The future of education: an open conversation where answers are still missing

December 07 2022
Institutional comunication

How do you get more people to have access to quality educational opportunities? How do you prepare "graduates who cannot be replaced by technology"? These and other topics were addressed by Camelia Ilie (Dean of INCAE) and a group of leading experts in the discussion The Future of Education, within the framework of INCAE Giving Day 2022. 

By: Juan Jose Cruz

We could not imagine a world like today without higher education. Although not all people have access to it, its impact on the development of societies is evident. But how did we get here? What challenges is facing higher education today? Are higher education institutions prepared for a future full of uncertainty and challenges? 

On the occasion of INCAE Giving Day 2022, Camelia Ilie, Dean of Executive Education and Strategic Innovation, moderated a discussion in which renowned special guests presented their positions on the challenges facing higher education in the future. The first thing that was recognized was the relentless change that came with the pandemic. Different educational trends that were already in their sights were brought forward. 

A “perfect storm of change” (the pandemic, inequality and evident learning poverty) led to new demands in the world of work. And higher education institutions cannot be left behind. With this, a great dilemma arises: is it better to give a formal university education or to emphasize professional training?

In current times, it is no longer enough to be effective and efficient, excellence and innovation are sought. In this sense, Alexandra Araujo, businesswoman and President of the National Committee of INCAE in El Salvador, recognized INCAE's incessant work to create leaders and foster in them the idea of ​​always staying educated. “Today more than ever, it is a necessity to be updated and aware of existing trends”, she specified. 

Complementing the above, Francisco Ponce, an INCAE graduate, assured that the education of the future must contribute to the creation of a more just society. This coincides with the ideas put forward by Camelia Ilie, who states that constant investment must be made in education. The reason? Only in this way can development be generated in different territories. According to her words, if you invest in new technologies and make it possible for more people to have access to educational opportunities, an important moment of sustainability could arrive. 

Due to the large number of doubts and few answers about the future of education, it is important to analyze what should be taught to students. And this does not only refer to theoretical content, but also to the skills and abilities necessary to stand out in such a competitive era. 

Ponce highlights the great work that INCAE does in transmitting knowledge about current problems to its students through the case method. Thus, teachers are not limited to sharing theoretical information; They propose an analysis methodology that students can apply in different areas. In these times, it is more important to find meaning and usefulness in what has been learned than to memorize concepts. You have to learn to learn. 

Erik Peterson, Director of the Patricia Price Peterson Foundation Honor Fund, offered an interesting response to the problems of education in the future. He believes that all the efforts currently made will bear fruit. "Although we are going through difficult times, where educational models are constantly being updated, it is possible that the students of the future will return to society what it has given for them," he stated in his speech. 

Peterson also showed great concern about the impending advancement in technology. As mentioned, many aspects related to it were several years ahead of time and took society by surprise. Unfortunately, professionals of various fields around the world have been replaced by tools, applications and even robots. There was an important displacement of human labor that many did not expect. Given this, Peterson proposes that higher education institutions evaluate their teaching methods in order to prepare "graduates who cannot be replaced by technology." 

Another problem touched on in the conversation, and which must be faced in order to facilitate the education of the future, is digitalization in students. Academic models have been drastically transformed in the last two years; They became more flexible to a certain extent and allowed thousands of students to access new knowledge without having to step foot in a classroom, studying the theoretical part in their private space and going to the classroom to share doubts, findings and learning (what is known as as “flipped classroom”). Although at first it was a useful alternative, little by little an increasingly evident problem has arisen: some students no longer want to attend schools in person, as they consider that they will not learn more than they can on the Internet. 

Faced with this question, the American academic, businessman, philanthropist and investor Harry Strachan suggested highlighting those lessons that can only be exploited in the classroom. One of them is the ability to solve problems, essential to comply with the excellence and innovation mentioned above. He also stressed the importance of teamwork and the flow of ideas. Although it sounds trite, it is the group collaboration between several minds that think differently that can resolve conflicts or creative blocks in academic or work environments. Learning in a room and in front of a monitor will never be the same as being in a classroom and with other people with the same interests. 

If all the participants in the conversation agreed on something, it is that they need to think about the student of the future as soon as possible. Although they have produced results for decades, the educational strategies of the past require a major transformation. In a sense, it is the students who now hold the reins of their education. They learned to measure their learning and what they need, value their time like never before, and appreciate collaborative environments where there is truly meaningful learning. 

Definitely, there are many alternatives to follow and few responses to such a demanding environment. Despite the existence of various educational trends, it is important to analyze which one really meets the demands of the world of work. Choosing one to favor students is not an easy thing, but you should think about what the different industries expect: people with experience, responsiveness, full of skills, and willing to transcend thanks to their knowledge.