Optimizing Talent - Day One - Daring to Think the Unthinkable




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Oct 03, 2012
by Gerben van Lent
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Optimizing Talent - Day One - Daring to Think the Unthinkable

Exchanging ideas and devising strategies to close the mobility gap Session Chair Michael Nettles welcomes participants to the third Optimizing Talent session

Tuesday saw the start of the third and last seminar in the series Optimizing Talent: Closing Educational and Social Mobility Gaps Worldwide. The focus this time is on  Higher Education and Lifelong Learning, and participants are asked to identify where educational and social mobility gaps still exist, what effect they have, why they persist – or even increase – with rapid economic change, and what steps can be taken to eliminate them.

For this new series of blogs linked to this seminar I will just start with a few observations to set the stage which hopefully will inspire participants and online followers alike.

Last year the second seminar ended with a live concert, “The Seasons (Tchaikovsky)” – twelve short pieces of music introduced each by a poem which I used in my last blog to summarize the results of the discussions. To emphasize the connection between the two seminars I will repeat two fragments:

October - Autumn Song

Autumn, falling down on our poor orchard, the yellow leaves are flying in the wind. (Aleksey Nikolayevich Tolstoy)

From October 2 to 7, the third seminar on Optimizing Talent: Closing the Mobility Gaps in Education Worldwide will convene in Salzburg, bringing again together participants from different countries to try to improve accessibility to education confront inequity and improve education quality.

November – Troika

In your loneliness do not look at the road, and do not rush out after the troika. Suppress at once and forever the fear of longing in your heart. (Nikolay Nekrasov)

With this three-year effort to bind people worldwide who share the same commitment and dedication towards the injustices in society, ‘who follow the need and don’t suffer from lack of purpose’, and with an anticipated possible extension to a world congress on access, equity and social mobility, it should become more easy to suppress the fear of an unchangeable negative triple A- lack of Availability, Affordability and Accessibility.

We are challenged not only by this ‘triple A’ notion but also amongst others the notion that higher education supposedly sustains elitism; a theme that was hardly present when we discussed basic education. As it was succinctly put today: ‘They did go to College but left with Nothing (except maybe Debt)’

Whatever we come up with is embedded in the economic environment we live in. On the downside many economies are struggling these days leading to increased unemployment and cuts in funding for education including higher education. On the upside you could state that in most countries the value of higher education and lifelong learning for economic growth is undisputed and targets are set to include large percentages of the population that need to have post-secondary education diplomas of some sorts. This not only fosters inclusion but also supports diversity. In this respect it is worthwhile to quote from one of the introductory papers - Opportunities for All? The Equity Challenge in Tertiary Education by Jamil Salmi and Roberta Malee Bassett:

"A diverse and inclusive workforce is necessary to drive innovation, foster creativity, and guide business strategies. Multiple voices lead to new ideas, new services, and new products, and encourage out-of-the-box thinking. Today, companies no longer view diversity and inclusion efforts as separate from their other business practices, and recognize that a diverse workforce can differentiate them from their competitors by attracting top talent and capturing new clients."

Besides exchanging information, ideas and best practices a key objective of the Optimizing Talent series is to devise practical strategies and tactics for closing achievement gaps and to create a permanent means of addressing them over time and throughout the world, in developed and developing nations alike. This is far from trivial and reminded me of a chapter of the book: The Universe in Zero Words by Dana Mackenzie. For more than 2000 years it was undisputed that in geometry the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. Only in the 19th century a few mathematicians ‘dared to think the unthinkable’. New geometries were designed with a different concept for the shortest distance as one of the results; can we follow in their footsteps? 

You can download the daily newsletter which includes Gerben's review as well as the key facts and stats from the opening speeches of session chair Michael Nettles of ETS and Jim Applegate, from the Lumina Foundation here: www.salzburgglobal.org/go/495newsletterWED