On Educational Incubators, Self Actualization and Jobs of the Future / by Catherine Van Holder

Although the developed world has seen a triple growth in GDP, studies show no similar growth  in terms of happiness compared to previous generations. This abundance gap is stirring debate on our society's priorities, not in the least from an educational point of view. 

Our educational system dates back to a time before the Internet made knowledge a commodity. It is in essence an industrial model of education - a manufacturing model, based on linearity, conformity and batching people -, created to prepare for jobs alike. 

In those days robotization was not yet lurking around the corner and outsourcing blue & white collar jobs to the developing world was unheard of. Students were being prepared for a workforce based upon the same mechanical model the educational system was built on, with efficiency, rationality and conformity as values. The kind of algorithmic jobs that will soon become a scarcity in the developed world. 

If we want to prepare our students for tomorrow’s instead of yesterday’s jobs and life, it is in urgent need for an update. Let’s take a look at some of the trends shaping the emerging new educational model.  

Noma, once again voted 'Best Restaurant In The World' in 2014, produces chefs who have a different way of approaching cooking and how a restaurant should function. At the core are the famed Saturday Night Projects - one of the major catalysts in the restaurant’s process. Projects Night are staff-only tastings at which the chefs create and get feedback on new dishes - gatherings meant to spark creativity and sharpen chefs’ sensibilities. 

One chef from each section takes turns introducing a dish, snack, ingredient, or even an idea that they’ve spent that week working on. After each dish is introduced and explained, René Redzepi has a taste. As he deliberates over this mouthful, the others savour what’s left. The chefs praise, criticize, and offer suggestions to each other. With these comments in mind, the presenting chef will go on to improve the recipe and return next time with a new edition of it. 

According to Redzepi, Projects Night is educational, created to help transform his team from robots - human machines trained to reproduce recipes perfectly as if it were the absolute truth - into a team of intelligent, curious cooks. According to him, creativity, constant innovation and imagination are fundamental to how Noma functions and the key to it’s success.   

Lawyers. Accountants. Computer programmers. That’s what our parents encouraged us to become when we grew up. But according to Daniel Pink, Mom and Dad were wrong. The future belongs to a very different kind of person with a very different kind of mind. In his book A Whole New Mind he reveals some of the essential aptitudes on which professional success and personal fulfilment now depend. 

A few weeks back in Japan, a group of astonished journalists had the privilege to hear and see the first android presenting the news like a real TV news anchor. And this is only the beginning - it is predicted that in the near future about half of today's employment in a typical developed country will be taken over by robotics and automated in the near future. At the same time the developed world has outsourced most blue collar jobs to the developing world. White collar jobs have started to follow a similar trajectory. With facts becoming ubiquitous and algorithmic work being either outsourced or automated… logical, linear and analytical skills, although still valuable, no longer suffice for tomorrows job market. 

As Redzepi understands like no other, we need to learn how to play, detect patterns and combine the different elements into something the world didn’t know was missing. There is an abundance of quality objects and services in our developed world, which accounts for a dense competition that can only be competed with innovation. From a similar angle Steve Jobs and Apple have shown the way inlearning the importance of not only being literate in how to create objects and systems that function but also learn the ins-and-outs of design. Just like innovation, design and storytelling are important differentiators in crowded marketplaces. 


Ken Webster, head of innovation of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation points out another important shift we are seeing in the educational field. We are moving away from the emphasis on a teacher transmitting pre-determined knowledge to the student towards learning through enquiry with appropriate mentoring.  

Mass education is no longer fitted for the 21th century. The industrial world is in transition with organizations shedding their mechanical, factory mimicry towards structural networks of free agents making up complex wholes. In the workplace, the emergence of coworking offices  can be considered a great example. The number of freelance workers within the developed world is projected to outpace full-time workers by 2020. Instead of being employed within a hierarchical organized workforce, working from within cubicles; more and more projects are being handled from within temporary network subsets composed of freelance workers. 

