Robert Ahdieh: Stackable credentials will be the future, where you keep updating your knowledge and consequently adding valuable certificates to your resume throughout your career. It will be a continuously ‘going back to school’ process.
Robert Ahdieh: As the world becomes more economically interdependent, and as technology makes it truly a smaller world, the need for us to be educated – not just more educated but more globally educated – is that much more important.
Below are the excerpts from the fifth #IndiaPowerTalk by Nitin Potdar with guest speaker Robert Ahdieh, Dean, Texas A&M University. The full interview has been uploaded on the India Power Talk channel on Youtube (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2DhAk71_w5A). If you wish to use anything, please attribute to India Power Talk and Nitin Potdar.
The education industry has seen the greatest shakeup following the COVID-19 pandemic, and this has changed our mindset completely with regard to education in the future. At the same time, technology has given a great push, opening up a world of possibilities where online education is concerned. We need to take advantage of this dramatic shift in thinking and processes if we are to expedite the spread of quality education in India.
- Those who stop learning after their PhD will within 10 to 15 years be no longer viable employees, and will no longer be viable sources of knowledge. They will need to build their knowledge again so that they are prepared for the next 10 or 20 or 30 years of their working life.
- The nature of educational programs is such that because knowledge is increasingly interdisciplinary, education must likewise be interdisciplinary. Even if you are an engineer, you will need to know something about political science or law or regulation or finance.
- The world is changing fast and it is going to look very different in five to ten years. Teachers need to not only train their students for the present but also the future. That is true education.
- For India, in particular, there is an opportunity in global education because of the youth of the population, and the consequent benefits of global education in terms of job opportunities, in terms of networking opportunities and in terms of being meaningfully connected with the world.
- A huge amount of innovation and economic growth is coming from small and medium-sized enterprises and even micro-enterprises. These MSMEs should be the target for universities because they will be more receptive to quality and affordable education.
Salah-Eddine Kandri, the global head of education in his report published in the world economic forum in May 2020, observed that the current pandemic has not just shattered economies around the world but has also battered education systems in developing and developed countries. Some 1.5 billion students, close to 90 percent of all primary, secondary and tertiary learners in the world, are no longer able to physically go to schools and colleges.
The impact has been dramatic and transformative as educators scramble to put in place workable short-term solutions for remote teaching and learning, particularly in emerging markets where students and schools face additional challenges related to financing and available infrastructure.
At such a crucial time, Dean of Texas A&M University, Robert Ahdieh elaborates on the importance of US-India relations and global education. “The reality is that as the world becomes more economically interdependent, as technology makes it truly a smaller world, the need for us to be educated – not just more educated but more globally educated – is that much more important. I think for India, in particular, there is an opportunity in global education because of the youth of the population as a demographic matter, and the consequent benefits and power of or impact of more education and more global education in terms of job opportunities, in terms of networking opportunities and in terms of being meaningfully connected with the world.”
The adoption of online solutions in the recent months has been unprecedented, as Mr Khandri in his report published in the world economic forum has rightly observed, that the pandemic has been a great leveler – in a way giving all stakeholders including educators, learners, policymakers and society at large in the developed and the developing countries a better understanding of our current education systems. And more so the vulnerability and the shortcomings.
More fundamentally, COVID-19 is causing us a challenge – deep-rooted notions of how we deliver education, of the role of colleges and universities, the importance of lifelong learning and the distinction we draw between traditional and non-traditional learners.
“Those who stop learning after their Ph.D. will within 10 to 15 years be no longer viable employees, will no longer be viable sources of knowledge,” Robert predicts, “So when we think about who will be the students at Indian universities, at US universities, at my university Texas A&M University – they will increasingly be folks who have been in the workforce for five years, 10 years, sometimes even 20 and 30 years, but who are coming back to build their knowledge again so they are prepared for the next 10 and 20 and 30 years of their working life. For similar reasons, the second phenomenon in terms of where education is going is what is known as Stackable Credentials. Increasingly, the way knowledge and education looks is – one acquires a certain educational credential. It could be a certificate, it could even be just a single course or an executive education program. If that program is valuable and it opens the pathway to additional learning opportunities, I might then do another course that builds on that initial course. Now I’ve taken two courses or two certificates. Now we go beyond that and do a further one.
“The nature of educational programs is such that because knowledge is increasingly interdisciplinary, education must likewise be interdisciplinary. So to say I am a great engineer but I don’t know anything about political science or law or regulation or finance for that matter or finance exactly will not suffice.”
As a corporate lawyer myself, I fully agree with Robert. I myself have wished I had a commerce degree, along with my law degree, to help me understand the balance sheets and financials of companies. So I encourage a lot of young students these days that if you wish to become a corporate lawyer you must understand finances, you must understand balance sheets, you must most importantly understand how to market yourself.
“That’s a perfect example of turning to online education,” Robert agrees on hearing this. “Online education offers opportunities in terms of access and affordability. Texas A&M University, my law school is building programs in India and the cost of those programs will be less than half of what the cost is to earn that degree here in the United States. If knowledge is more important than ever, we need to find a way for the masses to have access to education rather than it being limited to the elite”
The accessibility, affordability, cross-border engagements and technological advances, need to be combined. Whilst we are saddened by the several deaths because of coronavirus, I see the entire education system getting rebooted virtually and that’s a great advancement.
“An industry program that says we’re just teaching you the basic stuff, we don’t want any of this mumbo-jumbo theory ultimately, is not preparing the people who are being trained for the reality that the world is going to look very different in five years and 10 years,” reasons Robert Ahdieh. “If all that I am doing in my training is teaching you what is true now rather than teaching you the questions to ask and how to prepare for that future, I’m not giving you a good education. I’m not preparing you as a good employee. So really it is the case that industry needs academia and academia needs industry in terms of programs.”
In terms of academia playing a critical role in energising SME or the small mid-sized companies, Robert reveals, “If you look at all the economic data, a huge amount of innovation and even huge amount of economic growth is not coming from the largest industries. Oftentimes it is coming from small, medium-sized enterprises and even micro-enterprises. We have a very extensive network of clinics. We call them law clinics that basically work with those who need legal services and need support for legal services but can’t afford to get them on the open market. So if we are smart as academic institutions we would do well to think about SMEs as a target audience because they in some sense may be more receptive.”
Online internships in various fields could be the need of the hour going forward, I feel, and Robert agrees. His parting words are, “I will say it’s a brave new world we are living in. If you would ask me that six months ago I would say you can do it but you can’t do it very well, but the reality is my son is 18 years old and he’s getting ready to go to college in one year. So he had all these internship plans that fell apart so quickly. He started sending some emails and making some phone calls and now he’s doing several internships and he’s never met the people in person. He talks with them on zoom, they have a google doc that they edit together. So the reality is that I think again the coronavirus in some ways has opened up people’s minds to the universe of possibility in a different way. So what I would tell young people is don’t shy away from pursuing the opportunity.”