“Change will start in and grow from education” – Mentality change and Educational Reform

The first and best thing that can be said of the first debate of the 2015 International ProAktivity Summit, on Mentality change and Educational Reform, is that it more than lived up to its topic. The discussion was fluent, rich in content, challenging, and left us thinking about many of the problems we read everyday in the news and wandering: are we discussing the right problems, in the right way, with the right people?

In a way, the economic and financial crisis that still lingers in Europe and beyond has exposed another crisis, whose causes are no less structural, that does not make as many headlines nor has received nearly as much attention by the heads of state and other policy makers. The axis education-jobs has suffered a dramatic shift and yet people are still afraid of saying it out loud. European citizens are still being taught, from a tender age, that one day they will enter an institution, a “University”, because that is what will secure them the job they are meant to perform – preferably for life – to earn their living. A perfect and logic correlation inherited from the intellectual landscape of the industrial revolution that has now been severely disrupted.

But what happens if things don’t turn out that way? What if all of a sudden more and more students graduate and find themselves confronted with a labour market that for some reason closes its doors instead of opening them? Where did it all go wrong? Why are we left without prospects or options alongside thousands of other people who look like copies of us both in their educational background and in their post-educational dilemmas?

Our speakers successfully managed to turn all these problems on its heads because not only they refuse to ignore but also to not facing them. The problems of a newly graduate who struggles to find a job pale in comparison with the problems of all those who could not afford to have an education at all or who came out of poverty. Yet, it is among these people who understand, more than the most of us ever will, that “crisis” is just a word, among many, for periods of hardship. Nearly 50% of people think about creating something, yet only 5% actually creates something. Many people struggle since birth, others were unaware of what that means until 2008, and for some reason it is among the former that we find the people best capable of understanding the problems we are facing nowadays, people who remained strong and firm and moved forward by becoming proactive in the real sense of the word: they successfully mobilised themselves, regardless of the means at their disposal, and were not satisfied until they did the same with others. They are the face of the 5%.

In common, these entrepreneurs have a solid sense of purpose. They know exactly what makes them get out of bed in the morning everyday. It is not the pre-determined working scheduled in that line in your work contract, but the awareness that they have a responsibility. A responsibility to work to build something and to work even harder to make it work.

Albert Einstein stated that no problem can be solved by using the very same kind of model that first created it. The same applies to education. Does this mean that going to University and obtain a degree has become a useless, time-spending and money-spending anachronism? No. In the ever more complex modern societies, education remains, if anything, more relevant a necessary than ever. What has changed is its place in the grand scheme of things. The modern labour market does not need that every year millions of graduates knock on the very same door because it will be unable to absorb them. What it needs is educated, open-minded people with an international mindset that are eager to learn, work hard, build on their experience and use it to create jobs for themselves and for others.

People are all different amongst themselves in a number of ways, and yet many educational systems treat people as if they were all the same and we all have to learn everything in the same way. Social pressure makes us study specific areas and privilege specific schools before we could being to understand who we are and where our real interests and capacities lay. We are taught that failure is not an option, and yet everything is in place for us to become educational products that strangely find themselves reaching their expiration date the moment they leave the factory.

Yet, as said before, we are not the same. Some people don’t let hardship get in their way. Some people start to apply to EU funds at the age of 18 and manage small teams and still feel that is not enough. Some people like to express their creativity by sharing it with an audience. Some people understand that the European youth, the so-called “millennials” never stopped being part of the solution and that they have the capacity to induce change in the system because change starts at a small scale in our local communities, building all the way up to the decision-making level.

Like people, not all educational systems are the same, and Finland’s remains as possibly the country’s best export, standing as a blueprint for other countries. Not only it is based on quality but also continues reinventing itself in a way that seeks to catch-up with our fast-changing societies and its demands. Many haven’t realised that the ongoing technological revolutions and the free access to information have created a generation of students that are called to act as co-creators of knowledge, forever changing the very relationship between professors and students.

And there’s one last thing we need just as much, and without which change cannot occur: generosity. Yes, money matters. A lot. But money is impersonal and is meant to continuously change hands. If two people gives a coin to one another, they will both end up with a coin. But if they give and an idea to one another, they both will end up with two ideas. The desired mentality change and educational reform might be accomplished if we manage to create a system capable of sharing 7 billion ideas but also putting them into action.

It would seem that, although the way we look at education is forever changing, change will start in and grow from education.

Check out the full content of the debate here!



By José Guimarães