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Why lifelong learning is the international passport to success
The university model needs to evolve.
Picture yourself at a college graduation day, with a fresh cohort of students about to set sail for new horizons. What are they thinking while they throw their caps in the air?
What is it with this thin sheet of paper that makes it so precious? It's not only the proof of acquired knowledge but plays into the reputation game of where you were trained. Being a graduate from Harvard Law School carries that extra glitz, doesn't it? Yet take a closer look, and the diploma is the perfect ending to the modern tragedy of education.
Why? Because universities and curricula are designed along the three unities of French classical tragedy: time, action, and place. Students meet at the university campus (unity of place) for classes (unity of action) during their 20s (unity of time). This classical model has traditionally produced prestigious universities, but it is now challenged by the digitalisation of society – which allows everybody who is connected to the internet to access learning – and by the need to acquire skills in step with a fast-changing world. Universities must realise that learning in your 20s won't be enough. If technological diffusion and implementation develop faster, workers will have to constantly refresh their skills.
The university model needs to evolve. It must equip students with the right skills and knowledge to compete in a world 'where value will be derived largely from human interaction and the ability to invent and interpret things that machines cannot', as the English futurist Richard Watson puts it. By teaching foundational knowledge and up-to-date skills, universities will provide students with the future-proof skills of lifelong learning, not just get them 'job-ready'.
Some universities already play a critical role in lifelong learning as they want to keep the value of their diplomas. This new role comes with a huge set of challenges, and needs largely to be invented. One way to start this transformation process could be to go beyond the 'five-year diploma model' to adapt curricula to lifelong learning. We call this model the lifelong passport.
The Bachelor's degree could be your passport to lifelong learning. For the first few years, students would 'learn to learn' and get endowed with reasoning skills that remain with them for the rest of their lives. For instance, physics allows you to observe and rationalise the world, but also to integrate observations into models and, sometimes, models into theories or laws that can be used to make predictions. Mathematics is the language used to formulate the laws of physics or economy, and to make rigorous computations that turn into predictions. These two disciplines naturally form the foundational pillars of education in technical universities.
Recent advances in computational methods and data science push us into rethinking science and engineering. Computers increasingly become principal actors in leveraging data to formulate questions, which requires radically new ways of reasoning. Therefore, a new discipline blending computer science, programming, statistics and machine learning should be added to the traditional foundational topics of mathematics and physics. These three pillars would allow you to keep learning complex technical subjects all your life because numeracy is the foundation upon which everything else is eventually built.
According to this new model, the Master of Science (MSc) would become the first stamp in the lifelong learning journey. The MSc curriculum should prepare students for their professional career by allowing them to focus on acquiring practical skills through projects.
Those projects are then intertwined with fast-paced technical modules learned 'on-the-fly' and 'at will' depending on the nature of the project. If, for instance, your project is developing an integrated circuit, you will have to take a module on advanced concepts in microelectronics. The most critical skills will be developed before the project even starts, in the form of boot camps, while the rest can be fostered in tandem with the project, putting them to immediate use and thus providing a rich learning context.
In addition to technical capabilities, the very nature of projects develops transversal, social and entrepreneurial skills, such as design thinking, initiative taking, team leading, activity reporting or resource planning. Not only will those skills be de facto integrated into the curriculum but they will be very important to have in the future because they are difficult to automate.
In short, the new MSc diploma becomes a portfolio of accomplished projects and a list of technical skills learned in modules. This portfolio is open-ended and must be updated throughout life, as technologies and their applications change faster than ever.
After the MSc diploma is earned, there would be many more stamps of lifelong learning over the years. If universities decide to engage in this learning model, they will have to cope with many organisational challenges that might shake their unity of place and action. First, the number of students would be unpredictable. If all of a university's alumni were to become students again, cohorts would be much bigger than they are now, and it could become unsustainable for the campus in terms of both size and resources. Second, freshly graduated students would mix with professionally experienced ones. This would change the classroom dynamics, perhaps for the best. Project-based learning with a heterogeneous team reflects the reality of the professional world and could therefore be a better preparation for it.
Sound like science fiction? In many countries, part-time studying is not exceptional: on average across OECD countries, part-time students in 2016 represented 20 per cent of enrolment in tertiary education. In many countries, this share is higher and can exceed 40 per cent in Australia, New Zealand and Sweden.
If lifelong learning were to become a priority and the new norm, diplomas, just like passports, could be revalidated periodically. A time-determined revalidation would ease administration for everybody. Universities as well as employers and employees would know when they have to retrain. For instance, graduates from the year 2000 would have to come back in 2005.
This could fix the main organisational challenges for the university, but not for the learners, due to lack of time, family obligations or funds. Here, online learning might be an option because it allows you to save your 'travel time', but it has its limits. So far, none of the major employers associated with online learning platforms such as Coursera and Udacity has committed to hire or even interview graduates of their new online programmes.
Even if time were not an issue, who will pay for lifelong learning? That's the eternal debate: should it be the learner's responsibility, that of his employer, or of the state? For example, in Massachusetts, the healthcare professions require continuing education credits, which are carefully evidenced and documented. Yet the same state's lawyers don't require continuing legal education, although most lawyers do participate in it informally. One explanation is that technology is less of factor in law than it is in healthcare.
