Modern education: a path through challenges and transition

High schools and universities have been always balancing between the market’s orientations (with the corresponding global and regional tensions) and the need to support the national patterns of growth. There is a growing trend that the balance shall be in favor of a society’s needs while supporting educational policy’s transition in answering global challenges. Modern youth is expecting adequate and perspective education providing for the skills needed in digital and green transition. EU is already taking some actions in line with the “education’s revolution” priorities…

The benefits and advantages of modern education are the integral part of political economy and community’s needs. Without necessary changes present generation will lack sufficient and adequate to modern challenges perspective knowledge, required professions and skills. However, modern “engaged universities”, while facing educational policy’s transition (along other vital transitions in politics and economics), are placing on the university’s staff and academicians an almost unbearable task: either to break up with the trivial and common “education capitalism” or turning to the education policy that is answering urgent socio-economic needs.

Thus, a necessary educational policy’s transition shall be guided by a complex task of creating a responsible and transformative universities and high schools in line with the global sustainability goals. It is necessary that universities, argued some experts, shall perform both like “sanctums of education and research” and corporate entities that aim to “maximize revenues and take advantage of the competitiveness of spaces in which they operate”.

These and other ideas on modern education in: https://www.universityworldnews.com/post.php?story=2021101209183979

 

Educational capitalism vs. national needs

Universities’ staff and researchers are being presently channeled into entrepreneurial ventures: e.g. in most eastern and central-European states teachers are working in two-three places. Besides, generally, the “relevance” of teachers’ academic work is linked to a sort of “productivity” measured by publications in the recognized magazines and activities weighting by numerous ranking scales: the former required substantial investment (about $ 500 or even a thousand per article), the latter are created by international “education mafia” headed by representatives of the Anglo-Saxon universities; no doubt, the universities from this part of the world are “recognized” as the best in education. It is a dramatic waste of public resources by linking thousands of universities around the world into the global “circuits of knowledge” guided mainly by the western-type (mainly, the US) universities: it is enough to see the many accreditation “institutions” which stimulate only one “capitalism-type” education policy.

Hence, most national education policies are strongly connected to the existing global higher education facilities within the so-called “global circuit of education” as part of the global knowledge economy and society reflecting modern and dominating capitalist’s patterns.

The leading positions among global higher universities, according to the “self-rating” are of course the Anglo-Saxon universities: i.e. the University of Oxford in the UK, Stanford University and Harvard University in the US…

Public good knowledge learning model vs. academic capitalist knowledge learning regime in modern university’s teaching is having a strong commercial position in global education services. However, while the latter (i.e. academic capitalism) is still dominating in the world’s education market and is somehow highly valued, the research publications are in the hands of a few transnational education corporations.

If a modern university is to be responsive to the socio-economic and geopolitical needs of the respective countries, it is necessary to make “educational priorities” in national political economy in line with the perspective growth patterns, e.g. environment and nature protection/conservation, sustainable management, as well as in defined sectoral policies, such as fisheries, forestry and agriculture, to name a few – all aimed at improving peoples’ lives and wellbeing.

 

Situation in the Baltic Sea region

The awkward situation in education, to say the least, is taking place in the Baltic States: thus, Lithuania occupies 27th position among 63 countries in the IMD World Talent Ranking, while Latvia takes 33rd and Estonia 19th. However, in 2017, Latvia’s expenditure per student was two times smaller than on average across the OECD member states, according to the OECD’s annual report Education at a Glance-2020.

Three Latvian universities – the Riga Technical University (RTU), the University of Latvia and the Latvian University of Life Sciences and Technologies (LLU) – have been included in the “Times Higher Education World University Rankings-2021” by the ratings of hundreds. Thus, University of Latvia is ranked in the 601st position among 800th global high schools, while RTU and LLU are ranked among the “thousand’s group”; isn’t it a rather strange “ranking” when in the competitiveness’ index these Baltic States are among the first 30 in the world?

