Saturday, November 23, 2019

Universities can’t avoid technological disruption

Jan 04. 2019
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By The Nation

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For the sake of students and the country’s wellbeing, educators have to seize every chance to improve

Thai educators are going to have to quickly adapt to the dizzying advances in technology and recognise the promise it holds for their future and that of students and the country.

As it is, they’re spending too much time worrying about possible negative impacts on their profession, chiefly job insecurity. Even if such a threat exists and even if it’s serious, the stakes are too high to resist technological change. Meanwhile fewer high-school graduates than ever are carrying on to university, lured instead by the clear and substantial potential of digital startups and similar alternatives.

In countries around the world, declining birth rates are combining with technological disruption to unbalance the workforce. For institutes of higher learning, the former business model no longer holds. Classroom seats are sitting empty, the overwhelming demand from student applicants abating. We’re seeing a “buyer’s market” for kids coming out of secondary schools, who can pick and choose among programmes.

It’s admirable that young people today attach less importance to how prestigious a university is and instead look for schools that directly fit their personal passions and goals and can best equip them with the knowledge and skills they need. Some universities are feeling the pinch as a result. But, even if there’s less profit for now, constantly improving technology holds the key to the future. 

With online learning becoming steadily more effective and popular, geographical remoteness is no longer a bar to good education. 

Rural children shouldn’t have to shift to the cities to pursue higher learning – if they have an Internet connection and a laptop at home, the school can come to them.

At endless forums on the future of universities, the word “challenges” is commonly heard, but it’s misleading because it implies some sort of existential threat. The only perceivable threat is to the universities’ profit margins, whereas their core reason for existing, which is the proliferation of knowledge, can benefit enormously from the new technology. Educators need to see “promise” in place of “challenge”.

Technological advances cannot be resisted or subverted. There is no “get-around”. If online learning holds the promise of educating more people, and educating the populace better, then that is the obvious goal everyone should be sharing. If offering courses online is less profitable, then so be it. If technology enables knowledgeable instructors who are not conventionally accredited to educate others, it should be welcomed and encouraged. The university business model simply has to fall in line with technology and assign top priority to students’ needs, not commercial gain.

Technology has cut a disruptive path through the newspaper business, gutting revenue from print editions, but at the same time it’s given people unprecedented access to more news. Technology brought severe drought to television stations, shrinking advertising income, but it’s been a boon to fans of TV shows, especially the soap operas – they can watch their favourites online using a variety of apps.

This is, in the final analysis, a wonderful time to be a student. The new technology ensures a flow of knowledge more rapid than anything seen before. On that basis they can follow their dreams. Universities must support that. The children have adapted and now it’s the schools’ turn.

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