Educate, innovate, create
(The Philippine Star) - February 7, 2016 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - “Technical knowledge is just the beginning of innovation,” said Leland Stanford, founder of Stanford University, more than a century ago. The vision of Stanford led to Stanford University’s becoming the center of innovation in the fields of science and technology and to what is now called Silicon Valley.

But technical knowledge leading to innovation needs a strong foundation in the sciences and mathematics in basic education.

Innovation has become the buzzword in the two related worlds of business and education. Innovation creates new products which, in turn, create new businesses. And business provides jobs.

It is the right kind of education that prepares people to innovate or to function productively in their jobs, whether in manufacturing, finance, law, agriculture, science, engineering or technology (now needed in most services).

Without innovative thinkers, there cannot be new processes such as 3D, new procedures such as medical surgeries, or new products such as android phones or LED TVs to address evolving consumer needs and expectations, to meet new challenges brought by extensive urbanization or by the world’s growing population in a world of limited resources, to cure complex diseases that can easily become pandemics through travel, or to compete globally in a world where movements of people, products and capital happen every minute.

Innovations in the fields of science and technology started decades ago with the mapping of the human genome and the invention of the Internet. These led to the expansion of the role of genetics in medicine, to the development of the Internet and digitization that has made communication faster and wider, and to the development of nanotechnology that has made mobile gadgets smaller and faster and that also has made possible the implantation of medical micro-devices in one’s body. These further spawn more innovative products that continuously change how we live and function.

One need not look far in the area of individual consumer needs. Nokia, the ubiquitous mobile phone 10 years ago, has been replaced by Samsung as the latter moved on to the touch screen and to a more advanced phone which functions as a text and talk gadget, a computer, an alarm clock, a notebook, a camcorder, a photo album, a record player and even a flashlight!

YouTube and Google have replaced the usual audio-visual aids, the libraries and archives for documentary films on reels or videotapes and the multi-volume encyclopedia. 

Countries all over the world today face a wider array of challenges: environmental concerns such as stronger typhoons, more severe flooding, growing disease-bearing insect populations or extinction of certain species; health concerns brought by pandemics from new viral strains, aging population concerns brought about ironically by longevity due to better nutrition and medicine. All these will need experts in science and technology to solve the issues in the way solar, wind and ocean energy are now the alternative to fossil fuels.

With the large volume and the dizzying velocity of knowledge being generated every day, and with the growing speed of the Internet, a person’s technical knowledge can be outdated within three years.  It has also been said that “what can be connected will be connected.” From jet engines and cars to home appliances, Internet-enabled machines allow for unlimited connectivity.  Therefore if a child does not learn how to study independently early on in his youth, he will have a hard time coping with the fast moving changes in his field of training or in the way the world around him works. This is why the business world has sounded the alarm for educational institutions – that jobs get obsolete because skills become obsolete. Skills become obsolete when a new software or technology take over the process or task that a trained individual did in the past.

Job requirements evolve due to new technology. And it is not seldom that the right person to do the job cannot be found. Business leaders describe this labor market development as a mismatch between job requirements and educational training.  Or is it rather that the schools are behind in their curricula or are not applying the right methodology in the way they teach students for jobs in the 21st century?

Any teacher aware of all that is happening will readily reach the conclusion that it is becoming imperative to teach more creatively and to develop skills as well as their intellectual curiosity so students can level up their skills and keep up with changes – a big challenge when a class is big.

Thus the Department of Education is now strongly pushing horizontal learning – multi-disciplinary learning or learning across subjects – as a solution to developing multi-skills in the midst of constant change and to develop innovative thinking in the classroom.

This is not really a new approach. It has been used by many teachers in various disciplines for the past half century. In the field of arts for instance, one cannot enjoy a novel unless he knows the context – the history of the setting, its social environment, the national political atmosphere and other social or cultural factors in place. In effect, the reader can learn about a place or a period in history through literature, thus enriching his lessons in history, sociology and the arts.

These days, a class in robotics trains grade 8 to 10 students to connect knowledge in general science, physics and computer science. The Internet and digital-related jobs now growing in demand require good foundation in those disciplines.

There are  schools which, aside from worrying about enrollment numbers and survival, now spend time and precious resources to implement horizontal learning and to deepen the substance of knowledge more than before: i.e., improving teaching skills in imparting knowledge, the so-called “knowledge transfer,” to develop a child’s ability to do independent learning and develop lifelong learning skills.

The challenge for innovation may perhaps be better addressed by small schools like Pax et Lumen International Academy. It was established in Angeles City within the context of “the new normal” brought by climate change and technological leaps. It continues to work on getting the right mix of subjects under a basic concept: that strengthening the academic skills of young children in science and math will prepare them for any profession and, more importantly, to adjust to any job.

Its administrators know that an average student who will not study for a specific profession (and perhaps even those with a definite profession) will face the probability of moving into more than three jobs or taking over more than five functions in a particular job in the future. Developing nimble skills and acquiring the ability to learn outside the classroom environment  have always been a goal of teaching.

Pax et Lumen administrators take it as a certainty that more and more of the jobs of the future will not be similar to what they were at the beginning of the 21st century, and that young students now should learn how to build on their thinking and evaluation skills as they prepare to take on the yet-to-be-known jobs or functions in the future.

Pax et Lumen’s teachers are taught that everything that a student learns at a particular grade level is to be connected to the previous and upper grades. Innovation and creativity take root when a child develops the intellectual habit of “connecting the dots.” Moreover, if students are taught early in their basic learning years to connect concepts in one lesson with those in other lessons, then these students will see that the universe and the world are held together by unifying principles and physical laws.

In thus learning and discovering through the years that the whole world is connected in its natural laws and that man is interconnected with his fellow beings and Nature in the cycle of birth, death and re-birth, the maturing students will develop not just a working knowledge on how nature works but how these principles and laws can be put to good use to benefit mankind. Somewhere along the way,   the maturing child could hopefully and ultimately also develop an awe towards the process of creation, a deep respect for the sacredness of God’s creation and a connection with the Creator. Then a child’s soul can sing: “How great Thou art!”

Perhaps, hopefully, parents who believe in a child’s learning in small classes will see their children become productive global citizens contributing to the planet’s   sustainability and the well-being of their fellowmen  instead of just becoming mere consumers who can afford new products  produced out of the earth’s limited resources.

ACIRC ANGELES CITY JOBS KNOWLEDGE LEARNING LELAND STANFORD NBSP NEW SKILLS STANFORD UNIVERSITY WORLD
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