26 percentage points less than the EU average. Only one third of the schools had the necessary digital equip- ment and were well prepared for the Corona lockdown. Only 35 percent of the teachers had regular contact with their students. One in ten of them had little contact. There is a lack of basic IT skills. The results of the Pisa study, published in September 2020, look similarly bleak: Only 33 per- cent of German students had access to an online learning platform in 2018. The OECD average is 54 percent. In Singapore or Denmark, more than 90 percent are capable of digitized learning. There is no digital revolution at most schools. Although this is the responsibility of various education ministers in 16 German Federal states and to some extent the Federal government in Berlin, with many ministerial bureaucrats and education politicians in all parties. They all love their high-handed Sunday speeches about “the great importance of good education”. Merely rhetoric, no deeds. Arrogance instead of action. This is an education catastrophe. A multiple failure.
This lack of innovation and future viability is a great sin against our children and the basis of the state in the midst of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. A digital revolution at schools is not in sight in most countries. Only words, no quick actions. This is an educational disaster. This multiple political organ failure of education politicians and their school bureaucrats is gambling away a happy future for our children and as well the foundation for our prosperity.
We all need a rapid education revolution with heart, mind and creativity.
Estonia is showing how it can be done: this EU country ranks first in the PISA test in Europe. School quality is excellent. All schools offer electronic solutions. Every school is online. Computers are available in all classrooms. Students, teachers and parents use the special “eKool” and “Stuudium” programmes via a school cloud. The comprehensive “Digital Transformation Programme” familiarises teachers and pupils with the use of the new media. All teaching materials are available online. There are “Educational Technologists”, digital databases and online courses. Under the brand “Education Nation”, the small Baltic country offers all schools the know-how and technology for rapid adoption (educationnation.ee).
The overload of teaching material – memorizing know- ledge for the next exam forgotten after a few weeks – should finally be stopped. Do we still need this traditional way of learning in the age of Smartphone, Google and YouTube? Why should children still be trained as short-term knowledge silos?
Shouldn’t we radically adapt knowledge transfer with new methods and make better use of the time then available for other things?
We need lifelong learning.
Education policy makers and bureaucracies continue to strive for uniformity and comparability of performance – the Pisa studies being their gold standard. In the new dynamic world, this is too bureaucratic, too academic and too rigid.
Every student should be able to read, write and calculate well. This is necessary basic knowledge. But beyond that?
First of all, you must have a perfect command of your native mother language, both written and spoken, and be creative as well – something many individuals lack today. Moreover, very good English, the gateway to the digital world and wellpaid professions at home and abroad, is indispensable. Young people need to have a good command of digital media, preferably learning programming, which includes mathematics. Schools should grant these three compulsory tasks the highest priority.
However, in this realm, Germany’s and too many other countrie’s education policy is an entire failure. Responsible policymakers remain in a kind of Biedermeier slumber. This marks the beginning of the end of a vibrant knowledge society amounting to a threat to prosperity for all.
We need happy, capable and creative students.
There are big gaps. Above all, the children must recognise what they enjoy doing and where their strong points lie. They need maximum creativity.
A new study by the World Health Organisation (WHO) reveals an increasing number of mental problems among young people. Their well-being is decreasing. They feel pressured by the demands of school, are irritable and nervous. We produce unhappy people – is this socially just and humane? It will also cost us billions in necessary social assistance later on.
Wouldn’t it also be better if our children and adolescents also learn what is needed for a happy life? For example, values and virtues such as helpfulness, empathy, modesty, tolerance and openness. Self-confidence and joy of life (Fit for Future). Cheerfulness, stamina, health, balanced nutrition and fitness.
They don’t learn all this at outdated schools. Antiquated methods and practices of education are not future-oriented; they are a waste of taxpayers’ money and human resources. Why not recognise what is necessary, even though many understand that these contents are important? In our globalised world the educational focus must be on future skills. State authorities are not a museum, but service providers. Their job is to deliver what promises a good future for its citizen and finances the community.
Should all students learn the same thing? In a schematic manner, as practiced in military training? Why is there not more diversity in school? More individuality, each according to his or her own possibilities? Not only in the choice of subjects, but a truly individual promotion of each pupil according to his or her talents and abilities.
Why should a future master baker also learn physics? Shouldn’t schools, like modern assessment centres, determine each pupil’s strengths and support them individually? Testimonials as support in everyday life. These could reveal how each pupil can put his or her strengths and wishes into practice. Instead of mere evaluation, pupils need active and individual support.
Which professions have a chance in the dawning Fourth Industrial Revolution? What do young people have to learn? Do we take this into account when planning our schools today?
Aren’t we wasting an incredible amount of human capital and also producing unhappy pupils if schools only sift out the best and leave the weak behind, instead of promoting everyone individually according to ability? That applies both to future baker masters and highly gifted physicists.
