Teaching and learning will look very differently in 2050.  We can imagine a single teacher giving a course to more than 100,000 students at the same time, online.  We can imagine a robot teaching a small group of students.  We can imagine students learning from each other without any teacher involvement.  Or we can imagine a student learning on her/his own, guided by an educational software using artificial intelligence…

Are these images outlandish dreams?  Actually, they are real-life examples of the radical transformation that tertiary education is undergoing today in a few institutions at the vanguard of innovative practices.  While teaching approaches and modalities have seen very little improvement in the past decades—unlike the rapid transformation that medicine has gone through—, we are likely to witness drastic changes in the near future under the combined influence of two key factors.  First, progress in education technology (online learning, simulation robots, gaming-like software, etc.) is opening new avenues for interactive and problem-based learning.  Second, tertiary education institutions are faced with the challenge of preparing young people for jobs that do not exist yet.  The traditional approach where teachers impart their knowledge to students in the classroom must imperatively be replaced by a dynamic learning model where students acquire generic competencies that prepare them to identify their own learning needs and advance their skills throughout their working life.

First published in Handshake Issue No. 8, January 2013.



As I was bidding farewell to the World Bank earlier this year, I received an invitation from Green Templeton College, Oxford University, to attend the Emerging Markets Symposium – an initiative that convenes leaders from government, academia and the private sector to address the major policy challenges facing emerging market countries.

The policy theme for this year’s Symposium was tertiary education and I delivered the opening lecture. This came before my last week with the Bank and, with several former colleagues in the audience, it could have been tempting to look back at my Bank work over the past twenty-five years. Instead, I did something more important, challenging, and pressing: I speculated about the future.

“Let’s try to picture it,” I told the audience, and I listed some scenarios.  “In the future, students will take all their exams online and their degree will only be valid for five years.”
“Those in need of financial aid will participate in eBay auctions to apply for a scholarship.”
“Graduates will be reimbursed the cost of their studies if they don’t find a job within six months.”
And, to give a final example, “in countries where it’s difficult to attract engineering students to study engineering, universities will go straight to kindergartens to motivate candidates.”

Do these sound outlandish? They shouldn’t. As I then pointed out to the audience, all of the above are actually taking place somewhere in the world today. The question, of course, is what it means- and what the implications are for emerging market countries.

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