The examples go on: the University of Latvia has been rated second in the three Baltic States, followed by Estonian Tartu University. Also, the University of Latvia has improved its results in four out of five global categories: e.g. University of Latvia has been ranked 504th in research, 561st in international cooperation, and 564th in cooperation with industry. RTU has been recognized as the 284th best (!) university in cooperation with industry; in this category, RTU has been ranked among top-300 world’s universities for several years, and this indicator is improving. The Times Higher Education World University Rankings 2021 includes the world’s 1,527 best universities.

Source: http://www.baltic-course.com/eng/education/?doc=158889

 

European educational policy

Reforms in education policies and consequential transformation of high schools and universities have to be accelerated to prepare young people for the jobs of tomorrow in a fast-changing society, and decision-makers to be empowered for solutions reflecting modern European and global challenges. The EU’s efforts to create “European universities” represent ideas that would change traditional approaches to a nation-concentrated sphere into a continental one.

The European Commission supports the EU states in ensuring that their education systems deliver. Recent EU’s publications on education and training reflect the increasing role of education in fostering progressive and sustainable growth, inclusion and social justice. The states have made further progress towards the targets for reforming and modernising education systems the EU set for 2020, reaching or getting very close to some of them.

However, we have to remember that the EU’s policy in education and culture (as well as youth, sport, tourism, etc.) has a supplementary and supporting competence to the member states’ policies. Though, the Commission is obliged to closely watching the member states’ efforts in meeting the European targets by the states, e.g. to enable young people to become engaged communities’ members.

 

The “European University” concept

The Commission has been giving fresh impetus to above-mentioned goals: in the beginning of 2018, together with the states, the EU adopted a recommendation on promoting “European shared values in inclusive education” and the European dimension of teaching. As to the EU’s involvement, the Union institutions mainly help stimulating investment and support policy priorities in education. European inter-university campuses would be acting as role models using: a) automatic mutual recognition of studies and diplomas; b) introducing European Student Cards; and c) fostering Bologna commitment initiatives.

“European Universities’ concept” will also contribute to the sustainable economic development of the countries/regions where they are located, as their students will work closely with companies, municipal authorities, academics and researchers to find solutions to the challenges their regions are facing. However, such European universities are going to represent ambitious transnational alliances of higher education institutions aimed at developing long-term structural and strategic cooperation.

A key criterion for a “EU’s university” includes minimum of 3 higher education institutions from at least 3 member states or from other countries within Erasmus-wide program. Among key cooperation principles is following: such alliances shall be based on a joint long-term strategy for education with, where possible, links to research and innovation to drive systemic, structural and sustainable impact at all levels of their institutions.

Alliances must create a European inter-university ‘campus’, where:

= students, staff and researchers enjoy seamless mobility (physical, virtual or blended) to study, train, teach, do research, work or share services at cooperating partner institutions;

= trans-disciplinary and transnational teams of students, academics and external stakeholders tackle big issues facing Europe, such as climate protection, sustainability, democracy, publich health, big data and digitalization, migration, etc.

= students can design their own flexible curricula, leading to a European Degree;

= practical and/or work-based experience is provided to foster an entrepreneurial mind-set and develop civic engagement;

= the student councils have to reflect the social, economic and cultural diversity of the European population;

= cooperating partners in alliance have to come from different parts of the European continent.

With this European Universities’ initiative, the EU aims to foster excellence, innovation and inclusion in higher education in the member states, to accelerate transformation of education institutions into a perspective knowledge system with practical impact on structural changes with a substantial sustainable impact.

It is worth mentioning that the EU states already from the end of 2017 (and further on in October 2018) fully supported the “continental educational move”; although the EU-wide “quality education” was aimed at uniting initially about 20 European universities to push forward the establishing of a European Education Area by 2025. The concept of the “European Universities” attracted initially applications from 54 education “alliances” involving more than 300 higher education institutions from the EU states and other Erasmus+ program countries.

Thus, initially, there were created 17 so-called “European Universities” (out of 54 applications) which would act as a role model for other high schools across the EU. They will enable the next generations of students to experience Europe by studying in different countries and change EU’s higher education towards boosting excellence, competitiveness and inclusion.