The education system often fails promoting the weakest. We need happy pupils.
The portion of young people without a lower secondary school certificate has increased.
All pupils should learn happiness and tolerance at school with the objective of discovering oneself and solving conflicts. Learning to know and appreciate other cultures. Develop a strong and honest personality, not just cognitive knowledge. Build up a personal sense of happiness, in order to deal with setbacks as well. Being more sensitive than a mere consumer. Respective research is far advanced at Zayed University in Abu Dhabi. There I met the “CEO for Happiness, Positivity and Tolerance”, a Muslim woman with very progressive ideas. “The young people are very proud. They have to learn to deal with conflicts peacefully,” Shamsa Al Taie told me. Since 2016, this large female university in the United Arab Emirates with 7000 students has a “Happiness Advisory Council” with five student teams.
In Denmark, the second happiest country in the world, the educational model has been drastically changed. The focus is on the child’s education as a personality in its own right, rather than on retrievable knowledge. In classes of one hour a week, children between 6 and 16 years of age also learn empathy as well as understanding other people. They describe their problems and listen to their classmates learning how to resolve difficult situations creatively and practically.
There are so many new good role models and creative doers: In New Zealand, South Africa and Bali, entrepreneurs John and Cynthia Hardy founded their Green Schools as a model for the world (greenschool.org). “Children should be able to change the world themselves, learn to know and love nature. “, they say. The Whittle School wants to educate ex- ceptionally committed children with a sense of responsibility (whittleschool.org). Its founders Jean Liu from Beijing and Benno Schmidt, former president of Yale University, are pio- neers in education and want to create a truly modern school connecting cultures around the world. “We believe that the school system is stuck in the past and needs dramatic modernisation. It is a formalistic school with old methods. Instead of encouraging learning, there is still punishment.” Prisma is a global co-learning network. The Arrowsmith Program improves services for often-forgotten students with learning disabilities.
In its study “Schule 4.0”, the Roland Berger Foundation in Munich states:
“We must enable educational equity, promote the understanding of democracy, address the shortage of skilled workers and make use of digital opportunities. There is no such thing as an untalented child. The key is the individual support of each student. We are neglecting the promotion of talent. The educational landscape pays too little attention to children from difficult social environments. They fall out of sight. There are highly interesting visions for tomorrow’s education that are worth trying out”.
The gap between the outdated schools of educational bureaucrats and ideologists and the new possibilities and visions of the best schools is growing ever wider. This is a scandal damaging the foundation of the state and neglecting youth’s happiness. Above all, it harms the socially weaker offspring and thus has grossly anti-social effects.
Better universities needed
And our universities? In “Arts and Humanities”, the universities of Oxford, Harvard, Cambridge, University of California, Stanford and Yale occupy the top positions. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Stanford, Cambridge, ETH Zurich, Berkeley and Oxford lead the “Engineering and Technology” segment. At the top of the “Life Science and Medicine” rankings are Harvard, Oxford, Cambridge, Stanford and Johns Hopkins. In “Natural Science” again top rankings for the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Harvard, Stanford, Cambridge, Oxford. In “Social Science and Management” Harvard, London School of Economics, Stanford, Oxford and Cambridge are top performers.
Most universities produce mediocrity. In teaching and research and among graduates. The main reason: They are overburdened with bureaucracy, conformist, not very creative and fail to promote individual talent. But you can only succeed in a globalised world if you are a top performer. This is the only way to create work and prosperity for everyone, including factory workers and the poor. Who has failed and what needs to be done?
Our universities provide knowledge that is often too theory-oriented and detached. Of course, students must acquire more specialised knowledge there than at school. But we need much more than that. Students do not learn the skills they need in today’s modern working world. They need more Einstein-like creativity, as well as enthusiasm for their subject as well as stamina. Top performance derives from “love of the subject” (says Steve Jobs). Also joy of life instead of endless stress. Students don’t learn all this at universities. Their expensive education is largely useless and only useful for a diploma. It is hardly more than a piece of paper rather than a certificate of ability. That is my experience as an entrepreneur in recruiting young people with good degrees and too few skills for the job.
There is a wide educational gap between demand and reality spanning from kindergarten to university. This wastes taxpayers’ money, time, energy and does not produce the top performance required in global competition. It also makes too many children unhappy or maladjusted.
We need a 180-degree turnaround in education.
A creative offensive without ideological blinkers.
A good future will only be possible after an educational revolution.
We must build a completely new education system in which pupils and students not only can learn what suits their interests and talents, but what they can really use in their lives and careers. Making them fit for life, content and happy. Everything else must be dropped. It is best to copy role models from all over the world.
