Developing skills to keep abreast of a changing world


Artificial intelligence, robotics and new technology are bringing sweeping change to the world and according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), one in two jobs is likely to be significantly affected by automation in the next decade. As a result, the list of skills that workers and citizens need to develop in order to adapt to the changes is constantly growing, as automation gradually replaces what is still considered the bedrock of any functioning economy: human capital.

Lifelong learning is instrumental in managing this transition and safeguarding human capital.

According to data from the European Commission, 10.8 percent of 25- to 64-year-olds in the European Union’s 28 member-states participated in some form of education or training in 2016. In Greece, it was just 4 percent, against 29.6 percent in Sweden, 27.7 percent in Denmark, 26.4 percent in Finland and 24.7 percent in Iceland – the top four countries.

Two acclaimed academics spoke to Kathimerini about new trends in education and the importance of lifelong learning: Robert Kegan, from the Harvard Graduate School of Education, who was in Athens earlier this year for an education conference organized by the Costeas Geitonas School; and Allan Goodman, president of the Institute of International Education in the United States, who took part in a two-day event marking 70 years of Greek-American educational and cultural exchanges thanks to the Fulbright Foundation.

Rober Kegan: Realize more of your potential

Why is lifelong learning necessary? Is it because of changes in the labor market and the impact of artificial intelligence on the workplace?

The fundamental reason lifelong learning is necessary is so that individuals, communities, and, indeed, the human race can realize more of their potential. A caterpillar is not meant only to be a caterpillar. It has the potential to become a butterfly. Too many humans end their time on Earth without the chance to grow wings and fly. So there is a timeless and universal answer to your question. But there is also one that connects more tightly to the present moment and our current context. It is true that the coming AI revolution will transform the world of work. Every job always has a “technical load” and an “adaptive load.” In the fast-approaching future the technical load of work roles will increasingly be borne by the smart machine, meaning that human work will require more and more adaptive capacities. That requires that more and more humans be supported to continue their own development.

You claim that an adult can overcome his/her shortcomings and inhibitions. Is that not difficult for older people in particular? What is the key to success?

Real growth, at any age, means gradually separating from outgrown “truths” one comes to realize are no longer true. This is difficult at any age, but there is a research base to support the claim that, as one gets older and our “collection of truths” becomes more and more multilayered, it takes longer and longer for us to navigate these transitions.

What are the essentials of lifelong learning?

The same essentials required by youth: (1) a rich “curriculum” filled with challenges that bring you to the limits of your current capabilities; (2) a supportive community of sympathetic teachers and fellow learners; (3) time and space for regular, reliable, and sustained exposure to such a setting. We don’t send kids off to a “powerful offsite” once every quarter.

Do you believe that a school can educate its students to be open to lifelong learning? What are the relevant skills, and how can they be cultivated in secondary education?

Yes, a curriculum for youth filled with “learn to learn” skills (as opposed to merely “fund of knowledge” and “rote” orientations) is a gift that keeps on giving, long after the schooling years.

What is the role of tertiary education with regard to lifelong learning?

It could be much, much greater. Both “formal” tertiary education (undergraduate and graduate degree programs) and the much bigger arena of “informal” tertiary education (on-the-job training and learning) are, at present, realizing only a fraction of their educative potential because they too are imbalanced in their emphasis on what needs to be learned as opposed to how one learns.

Allan Goodman: International experience is key

What kind of citizens does the world need today?

No matter where you live, citizens need to think and feel at home in a globalized world and international workplace; for this reason, at the Institute of International Education (IIE), we believe that all education should include an international experience, to help people work together across borders and cultures. International experience helps students to gain knowledge of the world’s people and problems, and to develop language and cultural skills to be able to work with people from different countries and backgrounds. As Aristotle observed, “education is what builds communities,” and this is needed more than ever.

To what extent do education systems today prepare students for the challenges of the present?

Each country has its own system of education, and particularly higher education. Some systems and some individual colleges and universities have excellent programs to introduce students to a global perspective, whether it is through international travel and learning or through global partnerships and programs on their own campuses. Because every campus and education system is different, we encourage all countries and institutions to support and take part in educational exchanges, to provide exposure to different perspectives and encourage joint research and collaboration to address shared problems. We believe that international education programs and student and faculty exchanges help to build more peaceful and equitable societies by advancing scholarship, building economies and promoting access to opportunity. This is the power of international education.

We constantly talk about the need for change, transformation etc. Is it a kind of compulsion? What is the value in life of pausing and reflecting?

Pausing and reflecting are an important part of education. However, the world is constantly changing, and we believe that education should prepare students and citizens to be able to adapt to the current and future environment they will face in their personal and professional lives. Polytropos is as needed today just as much as it was in Homer’s time.

The Fulbright Foundation anniversary event was titled “Redesigning Education Systems: From Theory to Practice.” What are the keys to the correct practical implementation of the necessary changes?

The best education teaches today’s students how to be flexible and open in their thinking, and learn to work with people who come from different backgrounds and cultures. International experience is an important part of being prepared to live and work in today’s world. IIE has a Center for International Partnerships, and we have helped campuses in the United States to connect with colleagues and campuses in many different countries. Partnerships and collaborative research, as well as sharing knowledge and skills such as expertise in curriculum development, can help education in all systems to adapt and evolve so they can prepare their students to face today’s challenges and thrive in a global workforce.

We also believe in reconnecting the diaspora to their country of origin. So thanks to the Stavros Niarchos Foundation for providing a grant for the Greek Diaspora Fellowship Program (GDFP) to the IIE in collaboration with the Fulbright Foundation in Greece. GDFP is a scholar exchange program in which Greek-born scholars are hosted by Greek universities in the areas of collaborative research, curriculum co-development, or graduate student teaching and mentoring. This program has helped to create collaborative, mutually beneficial engagements between Greek and North American academics and universities.

What does “The Odyssey” teach us about Fulbright?

As far as I know, Homer has given us the first account of the transformative process of study abroad. For many, like Odysseus, it is not initially a willing journey. Nor for his son Telemachus who goes in search of his father. Both needed a push and a mentor. Mentor, of course, is the form Athena takes when she counsels each. Odysseus “learns the minds of many distant people,” or as another Odysseus (Elytis, who was also a State Department grantee), put it when he accepted the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1979, the importance of following “an open path… towards that which surpasses us.” Seeking and acquiring that kind of knowledge is perhaps more important than ever, as the world we share becomes more polarized. It is also key to mutual understanding since it places a high value on opening one’s own mind to different ways of reacting and thinking. Indeed, as knowledge becomes so specialized, and often confined to a single campus, city, or country, both poets remind us that we should seek it expansively and in all its differences. And that to have minds open to the world, you cannot do this by staying home or glued to an iPhone.