It seems probable schools of the future might adopt a similar incubator philosophy, where pupils follow a personalized trajectory based upon their interests and passions. Learning by enquiry with appropriate mentoring in a so-called flipped classroom with active learning through discussions at school and lecturing is being replaced by independent reading. Tentative research seems to underline such a context to provide the best conditions for learning and human development. 

As Joi Ito, director of MIT Media Lab, pointed out in a recent TED talk: when innovation and creativity become an important part of the plan, navigating this world with a map won’t do, since it’s impossible to know what outcome will and should be created. There is no linear path leading to a right answer. Therefore a compass and an AGILE philosophy are needed. Educational experiments on the use of more formative evaluation - evaluation that takes place before or during a project's implementation with the aim of improving the project's' design and performance - instead of summative evaluation - focus on whether answers are right or wrong -are showing promising results. Something Redzepi seems to have understood perfectly within the context of Projects Night. 

The idea of flipped classrooms fits right in with the advent of MOOCs. A MOOC or Massive Open Online Course is an online course aimed at unlimited participation and open access via the web. In addition to traditional course materials such as videos, readings and problem sets, MOOCs provide interactive user forums that help build a community for students, professors and teaching assistants.

The first experiments with MOOCs date back to 2008, but it took until 2012 before several well-financed providers, associated with top universities, emerged - like Coursera, Udacity and edX. MOOCs are widely seen as a major part of a larger disruption innovation taking place in higher education - acclaimed to cause the same upheaval for University professors as Uber is for taxi drivers.   

But MOOCs are not the only disruptor in higher education. UnCollege, a social movement that aims to change the notion that going to college is the only path to success, was founded by Dale Stephens in 2011. UnCollege provides resources for students that wish to define their own educational paths, whether in or outside of traditional higher education models. It believes that college, while not itself adverse, needs significant changes, not in the least because of tuition rising at twice the rate of inflation. 

UnCollege features resources, forums and workshops designed to help students, both in and out of college, gain useful skills. Additionally, the site matches students with mentors and encourages students to collaborate and learn outside of the classroom.  

In a world where knowledge has become a commodity, schools main function no longer is bound to providing access to knowledge, but rather to facilitating learning and human development in a broad sense. Something Eton College, alma mater to many of the British establishment including the serving Prime Minister and the mayor of London, is very aware of.  This is why they have partnered with Emerge Venture Lab, a London-based 'edtech’ start-up accelerator with the goal of supporting educational technology. 

One type of innovative ideas that they are particularly interested in, has to do with teaching students to grow up and deal with life’s ups and downs. Something which they believe is an important aspect of their job, albeit one existing education technology startups have not yet examined in detail. 

They share their focus on the importance of personal development as a whole, rather than just seeing people as cognitive beings, with The School Of Life, an initiative by Alain de Botton and Sophie Howarth, a former curator from Tate Modern, in collaboration with a number of writers, artists and educators. The School Of Life offers a variety of programs and services concerned with how to live wisely and well, finding fulfilling work, mastering relationships, achieving calmness and understanding and changing the world. 

Another important subset of startups we are seeing emerge, like the Melon Headband, are focused on apps and tools linked to the idea of The Quantified Self. The Quantified Self is a movement to incorporate technology into data acquisition on aspects of a person's daily life - creating a feedback loop, which enables you to improve daily functioning. Melon Headband is an activity monitor for your brain that teaches you about cognitive performance. Its brainwave monitoring headband listens to the electrical activity naturally given off by your brain. Using Bluetooth, Melon connects to your phone to help you track and train several mental states, including focus, meditation and relaxation. The mobile app lets you understand how your behavior affects how you feel and teaches you how to improve. 

We are facing a shift in mindset away from a mechanical worldview and a whole new world of challenges and possibilities in regard to education - some of which we haven't even started to discuss in this article. In times of accelerated change and disruption, no one can really predict which specific jobs the future holds. What we do know, is, that if the developed world is going to continue to make a difference in this globalized world, it will have to take up these opportunities for growth, and explore and learn to create the best contexts for human development - not only to prepare people for tomorrows' jobs but to help them create meaningful lives along the way.