World over higher education is at crossroads today more than any other time in history because of two significant disruptions that took place simultaneously or became necessary, one because of the other!
Here the reference is to a natural and sudden disruption caused by the Covid-19 virus that gripped the world in one of the worst existential crisis that the human race may have ever encountered, spread across regions and continents.
The second disruption that was the only available solution for keeping the global communication channels open and effective; here the reference is to the internet and the virtual world. It certainly is quite a miracle that the world was technically equipped to have quite a widespread information communication technology (ITC) network already in place, for continuing its need of conversation and information dissemination during this period of global calamity. Such a disaster, a few decades ago, could have proven to be the proverbial ‘qayamat’ for humanity.
Education, in its present form, could have been the biggest causality of the pandemic whereby the educational institutions were presented with the first such challenge of keeping it going for millions, nay billions of students all around the world. ITC not only came to its rescue but became the new normal. However a large population of the world deprived of the technological infrastructure (digital divide) suffered too. Classes went online and classrooms buzz and banter became a reminiscent of the past. We need to bring it back!
These disruptions are the major reasons for the challenges faced by higher education today not only in the UAE but globally, posing two questions (1) what education will be relevant in the post pandemic world and (2) how should it be best delivered? And the answers are not easy though there are certain models theoretically and practically that may gain universality sooner or later.
Higher education needs to be flexible and wider in its scope; wide enough to include open ended choices rather than close ended options. Higher education today and for a few decades now is being classified as technical, medical, management, and arts and humanities as streams promising career options, notwithstanding the choices, likes, inclinations and or aptitude of the aspirants.
Post high-school, there are socioeconomic pressures on the young men and women to choose a trending option, presumed to be a good career preference offered by a rated-reputed institution and then go through the grind. The advocates will cite sufficient data to prove its efficacy, in the same breath now they have started talking about vanishing of many a jobs that existed today and newer ones coming up in the very near future and ‘ooh-aahing’ about its perils!
No one however knows for sure how to prepare for that future! The solutions are not too far and unimaginable to find — to prepare a young person to be future-proof, training in emotional intelligence, communication and interpersonal skills, social responsibility and most importantly technical and analytical abilities to judge and adapt to situations and eventualities, has to be provided and honed over a relaxed and pressure less environment by mentors rather than trainers.
An example for such an educational environment will be an institution that is closer home to let the youngsters enjoy family and friend support system, that is flexible enough to go year on year with choices of preferred area of study instead of tying them up for three to four years in a particular stream or structure; that offers variety of futuristic programmes or courses that are relevant and updated and above all that gives a free spirited freedom for expression and experiment with peers, mentors and the society at large, to explore and experience the world first hand.
And there exist such institutions, just look intensely around you, compare, contrast, gather information, analyse, evaluate and then decide one step at a time.
The future is here to stay and the mechanism to be successful in the future is to prepare and prepare well. Knowledge is no more a preserve of the teacher, its available at the click of a button but to use knowledge for skills, competencies and wisdom, there is this need of a holistic approach provided by those who understand it.
Professor Amitabh Upadhya is the President of Global Business Studies (GBS) Dubai