Europe has many scenarios, but the French and Swiss ones are interesting to compare. In France, every individual has a right to lifelong learning organised via a personal learning account called compte personnel de formation that is credited as you work. In Switzerland, lifelong learning is a personal responsibility and not a government one. However, employers and the state encourage continuing education either by funding parts of it or by allowing employees to attend it. A report on the future of work for the McKinsey Global Institute found that 89 per cent of companies in Switzerland in 2015 supported further training courses, and 44 per cent of all those employed by companies with at least 10 employees took part in training courses.
Universities have a fundamental role to play in this journey, and higher education is in for a change, similar to that experienced by the French classical theatre model in the 19th century. In 1830, Victor Hugo proposed a Romantic tragedy, Hernani, that would overturn the three unities. To ensure that the censors would not prohibit his play, Hugo assembled a 'romantic army' by gathering enough of a crowd for the opening night. Not only was Hernani allowed but it had 100 performances, breaking the monopoly of the old model. Just like classical theatre, the old university model produced talent and value for society. We are not advocating its abolition but rather calling for the adaptation of its characteristics to meet the needs of today.
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Certain water beetles can escape from frogs after being consumed.
- A Japanese scientist shows that some beetles can wiggle out of frog's butts after being eaten whole.
- The research suggests the beetle can get out in as little as 7 minutes.
- Most of the beetles swallowed in the experiment survived with no complications after being excreted.
In what is perhaps one of the weirdest experiments ever that comes from the category of "why did anyone need to know this?" scientists have proven that the Regimbartia attenuata beetle can climb out of a frog's butt after being eaten.
The research was carried out by Kobe University ecologist Shinji Sugiura. His team found that the majority of beetles swallowed by black-spotted pond frogs (Pelophylax nigromaculatus) used in their experiment managed to escape about 6 hours after and were perfectly fine.
"Here, I report active escape of the aquatic beetle R. attenuata from the vents of five frog species via the digestive tract," writes Sugiura in a new paper, adding "although adult beetles were easily eaten by frogs, 90 percent of swallowed beetles were excreted within six hours after being eaten and, surprisingly, were still alive."
One bug even got out in as little as 7 minutes.
Sugiura also tried putting wax on the legs of some of the beetles, preventing them from moving. These ones were not able to make it out alive, taking from 38 to 150 hours to be digested.
Naturally, as anyone would upon encountering such a story, you're wondering where's the video. Thankfully, the scientists recorded the proceedings:
The Regimbartia attenuata beetle can be found in the tropics, especially as pests in fish hatcheries. It's not the only kind of creature that can survive being swallowed. A recent study showed that snake eels are able to burrow out of the stomachs of fish using their sharp tails, only to become stuck, die, and be mummified in the gut cavity. Scientists are calling the beetle's ability the first documented "active prey escape." Usually, such travelers through the digestive tract have particular adaptations that make it possible for them to withstand extreme pH and lack of oxygen. The researchers think the beetle's trick is in inducing the frog to open a so-called "vent" controlled by the sphincter muscle.
"Individuals were always excreted head first from the frog vent, suggesting that R. attenuata stimulates the hind gut, urging the frog to defecate," explains Sugiura.
For more information, check out the study published in Current Biology.
New research from the University of Granada found that stress could help determine sex.
Stress in the modern world is generally viewed as a hindrance to a healthy life.
Indeed, excess stress is associated with numerous problems, including cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, insomnia, depression, obesity, and other conditions. While the physiological mechanisms associated with stress can be beneficial, as Kelly McGonigal points out in The Upside of Stress, the modern wellness industry is built on the foundation of stress relief.
The effects of stress on pregnant mothers is another longstanding area of research. For example, what potential negative effects do elevated levels of cortisol, epinephrine, and norepinephrine have on fetal development?
A new study, published in the Journal of Developmental Origins of Health and Disease, investigated a very specific aspect of stress on fetuses: does it affect sex? Their findings reveal that women with elevated stress are twice as likely to give birth to a girl.
For this research, the University of Granada scientists recorded the stress levels of 108 women before, during, and after conception. By testing cortisol concentration in their hair and subjecting the women to a variety of psychological tests, the researchers discovered that stress indeed influences sex. Specifically, stress made women twice as likely to deliver a baby girl.
The team points out that their research is consistent with other research that used saliva to show that stress resulted in a decreased likelihood of delivering a boy.
Maria Isabel Peralta RamírezPhoto courtesy of University of Granada
Lead author María Isabel Peralta Ramírez, a researcher at the UGR's Department of Personality, Evaluation and Psychological Treatment, says that prior research focused on stress levels leading up to and after birth. She was interested in stress's impact leading up to conception. She says:
"Specifically, our research group has shown in numerous publications how psychological stress in the mother generates a greater number of psychopathological symptoms during pregnancy: postpartum depression, a greater likelihood of assisted delivery, an increase in the time taken for lactation to commence (lactogenesis), or inferior neurodevelopment of the baby six months after birth."
