World without Borders: Professors from Various Countries Speak about Education Today

What are the pitfalls of modern education? How does it differ from education existing a couple of decades ago? Which professions will ensure success in the future? Asel Baltabayeva, contributor to Manshuq, talked to professors from around the world about this.
By Asel Baltabayeva

January 21st, 2022

Ilana Chefetz

Ilana Chefetz

Professor from Israel. Now she is also Leader of Cancer Stem Cells and Necroptosis cancer research lab at The Hormel Institute, University of Minnesota, the USA
A lot is becoming and will become available online. In recent decades, we have gained an undoubted advantage, i.e., the ability to keep in touch, share information and exchange certain expertise with people even from the most remote places of the world. Whereas some time ago it was necessary to stay in the so-called privileged places of the planet (for example, in Boston, Massachusetts, where top universities and research centres are concentrated) in order to have access to the select information, today the geographic boundaries are erased in many respects. 

This can be especially important for those who reside in distant areas geographically
I would like to note another major advantage of the modern world, which shifts many educational processes to the online mode; this is a possibility of customising or tailoring any educational process and making an individual curriculum for each student based on his or her interests and aspirations. There is no need to attend courses that used to be part of a cumbersome compulsory curriculum, but were not interesting or useful for students. Undoubtedly, certain important aspects, such as human contact, are lost, but I think that advantages outweigh disadvantages considerably.

Of course, future development will depend on the sphere. In my area, for example, you need to be present physically in a laboratory to carry out research and experiments.

As a woman in science, I combine professional activities with personal life. I merge one with the other. For example, when I brought my youngest daughter to see a doctor in another city, I took this opportunity and met a colleague working in that city. I could bring my children with me to a business meeting or conference. Of course, as children they sometimes made noise or started playing at the wrong time. I have no doubt that there were people who judged me and considered me "unprofessional”. This is not true, none of this makes you any less professional. It is important to know this and not to pay attention to those who disagree.

As for the choice of the profession of the future, I can advise only this: follow your passion
Choose an area which you are keen on and which motivates you. In difficult times, it is your motivation that will help you move forward and overcome challenges along the way. Make a plan, set a goal and move towards it step by step, regardless of any obstacles or distractions. 

professions, education, professions of the future, knowledge, motivation
As for skills that will be in demand in the future: identify and develop your strengths and build your career on them. At the age of 15, I emigrated from Belarus to Israel. After receiving my PhD degree from a leading Israeli technical university, I was invited to Yale University to continue my scientific and academic work. Today I pursue my academic career in the United States. I think this experience gives me a lot of competitive advantages, as I had a chance to absorb all the best from different cultures. In addition, this develops adaptability and resilience. These skills will always be in high demand.

Sue Ollerenshaw

Sue Ollerenshaw

Professor from Preston, England. She taught English for Academic Purposes (EAP). Now she teaches Art and Design to non-native English speakers. 
Last year, the pandemic moved the entire world to virtual classrooms. Now we can all teach and learn remotely. I am a living example of this: I am currently in the UK, my school is in New Zealand and my students live in China! This is great because I can fully control the way I can communicate information. I can use audio and video recordings of lectures and teach students in their own homes, even if they cannot physically attend a class. But there is also a drawback: I cannot effectively control their answers and monitor the actual level of knowledge assimilation in my classes. The students seem to be very distant and we lack personal contact.

Modern technology has enabled students and teachers to work digitally. During study, interactive technology helps students to work together. For example, Google Docs allows participants to comment and create a common content on the screen in real time.

In the last decade, the learning process has been focused more on group work: students work in groups to achieve a common goal or find a solution to a problem. The process now implies less memorisation and more problem-solving, that is, finding a solution to a specific problem.

Today, students are treated as responsible adults
They are expected to take responsibility for their own learning and develop their own ideas and projects. The model of learning by doing, that is, to learn in practice, has become common. That outdated model when students are given ready materials and explained what they need to do, becomes a thing of the past.

I have many years’ experience in teaching at colleges and universities in China and New Zealand. I want to point out that traditional teaching methods are still popular in China, even though the application of technology has grown many times (especially during the pandemic). Students are also very different from their peers in New Zealand. They are very passive, they expect teachers to give them all the information, and do not think for themselves. In such a system teachers apply autocratic approach and are believed to be fully responsible for students’ learning. In New Zealand, students are accustomed to individual work and take on more responsibility. Students in this country are more interested in their work and generate more ideas.

