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Author Insights: The Future of Education with Professor Rupert Maclean 

Education and schooling is always a hot topic, but particularly at the current time during the COVID-19 pandemic, which has had a profound impact on the ways in which education and schooling is delivered to learners. For example, serious concerns have been raised around children missing out on lessons and being home-schooled by their parents and family, because of school closures in many countries as a result of the current pandemic. The potential consequences are being widely discussed and researched.

It is important not to forget that, according to a report by the United Nations, even before the COVID-19 pandemic struck, around 58 million children in the world still don’t have access to education. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) works to inspire and help build peace through promoting robust and comprehensive educational opportunities and reforms worldwide. Professor Rupert Maclean AO is an Adjunct Professor in the School of Education at RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia, and also holds academic positions in Hong Kong and Malaysia. He spent much of his two-decade educational career at UNESCO offices in Paris, Bonn, Yangon, and Bangkok. According to Maclean, one of the things that UNESCO tries to emphasize across all their programs in education is educational innovation for development. 'What innovations can we adopt to help improve the situation regarding strengthening and upgrading of education and schooling?' asks Maclean.

When students make a decision about their future field of study, their assessment of likely career opportunities that will open up as a result of the education received plays an important part in the decision making process. Many universities feel the pressure to prepare students for the ever-changing, evolving and difficult to predict job market, but how do such pressures impact the offered curriculum? Maclean believes that we have to be very cautious in how we proceed, because if we move too far in that direction, we might forget that 'education isn’t just concerned with preparing people for work, but is also concerned with preparing them for life'. He believes that education should help students to contribute, in a comprehensive way, to the betterment of their society not just through the labor force. However, the question of what to study, and what type of higher education to undertake, is not just down to career choices. It is also, for example, a matter of available finance. In many countries the cost of higher education is on the rise, making inequities in access to education more apparent.

The value of education to society depends in part on the number of people it reaches which raises the important question of access. According to Maclean education and schooling should benefit all sections of the community and give everyone the chance to develop their talents to the full, and to also gain from the economic development potential of their particular country. But it is not easy to find the right balance between what people should pay for individually for their education and what the society should pay. 'This is a very important issue that has to be worked out through an informed, evidence based dialogue,' says Maclean.

In addition, we are now also facing a big change brought on by the current health pandemic, which has triggered anxieties and left many wondering when life will go back to normal. This is not assisted by the fact that we don’t yet know how long the current situation will last and what will be its consequences for our education and economy. Maclean believes that the current pandemic will lead to a transformation in the way learners are equipped with 21st-century skills, as demanded by employers. He believes that our education systems need to adjust to alleviate our social, economic, and educational inequities. 'What we have to do is diagnose the situation, and then look at what we can do to address the types of tensions that are occurring to enable there to be a betterment of the human condition, rather than something which actually detracts for many people from the quality of their lives,' says Maclean. Time will show what lessons we can take from this experience and how it will impact our future as a society.

If you would like to hear more about this topic you can freely listen to the podcast series in which Prof. Rupert Maclean discusses key trends in education during an age of disruption, the importance of skills development for employability and lifelong learning, equitable access to education and the impact of the current international health pandemic on educating and preparing a suitably qualified workforce for the 21st Century.

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