Good schools and universities also need outstanding, motivated and digitally literate teachers and professors. They are overloaded with bureaucratic formalities – which could be dealt with in a simple app. The reformed schools and univer- sities also must provide more space for greater enthusiasm of teachers and professors. To do so, they need freedom of choice, less ministerial bureaucracy and teaching standards, and a salary commensurate with their importance. Why not pay the best teachers and professors at the best schools and universities according to their performance?
- In view of the digital revolution, policymakers must revolutionise the entire education process from kindergarten to college graduation encompassing lifelong learning as well as useful skills. De-ideologisation is imperative. All prejudices and blinkers must be discarded. Diversity, individuality and acquiring useful knowledge and qualifications are the three core elements of Education 4.0. Much more funding is needed for educational institutions and digital learning.
- Every child and young individual should be able to develop the best of his or her ability. The world needs new geniuses like Steve Jobs as the gold dust of progress. We need young people with strong personalities, mentally stable, with a good character and courage, who are willing to perform and are happy too. How can this be achieved? Apple founder Steve Case described the educational goal well in his 2005 Stanford speech: “You have to find something you love.”
We should – like in the Human Resources Department of a company – focus on each pupil with an individual development plan from kindergarten to college graduation. Helping the individual student, supporting him or her to attain peak performance or joy in normal jobs. This broad overall support and individual coaching must become the new focus of education. The objective lies in developing childrens‘ best qualities as well as their unrecognised strengths. This also provides better educational opportunities for those pupils who receive little support at home.
- Sifting out the less talented is inhumane and a waste of potential. We must also pay more attention to the lower-performance pupils with an individual learning plan. Because we need them in less academic jobs. They can also be happy there. A good waiter or painter is no less valuable than a sociologist. We have to value non-academics much more and distance ourselves from academic conceit.
- Because children and young people are so different, educational provision must offer maximum diversity rather than uniformity and egalitarianism. Primary school should be followed by specialised secondary schools and elite institutes. We do not need mediocrity, but the best talents for the future. In addition, healthy and happy children.
- Future education requires a departure from the ideological mantra that everyone should go to the same classes and higher schools. Not everyone feels they are in a good place at a secondary school or university. He is overwhelmed – is that good? Individual support after primary school, coupled with internships and the use of digital possibilities, should become the rule. A variety of different public and private schools and educational opportunities would provide an appropriate basis.
- Why should only teachers work at schools? Today every student can benefit from top performers’ online courses worldwide assembling Nobel Prize winners, entrepreneurs and bold thinkers in a collective teaching effort. Why not take advantage of these new educational opportunities for online seminars? It’s fun, stimulates learning and promotes excellence.
- The state should emulate and promote different models for schools and universities from the world’s top ten and adapt them to local specifics. No rigid standard model, but many experimental schools and universities. To this end, we should set up national best practice centres for schools and universities as think tanks of the ministries.
- Schools and universities should produce happy, creative, cosmopolitan and self-confident pupils and students A suitable subject would be “Happiness-Learning” dealing with empathy, tolerance and life skills. In addition, employing Teachers for Happiness as contact persons, following the example at Zayed University in Abu Dhabi. In the United King- dom, mindfulness is taught as a supplement to digital training.
- Overloads of exam knowledge, which is hardly memorized for long, is nonsense and counterproductive. Universities ought to focus on both specialization and significantly streamlining the curricula.
- Languages are the gateway to the world. English is key to the world wide web. Therefore, all children from the third grade onwards must learn good English. They should also learn how to use the digital services and, if possible, programming as well.
- Digital educational opportunities must be used much more extensively. There should be no ideological blinkers. Data protection is not an end in itself and must not destroy the future opportunities of children and young people. The data prohibitionist approach should be replaced by an open data-supply-approach. Laws must be adapted to the needs of schools granting pupils and teachers utmost freedom of action. Possible abuse should be investigated by a complaint’s office. The Minister of Education carries responsibility, not the teachers. Estonia’s internationally successful digital learning model should be emulated without delay as best practice. Learning Analytics is the collection and evaluation of learning data. Artificial Intelligence (AI) can effectively support learning today. In China, the USA, Japan and Estonia it is already part of everyday life, as is the use of computers and online learning.
But too many countries are hesitant and spending too little money on AI thus jeopardizing modern education as well as career opportunities in the digital and globalised world.
- Teachers must be relieved of formalities and be freer in the organisation of lessons. Their remuneration should be adapted to the overall social importance of their task. We also need more teachers and external coaches for the support of individual talent.
- Early childhood education is very important setting it on a decisive course. We should set up the respective infrastructure everywhere. The Kinder Künste Zentrum in Berlin is exemplary. There the little ones do handicrafts and paint with young artists (kinder-künste-zentrum.de).
- “Volkshochschulen” have been in existence in Germany for 100 years. Adults education is inexpensive. Why not introduce this successful model to the whole world? With practice-oriented, subsequent education for all.