When people speak about educational transformation, some of them put the evolution of teaching methodologies in the spotlight. This may involve technology to a greater or lesser degree, more or less emphasis on the teacher’s role, empowerment of the student, and the types of teaching materials and resources used, to mention just a few aspects. However, the true challenge in educational transformation perhaps does not depend so much on an endogenous view of educational methods and resources but instead on understanding the change of context and seeking to adapt to the transformation of society. From a very simplified historical viewpoint, the Industrial Revolution changed universities and turned them, perhaps too much, towards a role of preparation for access to the job market. From a university that was the gateway to knowledge to a different university that was the gateway to employment. That determined not only training processes and the design of curricula but also assessment and qualification processes.
Qualifications became the certificate of fitness for a job. When there was a position with too many candidates, the first filter separated out those who held a qualifying certificate and those who did not. A poor, lazy student who perhaps copied from another during an exam would pass through the first filter if he/she held the relevant university certificate signed by the King or the Dean acting in his name. Conversely, a professional with fifteen years’ experience but without the relevant university certificate could not get the job. There has to be some kind of filter, people would say. Access to qualifications was only possible through the academic route (certificates are not issued unless you enrol and go to class for a few years) and that ended up perverting the system and filling classrooms with people more eager for certificates than knowledge. Worse still, processes were aimed at obtaining the certificate.
It is perfectly possible to pass university subjects by passing an exam or handing in an assignment without having participated in any educational process or having proven critical ability or understanding. That is no longer the case for many subjects but it is still the case for a lot of others. The public sector continues to hire using qualifications as an access filter but public-sector hiring is decreasing. And in a context in which many people have qualifications, the private sector increasingly places a higher value on experience, attitude, abilities, relationship skills and personal resources to tackle a challenge or deal with a situation. However, qualifications continue to be focused on knowledge rather than skills or abilities, making qualifications obsolete. Having a qualification in chemistry does not guarantee that you will be a good chemist; nor does it have anything to do with being a good professional or a good citizen. And it may be that the current assessment systems have difficulties with assessing these aspects, so they can hardly produce qualifications confirming them.
We need increasingly hybrid models. The current challenges go beyond the limits of any discipline and we need profiles capable not only of collaborating with other knowledge areas but also of understanding them. And they must also be capable of collaborating with other cultures, other ways of doing things and other ways of understanding the world, so blending is required in technical and cultural aspects. Going beyond our European borders and relating with people from other continents and stepping past our cognitive frontiers and relating with other disciplines. A broad concept of mobility with a willingness to prove one’s worth and learn to assess it in order to attest to what one has achieved.
If we step back and look from a perspective broader than education, an organisation in any sector will only be transformed if there are actual changes in its orientation and strategy, its operations and activities, and its culture and organisational structure. A transformation cannot be undertaken unless there is a real willingness to include the three factors: why, how and with whom. Behind all this there are always people and people change out of need, rarely on a whim. A great effort is only achieved if there is a truly serious need: a threat of closure, the risk of losing your job, the appearance of a fierce competitor … There are few cases of industries that have been transformed when all of their staff have their pay and jobs guaranteed. If there is no challenge, there is no effort and if accepting the challenge is voluntary, effort will be too. The situation in the educational sector is not so serious. The majority of its members face no threat to their personal situation and the regulator imposes strong protections against the appearance of new players that can issue qualifications. This all points to a slow and smooth transformation process, which we will be talking about for a long time to come.