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Business Officer Magazine
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Change the Education Model

Keynoter Jeremy Rifkin gave a sobering and wide-ranging talk covering the relationship between global use of energy sources and the world economy, and enumerating the elements of an emerging "third industrial revolution." Given the convergence of new energy and communication tools, he urged the transformation of education from a centralized model to a distributed and collaborative experience designed to instill a sense of the shared nature of knowledge—a "biosphere consciousness."

Our current model follows a top-down, 19th-century centralized factory model, said Rifkin, an economic and social theorist, and author of The Third Industrial Revolution and other books. The teacher makes assignments; the students don't ask questions. They're taught that knowledge is power. If they share information, it's cheating. And, they're made to believe that knowledge is something you possess as an autonomous agent pursuing your own self-interest. "Learning the 'why's' of things is not as important as the 'how's,'" he said. "We do not put a premium on critical thinking."

It's a complete disconnect for children growing up with the Internet, and we have to move to a collaborative, peer-to-peer approach. In order to do that, we should:

  • Create global classrooms. Instead of maintaining a siloed system, we should open up to virtual space with Skype, and allow students to interact across cultures, narratives, and value systems.
  • Emphasize service learning. Young people participate in service learning with the purpose of creating a sense of common social capital and fostering the realization that learning is something we do between and among people. Rifkin advocates moving service learning into pedagogy.
  • Bring curriculum together across disciplines. We have to have interdisciplinary teaching, with multiple perspectives. Let students learn in cohort groups for which the teacher serves as facilitator and guide, imparting ideas while allowing students to break into groups and be responsible for their own learning.

"We need to rethink the notion of what kind of human being we're producing" with our educational system, Rifkin said.

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