University

The Future of Higher Education, post COVID-19

In conversation with Craig V. Johnson, Co-Founder of Global Institute for Lifelong Empowerment (GiLE)

In this article, we interview Craig V. Johnson, Co-Founder of GiLE – a Budapest-based foundation that’s focussed on the global education sector and developing students’ interpersonal skills. Mr. Johnson hosts GiLE’s webinar series on the future of higher education. He is constantly searching for potential collaborators, as well as expert guests to participate in thought-provoking webinars and podcast interviews. The next webinar will take place on the 25th of May 2020, 7-8 pm (CEST).

What motivated you to join forces with Dr. Judit Beke and establish GiLE Foundation?

The decision to establish GiLE Foundation was a no-brainer for me. There is a global skills crisis and I made a conscious decision to not simply be another observer, but rather someone who is at the forefront and is part of the global solution. I want to use my gifts and experience to accelerate change in the global education system. On the back of this, there are various reasons why Judit and I decided to team up. Most importantly, we share the same passion for empowering young people with meaningful opportunities to develop themselves. We also have a history of organizing successful programs and scientific conferences together. I think that our differences can create synergies and Judit sometimes brings a completely different perspective and approach. As they say, if everyone is thinking the same way, then somebody isn’t thinking.

What changes do you want to bring to the education sector?

Well, as a point of departure, I want to inspire all stakeholders in education to simply do more at a grassroots level to ensure that learning environments are fit-for-purpose for the 21st century. The world is changing at a dizzying speed, and global research supports the popular opinion that the traditional factory model of educating students is obsolete. The writings have been on the wall for a long time now. I would like to see education institutions allocating greater weight in the curriculum to developing all kinds of interpersonal skills and digital skills. In fact, I think these aspects should be standard across all courses and fields of study. I also believe that educators require a lot more support. They urgently need to be upskilled and reskilled so that they can better manage digital distractions in the classroom and so that they can implement best practices when it comes to digital learning methodologies, for example.

What exactly are interpersonal skills and why are they so important?

They are the social skills that you require in order to connect and interact with people in a meaningful way. They are sometimes referred to as soft skills, social intelligence or even human-centric skills. The last naming convention nicely invokes the dichotomy between humans and robots. Global research clearly indicates that future workplaces will be dominated by automation, artificial intelligence, and machine learning. So, in that sense, it’s the human-centric skills (i.e. interpersonal skills) that will ultimately land you the job – the skills that robots will not be able to do in the future.
To give you concrete examples, these are things such as emotional intelligence, empathy,
communication skills, adaptability and change management, leadership skills, stress management, and many others. Developing these skills are important for young people if they want to future-proof their career, improve their employability, and develop their self-awareness. I think many students don’t really grasp the significance of interpersonal skills, and the frightening reality is that their (in-person) social interactions are constantly being undermined by digital distractions, be it in the classroom or elsewhere, as they are continuously glued to their screens. Plus, I am a living testament and a huge beneficiary of soft skills training. I’ve continuously experienced first-hand just how valuable it is to have these skills for your career.

What is your take on COVID-19 and the future of higher education?

I think later down the line when we all look back at this period, only then will we truly realize what a gift this pandemic has been for the entire education sector. As I see it, there has largely been a global absence of political will to accelerate the modernization of the education sector. I also think there has been a clear stubbornness on the part of educational institutions to implement best practices on the ground. The worldwide scramble to implement distant learning has been very interesting to observe, and I also think it’s a big mistake to confuse online learning with emergency remote learning. This pandemic certainly exacerbated the inequalities in the global education system and many educators didn’t receive the required support during this whole transition. With regards to online learning, many students and pupils are essentially locked out of the digital
classroom because they don’t have the means to go online from home. All in all, I am still optimistic that there will be more global progress going forward when it comes to modernizing the education sector, providing additional support to educators, and also addressing some of the digital divisions that we are still witnessing during this pandemic.

What is the aim of your webinar on the future of higher education?

GiLE actually publishes articles, podcast interviews and webinars that are all focussed on the future of education. The intention behind the webinar is to extract meaningful insights from experts in the education sector and to provide the audience, particularly students, with the opportunity to engage them directly. I believe that young people should be part of the dialogue as well as the solution. The world has enough observers. We need more people to take action so that we can collectively navigate our way through all these challenges within the education sector.

Besides interpersonal skills and digital skills, what other areas do you personally think education institutions should focus on?

Well, based upon my own reflections and research, I’d say that there is a serious need for all education institutions and courses to integrate media literacy education and studies on identity and social constructs. The former is important because people need the tools to think critically about the news and media that we all consume on a daily basis, especially via social media platforms. We are arguably living in a post-truth world where disinformation, fake news and filter bubbles continuously cause more harm and create more divisions in society. When it comes to identity studies, I believe that people need to realise, on a very deep level, that who they think they are is just a consequence
of many arbitrary man-made constructs, that’s typically packaged together and called “culture”.
Many people struggle with identity throughout their entire lives, which also gives credence to the idea that young people should be nurtured to think critically about dogmas and aspects such as race, religion, nationality and sexuality for example. These social constructs need to be deconstructed, in an objective manner.

If you would like to get in touch with Mr. Johnson, then you can contact him on the following email:
Craig.Johnson@gile-edu.org

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