A Discourse on Education, Our Future


The Fourth Industrial Revolution triggers transformation in education – Key capabilities of next generation

“When I was at school, there were many rules telling us what we should and should not do. We’ve all been told that sticking to those rules was the right thing to do. Then, when you apply for jobs, they say they seek after creative talents. Imagine how you would feel when you’ve just come out of a disciplined life in monastery, and you are faced with a question, “So, why are you nothing like Steve Jobs?”  (Excerpt from a counselling memo of a non-for-profit youth counselling center)

An experienced youth counsellor Jae Yeol Jang introduces the above comment from a student in his column. A typical Korean student will have their first experience of writing a cover letter or any type of a self-introductory letter in senior years in high school or near the graduation of college. There seem to be many students who feel baffled at the item of “Your experience of tackling a challenging project with creative ideas.” How would our public education system answer if it is confronted by a question from students asking, “We’ve never had the experience of doing anything with creativity. Why do you expect us to be creative, all of a sudden?”

So far, it has been “faster followers” who have influenced and led the development of Korean society. These “faster followers” excel in memorizing a vast amount of information spending hours sitting in front of a desk. The days of this type of leaders are over. They will no longer be able to take the dominant position they used to have or even worse, their value will plummet rapidly. The near upcoming future characterized by the Fourth Industrial Revolution and life with A.I. will be utterly different from any kind of distant future that mankind has experienced so far. Consequently, we no longer require “faster followers” but “first movers” who can flexibly adapt to the new, unpredictable environment with open, teachable attitude. Now is the time that we should put some serious thoughts on whether our current education system is capable of nurturing such talents.

Driving innovation in future education, proposing alternatives

In a ZER01NE seminar, pioneers who have already wrestled with the above questions got together and exchanged their ideas and solutions on the transformation in education triggered by the Fourth Industrial Revolution and the future direction for the education.

Minerva School, the unprecedented innovation in global higher education

“The students of Minerva School relocate to a different city every semester. They have dormitories in San Francisco, Seoul, Hyderabad, Berlin, Buenos Aires, London and Taipei. For other facilities, we utilize what each city offers. In this way, students can learn how to become a proper global citizen as a student, a resident and a traveler in each city.” (Eun Jeong Kim /Minerva School City Experience Manager)

Minerva School, started in 2014, is currently the hottest college in the limelight worldwide. The school runs under the principle of unlimited enrollment, “When there are many outstanding applicants, we will take them all.” However, the proportion of getting admission is less than 2% with the highly competitive rate exceeding 100:1, applications flooding from all over the world. It truly is a college harder to be accepted than the prestigious Harvard University or MIT. With its short history of 7 years, Minerva managed to rapidly spread its reputation, faster and more extensively than Ivy League universities with long-standing tradition. The School has no campus, classrooms or a library. Apart from the dormitories in 7 major cities across the globe, Minerva School has no physical facilities for students and the faculty.

Classes are run with 100% online lectures utilizing a bespoke platform developed by the School. During the lecture, the length of a speech by a lecturer is limited to 4 minutes and through the platform, the presentation and communication capabilities, validity of the reasoning and even the length and proportion of the comments can be checked via the platform. The system is trained in such a way that the right type of questions are given at the right timing, to the right student in balance.  

There are limitations and drawbacks of online lectures such as deterioration in concentration. However, Jun Young, a sophomore student of Minerva School emphasizes that he has never had such problems so far during the online course. Rather, he talks about the tremendous sense of tension and focus which he has never experienced in offline classrooms. You could get up 1 minute before the lecture for 9AM class in the morning, but you have to be thoroughly prepared with the flipped learning method in advance. Professors and classmates will bombard the class with unending series of creative, unpredictable questions and anybody can click “dislike” to evaluate my answers. You have to pay full attention during the class. Otherwise, you will regret over your scores announced after every class.  

From natural sciences to social sciences, management, arts, humanities and computer science, students set their own goals in a wide range of areas and they have the opportunity of learning as a student and living as a global citizen at the same time. They carry out projects, internships and research linked with various corporations and organizations and study how their outcomes can be applied creatively to society.

