Education in the 21st Century and where to find the new Leonardo da Vinci and Marie Curie.

by María Magdalena Ziegler D.


The celebrated Leonardo Da Vinci never went to any institution to receive formal education and yet created the first prototypes of the helicopter, glider and contact lenses, among many other things. And to top it off,  he could write with one hand and draw with the other … at the same time!

Today everyone knows Leonardo and his paintings (because he was also an extraordinary painter) are admired in the most important museums in the world. It is the model of a man of universal knowledge.

The noblest pleasure is the joy of understanding and learning ~Leonardo da Vinci

At the end of the 19th century, when universities were not appropriate sites for women, Marie Curie defied all barriers by becoming an excellent university student of Sciences.

She would be the first woman to teach at the prestigious University of Paris. She would received two Nobel Prizes, one in Physics and another in Chemistry (the only person who has achieved such a thing until today!).

Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less.~Marie Curie

Why were they extraordinary?

Extraordinary individuals like Leonardo and Madame Curie have lead humanity to make important leaps in the progress of all things. Each one was educated according to the time in which they had to live, but they were never conformed and were always for more.

They were curious, certainly, but they were also tremendously creative. That’s what made them strangers in their contexts, because creativity gives us the ability to spot problems that others can not see. And that’s a superpower!

Add to that an enormous capacity to be flexible in their knowledge. Both Leonardo and Madame Curie could learn from very varied elements, simultaneously and through different means.

And if that were not enough, they knew how to adapt to the different circumstances they had to face in their lives and to obtain from them great intellectual profit. Nothing was a disadvantage for them.

Will the 21st century have a new Leonardo and a new Marie Curie?

Definitely! And not one, but many. The education of the 21st century has been shaped (so far) by such unique characteristics that it will make the norm to find extraordinary minds. Until a few decades ago it was reserved for very small groups of individuals. But digital technology is making a huge amount of things accessible to many.

If Leonardo did not go to a university, he did have books and people to learn for himself. But this was not common in his time, when the majority had to work hard to get a very precarious life.

For her part, Madame Curie suffered discrimination against her status as a woman, and passed through many the difficulties to obtain a good education, especially in the scientific field reserved almost exclusively for men. But she did not become frightened or frustrated. She insisted until she got the education she had wanted since she was a child.

Education in the twenty-first century will make possible, in a much more accessible way, what for Leonardo and Madame Curie involved enormous efforts. Digital technology will facilitate the whole educational process and will bring it to a lot more people, in many more places around the world.


What to expect from the education of the 21st century?

Erroneously, people consider that eLearning is the great contribution of education in the 21st century. And although it is indeed an unquestionable contribution, it can not be considered substantial.

The essence of education in this new century that is just beginning can not be the use of new digital technologies, nor these technologies by themselves. The great impact of education can not be the media, but the message.

First of all, we must recognize that the process of teaching and learning is no longer the same thanks to the new technological media. Secondly, that educational institutions and teachers can not continue to be managed the teaching process as if they were in the Paleolithic Era.

But what we want and need for education in the 21st century surpasses what technology has already given us. Universities, from a curricular point of view, are advancing at a glacier step, and the environment demands professionals or people trained in ways that are not yet fully formal.


How should education be like in the 21st century?

Everything indicates that adaptability is a key skill that everyone must develop to be successful in the world today. This is understood as the ability to constantly learn new things and new processes.

To that must be added cognitive flexibility, that is, the ability to learn from several processes simultaneously and in different ways. Integrating diverse knowledge at every step.

To generate highly creative professionals, that is, capable of detecting problems even before they arise and devising innovative, original and sustainable solutions is fundamental today. Add this too.

The great demand in the 21st century points to people who will require an agile, adaptable, environmentally conscious education. As universities think what to do, and if their model might still be valid, other educational offers have being allying with digital technology and have emerged to deliver what most universities can not.


What do we have today?

It is precisely there where Coursera, EdX or Teachlr have the advantage or, to put it colloquially, the frying pan by the handle. And while some online education portals are backed by prestigious universities, these are not any of these universities in their traditional sense.

Developing a technology that supports the increasing demand for quality online education is critical, but not sufficient. The future of education in the 21st century lies in the ability to train people for a changing, demanding and varied world.

Technology is, in this mission, an ally of the first order, but not the goal. Not the books were the target of Leonardo, nor the universities the objective of Marie Curie. These were their means. Through them they became those people of extraordinary intellectual capacity and of enormous impact in the society.

The next Leonardo and the next Marie Curie could then be anywhere in the world. Learning from anyone else very far from their surroundings. Learning from someone you may never know personally, someone who encourage them to be curious and creative even when the only book they have is the sky full of stars.

[Originally published in Spanish on Teachlr Blog]

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