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Armed with technology, globalization changed the way of life for many of us in a shocking span of time. The way we work, live, communicate, learn, has been completely transformed. Learning has undoubted changed too. But how will this change impact the way we value education and knowledge-based work going forward?
In the past few years, more and more educational materials have moved off of campus firewalls, and onto the web for all to consume. We are talking about entire course curriculum, reading list, lecture notes and videos. When the accessibility of information is no longer constrained, and the cost for knowledge acquisition is inconsequential, what does that mean for the education of knowledge workers?
Horizontal playing field
A horizontal playing field means that students and workers in less privileged countries or regions have a much more equal starting point, where the only determinants of success is motivation and hard work.
Right now, the up-and-coming parts of the world are still performing relatively mundane and technical tasks outsourced from the west. But let’s not forget how much of a leap that had been already. Computer engineers two decades ago were a rare breed and commanded high salaries. Nowadays, programmers with little business experiences are a dime a dozen. And they compete directly with well-educated coders from India, Russia, and China.
But as the next generation of customer service operators and programmers become exposed to the vast sea of free information readily available on the net, what’s preventing them from “pricing options, or calculating weighted average cost of capital, or mechanically ploughing through ‘five forces’ analysis”? It seems to me that any activities that require only technical proficiency will become low value-added tasks going forward, and can be contracted out.
Value deflation in certain areas of knowledge-based work
In the coming decades, information will become more free and more readily available than ever before. As a result, more than one category of jobs will be made obsolete, or attain the endangered status in their current forms. It’s not only the low level tasks that get outsourced anymore.
Cost for low value-added knowledge and execution of tasks keep falling, due to both a falling cost of information, and the increased competition from a more level playing ground. Power no longer rests in the hands of those with knowledge, not when knowledge has become such a public good. But it rests in the hands of those that know how to manipulate and utilize knowledge in the most value-adding manner.
The newspaper industry’s present-time struggles are partly due to inflexible and inadequate responses to the lowered entry barrier (on the supply side) and lowered valuation of its current product offerings (on the demand side). Also afflicted? Future of higher education. This is succinctly illustrated in the lament on the present course of training MBAs.
What will we sell them when the algorithmic skills we are now teaching will be available at zero marginal cost? What will we be selecting for when the preeminent source of value will be the skills involved in defining values rather than those involved in calculating the best means to achieve accepted values?
And just exactly what kind of thinkers will flourish in this new economy? You know, the ones that will lead the transition from the Age of Information to the Age of Interpretation?
These thinkers will be big- and nimble-minded enough to reason coherently about radically different cultural, metaphysical, technical, disciplinary, linguistic, and methodological perspectives; and tough-minded enough to take constructive, positive action in the face of radical inconsistency and incongruity among perspectives; to stare the future in the eyes even after realizing truth is not equivalent to certainty—and to think about the world while thinking about thinking about the world at the same time, having realized that all thoughts are fallible, but thinking itself is priceless.
Critical thinking and morality in education
I had little interest in the field of education, short of writing about the inadequacies of my own education. Then I came across Shafeen Charnia’s blog, where the shortcomings of our education systems are placed in context with much of corporate and social misdeeds.
This financial crisis has exposed, some says over-exposed (because it always has, and always will exist) corporate mis-behaviour. Executives have been called anything from greedy to immoral. Suddenly, morality found itself a central theme in the discussion of education reforms.
As a precursor to aspired characteristics such as integrity and accountability, morality is no doubt a good starting place for the future leaders and participants of civil societies. Yet one psychologist so far sees flaw in the logic, and pointed out that “true moral education encourages critical thinking and cannot be assumed to promote virtuous behavior any more than education about economics can be assumed to promote thrift.”
Many would argue that moral education should be left in the hands of the parents. But when parents fail, should the system pick up the slack? And just exactly how do we promote morality through the education system? And more importantly, should the promotion of such qualities be a part of its mandate? With a system that in some instances, still struggles to impress upon its students the basic skills of life, is the promotion of moral behaviour too much to ask?
Globalization and the right responses in education reform
American children are by no mean masters of rote learning. And nor should they be. But when it comes to talks of education reform, an overwhelming amount of focus is given to better GPAs and higher SAT scores. The end goal? The right college or university.
This is all good and well when the dissemination of knowledge is protected and monopolized by educational institutions. Those were the times when self-learning was a much more laborious and arduous journey, a journey that requires mental fortitudes not possessed by most. Going forward, perhaps outcomes will one day trump processes. Equality of information access ensures everyone gets to play. In the near future, perhaps other measures of learnedness can be created to replace the diploma-driven educational market.
Some would argue that the west cannot compete with children from countries in East Asia, where children possess higher technical skills. So let them be, and accept the challenge. Focus on molding our children into more creative, conscientious, culturally adaptable and well-rounded beings. While those societies are producing the next batch of knowledge workers, perhaps we want to charge forward and nurture the above-mentioned information “interpreters”.