Reaching the Destination

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Oct 06, 2012
by Gerben van Lent
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Reaching the Destination

Navigating the journey to Optimizing Talent Fellows and Faculty of the session ' Optimizing Talent: Closing Educational and Social Mobility Gaps Worldwide'

These days when you start on a journey by car, often you use your navigator. First you ensure it is updated with the latest information, then you input the destination and you start to drive. Sometimes however you get into situations where you clearly get the wrong directions e.g. one-way traffic, or you are pointed in a direction that you are convinced is wrong or while you are definitely driving on a road the voice says something like “you have left the road, please try to locate the nearest road.”

Friday provided another round of input and exchange with four plenary contributions and many smaller (group) interactions each acting as ‘voices giving directions’ on the journey to  Optimizing Talent: Closing Educational and Social Mobility Gaps Worldwide and in the discussions ‘situations’ as hinted at above were encountered and addressed.

So this last time I will list a sample of these directions as indicators of the road we are travelling:

  • Some general systemic directions ◦Post school education is not just higher education, but there are all sorts of other forms that all of us should be supporting and develop links with so that more people can have some form of further training.
       ◦  Let’s avoid a system of stratification that benefits the elite institutions but leave out most other institutes.
       ◦  We should have a total new approach to the ‘age’ of which you attend of higher education. We should shift to students from every age. Leave the notion of ‘students are young’. You are never too old to learn. We need more flexible courses. You should be able to start full time, half time, quarter time over 3, 4 5 year. Moving off campus, online. Open the system to many forms of learning.
       ◦  Consider to revolutionize recruitment of students: We should always be open to students that come from lower social backgrounds, weaker schools and to consider allowing them in with lower grades. We should reduce the gap between the best and the worst universities to stop growing disparity. If you allow a long tail of low quality universities than you sustain inequalities.
       ◦  Greater emphasis on teaching right across our systems. Especially in universities. Professors need to teach also undergraduates. If we don’t do that many young people will struggle and fail; good teaching is key. So also value added systems for higher education. So you can also take in weaker students.
       ◦  Support of social mobility is also a responsibility of employers. Employers should support all universities and provide e.g. trainee opportunities, apprenticeship places etc. with universities opening up to employers.
  • The Korean journey provided insight in a system that is strongly driven by Confucius traditions shaped in the history and culture of Korea and blended with western academic and economic principles. Social mobility issues in this setting include reinforcement of equality at the entry level of higher education and intensification of student support programs to improve the performance.
  • The research of access to Higher Education in the post-Soviet States that was presented provided a sociological analysis along three parameters massification, privatization of costs and inequality. Suggestions for new directions were given including: ◦Search for a new conceptual framework to look at higher education to replace the concept of higher education as a market/quasi-market and human capital theory (which finds more counter-arguments in recent economic research);
       ◦  Change public and policy discourse on the basis of this new framework;
       ◦  Do further interdisciplinary research and data collection and consider for transitional societies – to look for social consensus about the fair access to higher education and its funding.
  • The development and implementation of integrated academic and social support activities to help students adjust and cope with life as a university student is a key element in the improvement of higher education progression rates in South Africa. The Targeting Talent Programme (TTP), located at the University of the Witwatersrand, which was presented aims at the improvement of graduate outputs by improving performance patterns. Some strategies on the basis of the project to date and related research to address some of the challenges experienced in this South African context were presented: increasing chances of success and retention in higher education through the improvement of teaching and learning approaches, adopting a more flexible curriculum design, the promotion of African languages in higher education to reflect multilingual South Africa, consideration of the shifting identities of learners from disadvantaged contexts as they transition within the post-apartheid context, increase student engagement that facilitates their academic success, and increasing resource allocation to university student support programs.

The journey for the Optimizing Talent series of seminars started two years ago when three broad objectives were formulated:
1.Identify gaps and why gaps are persistent and even seem to grow
2.Develop strategies
3.Create a vehicle to operationalize these strategies

The idea was that the two seminars that would follow, would lead to an inspirational exchange of theories, best practices, success stories, framework concepts and critical factors taking into account and highlighting the diversity in cultural, economic and historical backgrounds but nevertheless anticipating that these differences would lead to enrichment rather than fragmentation.

If successful, the intent is to funnel the outcomes through three possible channels:

1.Continue to address the themes of social mobility and achievement gaps as one strand in the series of World Congresses of Education that is anticipated

2.Establish with various subsets of participants of the two seminars resource pools and communities on the web to ensure the process stays alive and to share success stories, strategies, best practices, etc. on an ongoing basis and to leverage peer review (formal/informal) to track progress.
3.Where possible to form pressure Global or Regional pressure groups to inform and support advocacy and policy  agendas.

In a few hours from now the 60 ‘drivers' at this seminar will expect to hear from the Chair of the seminar: “you have reached your destination”.