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Education and publishers in the modern world
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The IPG
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IPG patron and past president Sonny Leong on the changing role of educational publishers and technology in the global economy and society
The theme of the BETT Asia Summit this year was ‘Educating for Global Citizenship’, and it could hardly have been a more timely choice. Over the last few years we have seen the rapid emergence of a dangerous populism, which has risen on the fuel of anti-internationalist, anti-immigrant and closed border nationalist rhetoric.
In many parts of the world, the very concept of global citizenship is at threat. The idea that we are all inter-connected is under attack—even when it is more of a reality than ever before in this networked world. It presents a grave challenge to the international community, as much as it threatens the internal integrity and solidarity of our national societies. And it is in this context that we need to view education, and in particular how technology has shifted the way it is delivered and needed and the role of publishers in supporting it. In education we see both the fundamental roots of these societal, global challenges and the potential solutions.
We also need to recognise how advances in how our economy works have transformed industries. Automation and internationalization have decimated some communities, leading them to close themselves off to the rest of the world, just as they need to be more open. And this dynamic will only accelerate. A job for life increasingly looks like a thing of the past; instead, workers of the future will have multiple career changes, creating a need for continuous personal and professional development.
This is where publishers can make a difference. Already, we have seen enormous advances in how people learn. Take, for example, the Open Courseware Movement, which has seen MIT’s 2,080 courses downloaded 131 million times since it was founded in 2001. Apple’s iTunes University already offers more than 500,000 courses from 1,000 universities. This transition from a teaching model to one that makes proactive learning much more possible and accessible could revolutionise how people conceive the idea of opportunity.
Through technologies like this, education has the capacity to open up the new world of work to everyone. But we cannot simply let it be—we must direct it so that it fulfils the role our societies need it to. We must especially reach those communities that have been left out of the benefits of globalisation. Proactive learning is often self-selecting, and that means it can be left with those who are already connected and already qualified. We must connect our education systems with what the economy requires, producing the skills needed and ensuring that people can go into jobs. It obliges those of us in academia and publishing to engage constructively with government and business in the design of holistic industrial strategies that guarantee education provides a valuable role.
Despite the populist trend, I still firmly believe that success in the modern world—as an individual or as a country—is dependent on how skilled you are at learning and engaging ‘the other’: what you don’t yet know. So the skill of curiosity and learning about others must be at the core of everything our young people do. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t teach our children STEM, literature, history, geography and what are now considered core subjects, but we must also put openness at the centre of our curricula and resources. If we do that, education can advance our societies and heal the stress fractures that threaten our common life.
This is an edited version of a speech given by Sonny Leong at the BETT Asia Summit on 15 November 2016.

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