Ben Nelson, an entrepreneur who founded the Minerva School to transform the educational paradigm, said that the Minerva School, a completely new type of school, does not altogether reject the existing educational system. He analyzes that the reason for the failure of the past education reforms is that they attempted to draw attention solely by overthrowing the conventional system. Minerva School is an officially certified educational institution that is equipped with all the basics required by the US government and their degrees are properly accredited after graduation. He asserts that what matters is not creating something out of nothing but coming up with a better system that can converge with the existing system. He added that “Countries like Korea will experience even faster pace of reform compared to the ones with less interest in education.”

Convergence of technology and society in creative education, Department of Creative IT Engineering, POSTECH 

As Ben Nelson said, new models for future education are actively introduced in Korea, and POSTECH takes the center stage among these models. Many of Korean IT companies now have the position as a leader in their field after spending many years as “faster followers”. There are not many exemplary companies left to follow but now is the time for these Korean companies to pave and lead the way.

The Department of Creative IT Engineering (hereinafter CITE) was newly established in 2011 in accordance with the demands at the time for the need of nurturing creative talents capable of convergent thinking to lead a new future ahead. Convergence is a product of creativity. Unlike the era of Industrial Revolution in which a repetitive mass production was a norm, this era of Fourth Industrial Revolution is bound to focus on the convergent thinking which is able to derive a new solution by combining existing ones.    

Professor Kim, Jin Taek of the Center for Value Design Research at POSTECH argues that convergent thinking should be based on convergent education. Unlike other universities whose curriculum is set according to their major by grade, the students at CITE set their own research themes and design curriculums accordingly. If it is necessary for research, they can take lessons in electrical engineering, mechanical engineering and physics as well as the ones at CITE, all of which are accepted as major credits.

Many of the resulting products derived from creative IT design, one of the main classes at CITE, such as voice-to-text conversion service for the hearing-impaired, and portable 3D distance-measurement device are already in the market or in the process of commercialization.
The education system at CITE allowed the students to become movers, not followers upon their graduation. The First movers with their own innovative outcomes in their hand. Regardless of the actual value of the outcomes, it seems clear that they will serve as more powerful and effective way of saying who they are than a few sheets of CVs and cover letters.

Social Design School MIJHAENG, a school for the future that connects, communicates with and designs our society

The previous two examples were the cases of successful realization among many alternatives for the future education. Social Design School MIJHAENG is a new school that just started to take steps along with the flow of innovation. Architect Shin, Hye Won and literary critic Ham, Don Gyun shared mutual understanding in their quest for an alternative which arose from their critical minds and perspectives on Korean education. Their joint efforts led to the founding of MIJHAENG.

 “MIJHAENG is a school that studies the social agendas for the upcoming future and the school is a member of a school association named ‘Global Free Unit’ together with educational studios incubated in the UK, Sweden, and Moscow.” (Ham, Don Gyun /Co-founder of MIJHAENG)

‘A Moving School’, ‘A Connecting School’ and ‘A Speaking school’, is a vision announced by MIJHAENG, and it aims to expand the place of education and subject of study from a school, to a community, and eventually to a global village. MIJHAENG sets as its objective that ‘a school’ is not a place to fill in information one-way but a field of active discourse whose influence spreads across the entire society.

Classes will be held in a one-to-one tutoring system with experts who have extensive experience in each field and cover interesting themes such as thoughts, body, space, tools, and communication, and its pilot semester started in July this year. Ham, Don Gyun, the co-founder, stresses that although MIJHAENG has not yet been accredited by the Ministry of Education, getting the accreditation is not one of its first priorities. He predicts that the future schools will place less value on graduation or degree certificates. However, if there is a request from students in the future, they plan to have long-term solutions in multiple aspects such as signing an MOU with other overseas schools that belong to the same school association with MIJHAENG.

Future education, not having answers yet but open to various possibilities
Humankind has entered the era of educational transformation inevitably accompanied by the Fourth Industrial Revolution. It is no longer possible to predict with certainty what is needed in the near future society. Several years have already passed since a shocking predictive analysis that after 10 years, 47% of our current types of jobs will disappear and half of the human work will be handed over to the machines (“The Future of Employment: How susceptible are jobs to computerization?” Michael A. Osborne).

Education that prepares for the unpredictable future should be geared for students who are constantly asking new questions, not for students who are getting the right answers. More than a decade ago, a penetrating criticism of Elvin Toffler pointed out, “Korean students are spending 15 hours a day in schools and academies wasting time for knowledge they will not need in the future and jobs that might not exist”. Now, we should have a different story to tell after the next 10 years.