I think there will be more online learning along with offline workshops in the future. Educational research shows that lectures are ineffective for learning as students remain passive. The advantage of recorded lectures is in allowing students to watch them at their own comfortable pace. I think that a flipped learning model, where materials are delivered to students digitally and then they have an offline workshop to work together with teachers, will still be applied. The content is delivered to students as recordings, while workshops are more interactive.

As for professions and skills of the future, I suppose that there will be a high demand for well-rounded employees who are able to adapt to constantly changing conditions and situations

They will need to be able to find and implement solutions to problems. People also don't need to limit their skills to one specialisation only. Many design students, for example, do not want to work as designers but prefer working in the industry where they can be involved in one division of an organisation, but also move between different departments and change roles as needed. 

Patrick Micheal Whittle (on the left) and Sue Ollerenshaw (on the right)
For such areas as medicine where deep knowledge is required, university education will be only the beginning of learning and will be rather general. When they start working, they already continue their ongoing learning. And it will be necessary to learn constantly in order to become a specialist in a particular field.

I advise young people who choose a profession of their future to focus on what they are interested in most. I know many people of my age who chose a profession that they had considered to be most profitable, and found out that they did not like the job; they later retrained to do what they liked best. 

Also remember that a university degree is just a beginning of your education. 
If I could give one piece of advice to students, it would be this: be an active learner. Find your own answers and don't expect the teacher to give you the perfect ready-made solution. Also, don't be afraid to question the "correct" answers. There are a lot of ways to solve a problem. Do what you are keen on, not what you think is expected of you.

Patrick Michael Whittle

Patrick Michael Whittle

Professor from Christchurch (New Zealand). Patrick taught humanities and social sciences in universities of New Zealand and China, and Nazarbayev University 
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, online and distance learning has suddenly become compulsory and was imposed on universities and schools. Of course, there was a significant shift of teaching / learning to an online mode in the past, and more and more materials were already available on the Internet. But the pandemic literally forced educational institutions to transform in no time. Now the main question is whether this is a permanent change or if we will return to the status quo that existed before COVID-19.

The advantage of online classes is that students can access the materials at any time. The main drawback, in my opinion, is that students lose social contact with other students and their teachers. I suppose that in the future we will have a kind of "a blend” or a hybrid of traditional classroom education and online courses.

The processes that have been taking place in universities in recent years are very similar to what happened to business around the world. Work has become online, and office workers, like students, work remotely. It is difficult to predict how radical these changes will be and how long they will take place. It is noteworthy that students who started their education during the coronavirus crisis had a very different experience than students in the past. In particular, they missed many of the most important social aspects of studying in university. It is too early to say how this will affect students in the long term. In offices managers are concerned that their employees will not have an opportunity of sharing ideas and working together if they work only from home. This is probably true for students as well.

Technology often appears to be more disruptive than it actually is
Today, students still perform the same tasks and do the same things that students have always done (conducting research and writing essays). Modern technology allows easy access to information, but creates a new challenge with processing all this information. Besides, students (and their parents) have certain expectations about what a university education should be like. This includes a lot of traditional forms, such as lectures, workshops, library studies and exams.

It is always very difficult to predict what impact new technology will have on the world and how soon it will happen. For example, just a few years ago, driverless cars were predicted to become a job killer in the very near future. But the technology turned out to be not as simple as expected. The development of online shopping and the growth in online purchases mean that more drivers will be needed, not less. At the same time, it seems certain that we will need more people in the service sector and healthcare.

That means that we still need people, not machines, who are able to interact with other people and establish personal contact
As for future careers, my advice will be the same as always: do what you are keen on, because you will get a lot more from learning what you really enjoy. What is needed today is the ability to be flexible and creative. This also means that you can have a lot of career options, no matter what your major in university is. If I could give one piece of advice to students today, it would be this: study hard, but don’t forget to have fun in the process!

Illustrations: Aziza Kireyeva

Photographs have been provided by heroes of an article

This project is supported by a grant provided by the U.S. Embassy in Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan. All opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the U.S. Government or the U.S. Mission to Kazakhstan.

Данный проект реализуется с помощью гранта от Посольства США в Нур-Султане, Казахстан. Мнения, выраженные в материалах, принадлежат их авторам и не обязательно отражают точку зрения Правительства США или Дипломатической Миссии США в Казахстане.


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