While no conclusive evidence has been rendered, the research team believes that activation of the mother's endogenous stress system during conception sets the concentration of sex hormones that will be carried throughout development. As the team writes, "there is evidence that testosterone functions as a mechanism when determining the baby's sex, since the greater the prenatal stress levels, the higher the levels of female testosterone." Levels of paternal stress were not factored into this research.
Previous studies show that sperm carrying an X chromosome are better equipped to reach the egg under adverse conditions than sperm carrying the Y chromosome. Y fetuses also mature slowly and are more likely to produce complications than X fetuses. Peralta also noted that there might be more aborted male fetuses during times of early maternal stress, which would favor more girls being born under such circumstances.
In the future, Peralta and her team say an investigation into aborted fetuses should be undertaken. Right now, the research was limited to a small sample size that did not factor in a number of elements. Still, the team concludes, "the research presented here is pioneering to the extent that it links prenatal stress to the sex of newborns."
Stay in touch with Derek on Twitter and Facebook. His most recent book is "Hero's Dose: The Case For Psychedelics in Ritual and Therapy."
The world's 10 most affected countries are spending up to 59% of their GDP on the effects of violence.
- Conflict and violence cost the world more than $14 trillion a year.
- That's the equivalent of $5 a day for every person on the planet.
- Research shows that peace brings prosperity, lower inflation and more jobs.
- Just a 2% reduction in conflict would free up as much money as the global aid budget.
- Report urges governments to improve peacefulness, especially amid COVID-19.
What is the price of peace?
Or put another way, how much better off would we all be in a world where armed conflict was avoided?
To give some context, 689 million people - more than 9% of the world's population - live on less than $1.90 a day, according to World Bank figures, underscoring the potential impact peace-building activities could have.
Just over 10% of global GDP is being spent on containing, preventing and dealing with the consequences of violence. As well as the 1.4 million violent deaths each year, conflict holds back economic development, causes instability, widens inequality and erodes human capital.
Putting a price tag on peace and violence helps us see the disproportionately high amounts spent on creating and containing violent acts compared to what is spent on building resilient, productive, and peaceful societies.
—Steve Killelea, founder and executive chairman, Institute for Economics & Peace (IEP)
The cost of violence
In a report titled "The Economic Value of Peace 2021", the IEP says that for every death from violent conflict, 40 times as many people are injured. The world's 10 most affected countries are spending up to 59% of their GDP on the effects of violence.
Grounds for hope
But the picture is not all bleak. The economic impact of violence fell for the second year in a row in 2019, as parts of the world became more peaceful.
The global cost dropped by $64 billion between 2018 and 2019, even though it was still $1.2 trillion higher than in 2012.
In five regions of the world the costs increased in 2019. The biggest jump was in Central America and the Caribbean, where a rising homicide rate pushed the cost up 8.3%.
Syria, with its ongoing civil war, suffered the greatest economic impact with almost 60% of its GDP lost to conflict in 2019. That was followed by Afghanistan (50%) and South Sudan (46%).
The report makes a direct link between peace and prosperity. It says that, since 2000, countries that have become more peaceful have averaged higher GDP growth than those which have become more violent.
"This differential is significant and represents a GDP per capita that is 30% larger when compounded over a 20-year period," the report says adding that peaceful countries also have substantially lower inflation and unemployment.
"Small improvements in peace can have substantial economic benefits," it adds. "For example, a 2% reduction in the global impact of violence is roughly equivalent to all overseas development aid in 2019."
Equally, the total value of foreign direct investment globally only offsets 10% of the economic impact of violence. Authoritarian regimes lost on average 11% of GDP to the costs of violence while in democracies the cost was just 4% of GDP.
And the gap has widened over time, with democracies reducing the cost of violence by almost 16% since 2007 while in authoritarian countries it has risen by 27% over the same period.
The report uses 18 economic indicators to evaluate the cost of violence. The top three are military spending (which was $5.9 trillion globally in 2019), the cost of internal security which makes up over a third of the total at $4.9 trillion and homicide.
Peace brings prosperity
The formula also contains a multiplier effect because as peace increases, money spent containing violence can instead be used on more productive activities which drive growth and generate higher monetary and social returns.
"Substantial economic improvements are linked to improvements in peace," says the report. "Therefore, government policies should be directed to improving peacefulness, especially in a COVID-19 environment where economic activity has been subdued."
The IEP says what it terms "positive peace" is even more beneficial than "negative peace" which is simply the absence of violence or the fear of violence. Positive peace involves fostering the attitudes, institutions & structures that create and sustain peaceful societies.
The foundations of a positively peaceful society, it says, are: a well functioning government, sound business environment, acceptance of the rights of others, good relations with neighbours, free flow of information, high levels of human capital, low levels of corruption and equitable distribution of resources.
The World Economic Forum's report Mobilizing the Private Sector in Peace and Reconciliation urged companies large and small to recognise their potential to work for peace quoting the former Goldman Sachs chair, the late Peter Sutherland, who said: "Business thrives where society thrives."
The lush biodiversity of South America's rainforests is rooted in one of the most cataclysmic events that ever struck Earth.