Prepare for a life of 'micro-education,' says ed tech expert Maruwada

A child writes on a blackboard. Photo by: ILO / CC BY-NC-SA

DUBAI — Educators need to prepare for a coming “education revolution” that will see learners breaking from traditional models to embrace shorter spurts of education throughout their lives, according to technology expert Shankar Maruwada.

However, policymakers also need to make sure they are well equipped to manage the technology and are able to regulate and moderate this trend, he said.

Maruwada, former head of marketing for India’s biometric identification system, now runs EkStep — an open-source education platform designed to host digital tools and infrastructure to deliver primary education to 200 million children in India.

He predicted that learners will move toward shorter courses of education and lifelong learning in order to equip them for the growing “gig economy,” where more people are taking on freelance or short-term work, including through platforms such as Uber, AirBnB, and TaskRabbit, rather than being hired for a long-term position with a regular wage.

Speaking on a panel session during the two-day Global Education & Skills Forum, a Davos-style event aimed at raising the status of global education in Dubai over the weekend, Maruwada said “micro is the new mega-trend” when it comes to jobs.

He believes this employment shift will necessitate a similar transition in education, asking “if jobs go micro then can learning be far behind?”

As part of this change, “learning will be a lifelong journey as opposed to the current stage of learning being a rite of passage where you learn, then you earn and then you retire. The future will be about … lifelong cycles of learning and earning,” he suggested, and the next generation “may not have the luxury of retiring.”

The shift will also put greater emphasis on applied learning, Maruwadar said. The focus will no longer be on “what you learned or how you learned … but how you can apply what you’ve learned.”

As a result, students will start to move away from traditional education models, including four-year degree programs, and instead take short courses in order to learn specific skills they need at that time, which he described as “just in time expertise.”

These changes are part of what Maruwadar described as the “third mass revolution in education.” It does not necessarily spell bad news for teachers and educators, he said, since it will produce “way more learners, way more courses for them to learn … [and] you’ll have a lot more great teachers.”

However, problems will arise if educators, and society as a whole, fail to “catch up” with these technologically-driven changes, the Indian entrepreneur warned.

He added that while it is impossible to stop technological progress since “technology has a life of its own,” we must try to regulate the advances and make them work for society.

Referring to recent newspaper reports that data taken from Facebook profiles was used to try and influence the United States election, Maruwadar said the story is an example of “the perils of technology racing ahead of society’s ability to mediate and moderate the impact … and to create the policies, content, and surrounding physical, digital, intellectual, and social infrastructure to manage that technology.”

Speaking to Devex after the session, Maruwadar described a project EkStep is developing to create the “technology infrastructure” for online credentialing through the creation of “digital badges.” A badge could be awarded to a capable student by a professor, for example, and be posted on that student’s social media profile. These badges would then be interoperable among sites.

The Global Education & Skills Forum, which was organized by the Varkey Foundation, saw some 3,000 education advocates, ed tech developers, politicians, and celebrities gather in Dubai over the weekend for discussions, panels, and presentations on the theme of “how to prepare young people for the world of 2030 and beyond,” and address the broader problem that not only are global education goals off track, but public financing for schools is also declining.

It was also the host forum for two education prizes: The $1 million Global Teacher Prize, designed to raise the profile and status of the teaching profession; and a $75,000 prize for ed tech start-ups.

About the author

  • Sophie Edwards

    Sophie Edwards is a Reporter for Devex based in London covering global development news including global education, water and sanitation, innovative financing, the environment along with other topics. She has previously worked for NGOs, the World Bank and spent a number of years as a journalist for a regional newspaper in the U.K. She has an MA from the Institute of Development Studies and a BA from Cambridge University.

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