 

Table: EU’s educational cooperation through history and perspectives

– October 2018 – European Commission launches 1st call to higher education institutions asking them to submit their proposals to start testing different models for European Universities;

– June 2019 – Results of the first call announced and a pilot phase for 17 alliances;

– November 2019 – First European Universities start cooperating;

– July 2020 – Results of the 2nd call announced and a pilot phase for additional 24 alliances;

– November 2020 – all 41 European Universities starting cooperating education activity; and

– During 2021-2027 – proceeding active cooperation under the new Erasmus program, in synergy with Horizon Europe and other EU research facilities.

 

The EU’s efforts in supporting national education policies

As was mentioned above, according to the division of competences between the EU institutions and the states, the education and culture policies are among the so-called supporting and supplementing activities from the EU. Thus, the Commission supports the states to improve their education systems through policy cooperation, benchmarking and funding programmes such as Erasmus+. By fostering dialogue among the states’ education authorities, the Commission helps the states in improving their education systems. On Erasmus+ see: https://ec.europa.eu/programmes/erasmus-plus/node_en

For example, the new trend is to focuses on teachers and teachers’ profession (along the so-called TALIS, i.e. the Teachers and Learning International Survey) showing teachers’ role in tackling pressing educational issues, e.g. through recommendations on an appropriate number of teachers in the national education system, and in greater policy efforts to attract the best candidates to teaching, while ensuring that they are properly trained and motivated to stay in the profession.

No doubt, the success of any education reform depends on teachers; hence the better states respond to teachers’ needs the better it is for creating a true European Education Area by 2025.

TALIS has a vital role in driving further reforms in the states’ education systems while helping to ensure that schools and universities use best and most talented teachers.

Education is high on the EU’s political agenda: working with the states, the Commission has laid the foundations of a European Education Area, which is about enhancing learning, cooperation and excellence. Several other EU programmes help stimulate investment and support policy priorities in education: e.g. the Erasmus+ program, the European Structural and Investment Funds, including the Youth Employment Initiative, as well as Horizon 2020 and the European Institute of Innovation and Technology. The Commission has proposed to significantly boost funding for young people and learning in the EU’s next long-term budget (2021-27).

On EU education see: https://ec.europa.eu/education/education-in-the-eu/european-education-area_en

 

Teacher’s profession

When it comes to investment in education, public expenditure on education in the EU has remained a vital issue; however, the member states presently invest less in education than they did before the economic crisis of 2007-08. The EU states have now almost reached their target for reducing early school leaving: yet, while the share of pupils dropping out has declined from 14.2% in 2009 to about 10 percent presently, the progress has slowed down; though the percentage of young people holding a tertiary education diploma rose from 32.3% in 2009 to over 40 percent now.

Higher educational attainment corresponds to higher employment rates among recent graduates and more significant participation in adult learning. The share of children enrolled in early childhood education rose from 90.8% in 2009 to 95.4% in 2018. While participation in education has been growing in Europe, one in five 15-year-old pupils still cannot solve simple reading, math’s and science tasks, while too many children remain at risk of educational poverty. The EU cooperation framework Education and Training 2020 (ET-2020), which was agreed by all EU states about ten years ago shows both progress in the states’ education and training policies and inclusion the “treatment of education issues” in the annual European Semester process. Besides, ET-2020 helps to identify where EU funding for education, training and skills should be targeted in the EU’s next long-term budget.

More in the EU education & training program-2020 in:

https://ec.europa.eu/education/policies/european-policy-cooperation/et2020-framework_en

 More information in the following web-links: – the Education and Training Monitor website (including EU and country-specific factsheets and infographics); – European Education Summit website; and – European Education Area website.

General link: https://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_IP-19-5729_en.htm?locale=en/ Brussels, 26 September 2019. On the 2nd EU Education Summit in: https://ec.europa.eu/education/summit_en

 

Towards “educational revolution”

Working online has inspired the education community to reassess the teacher’s role in delivering knowledge and secure student’s analytical skills. Education process has been changed since the widespread digital facilities entered students and teachers’ environment. The age-old education systems are facing dramatic challenges, a sort of “educational revolution”.

Digital revolution in education has become both apparent and practically necessary during the “social isolation” forced by the COVID-19, leading to the creation of universally accessible online courses, seminars and other contents for students. Various apps and content are supposed to greatly improve the education quality and at the same time dramatically change the operational teaching’s structures; these dynamic trends are at the same time questioning the age-old university-student connections. Numerous digital educational tools in a very quick developing mode are aimed at supporting students’ cognitive development and at the same time at increasing teachers’ abilities to provide analytical skills. Never before the students and educators have had such a distant but quite efficient ways of changing educational landscape with the digital online-education solutions which are critical to facilitating uninterrupted delivery of teaching services.

Through smart phones, PCs and tablets the teacher has entered each student’s home and even a pocket: there is no need to forcefully gathering students for a lecture or a seminar: he/she can listen the lecture’s audio-version at any convenient time. For thousand of universities there is no need to rent a lecture hall, for millions of students there is no anymore need to drive to a university at a certain time with a great relive for the public transport…

At the same time, the process of making the online lectures would select the most qualified lectures: those who tried to record their own lectures know what I am talking about…

The revolutionary part of modern education requires new approaches to educational premises and venues, as well as to organizational structure of the educational process. However, not all is clear at present: probably, the “socializing aspect” of education is at risk: e.g. students’ personal relations are being jeopardized due to restricted communications; the issue can be somehow resolved through chats, LinkedIn and other digital means. The quality of teachers is considered to be the single greatest factor within schools impacting students’ educational outcomes. European sectoral Commissioner for education and culture mentioned that investing in teachers means giving them the optimal tools to work with and recognition they deserve.

Other problems include, e.g. scheduling learning, instructions and control in reasonable balance; choosing learning resources on demand, nourishing learning ability with e-assessment, etc. All above mentioned issues are mentioned with an idea that more countries and universities would share their experience and suggestions to improve students’ active digital learning.

Global efforts have been slowly directed in the right directions since the end of the last century. However, unfortunately, the UNESCO’s “Education 2030 Agenda” adopted in 2015 did not provide any guidelines concerning the distant learning, though most of the goals are serving as a good reference tool for increasing the education quality.

More in: https://unesdoc.unesco.org/ark:/48223/pf0000245656

In line with the digital technology’s development, UNESCO launched a global education coalition to support countries in scaling up their best online learning practices; it established the UNESCO Institute for Information Technologies in Education, IITE in 1997 with the headquarters in Moscow/Russia; it is the only UNESCO institute that holds a global mandate for ICT in education. IITE has developed its strategic priority areas to meet new demands and tasks ahead. The mission of IITE in the new era is promoting the innovative use of ICT and serving as facilitator and enabler for achieving Sustainable Development Goal 4 (SDG 4) through digital solutions and best practices. More on IITE in: https://iite.unesco.org/teacher-professional-development-ict-empowered-innovative-pedagogy/ . Additional on SDG-4 teaching in: Eteris E. Teaching sustainability: modern challenges. – Lambert Acad. Publ., 2019, – 80 pp. The book can be seen in: https://www.amazon.de/s?k=Eugene+Eteris&i=english-books&ref=nb_sb_noss

 

Conclusion

Several facets have to be visualized in the modern “educational transition”, which is conquering national political economy both from within and from the educational sector itself. The former is subject to turning global and European challenges into national priorities, which a difficult endeavor as political parties are fiercely combating over budget allocations driven by electoral promises.

The latter is even more complicated: it is not just about introducing new courses and syllabuses into new teaching modules; to deliver new courses the universities have to “prepare” both new teachers and the training facilities in changing industries.

Of course, international cooperation in education is vital, but as the EU’s integrational experience has shown, it has to be mostly in the hands of states’ governance and competence: mostly national growth patterns are still at the core of efficient education policy.

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