‘Teachers should demand more from their students’

No one can see the future, but young entrepreneur, multidisciplinary expert and frequent, welcome guest in the media Danny Mekić is sure about one thing: Dutch students need to be challenged more. ‘Universities just feel cheap to students.’

27 year old Mekić is a renaissance man. Successful entrepreneur, consultant to non-profit organisations, media expert, the list goes on. Although he didn’t finish high school, in 2010 he joined an advisory board for the Ministers of Economic Affairs and of Education, Culture and Science. April the 10th, he will be keynote speaker at the Avans Education Day in Den Bosch. That day’s theme is ‘Head in the Cloud, feet on the ground’. But to what extent is that possible; keeping up with technological developments while also holding on to your craft as a teacher?

‘It’s difficult to predict the future. It’s important for educational institutions to train their students autodidactically and that they should be able to quickly acquire new knowledge. Today’s young people will need to continue working until a later and later age, in a continuously changing job market. They need to be able to use that to their advantage, to be flexible. Besides being autodidactic, creativity is also very important. Note that using an iPad does not encourage creativity. What you can do on an iPad is only what’s already programmed.’

According to EU commissioner Neelie Kroes, apps are the big solution to the European youth unemployment problem. That new sector is where future jobs are. Education should anticipate that more. Mekić does not agree. ‘The usage of apps has increased tremendously over the past few years, but who’s to say that trend will continue? I can actually already see the tide turning. There used to be only Facebook, but now you also need to have Instagram and Pinterest. People become saturated. Decision paralysis is becoming an issue. We’re not at all certain whether the world will still be this technologically driven in ten years.’

‘Personally I’m more partial to sensor technology. Like being able to use your phone to measure drinking water purity, or your heart rate. That’s much more interesting than apps. In the future we won’t need as many app builders as we’ll need healthcare technologists, engineers, sociologists and economists. People who understand how you can apply that new technology and what you can use them for. But remember that technology isn’t always the answer. We should take care to avoid wanting to do everything via a screen.’

Isn’t education always inevitably struggling to keep up with these ever more rapid technological developments? ‘Not if teachers and students start really collaborating more. Instead of lagging behind the developments as a teacher, you can also put your students and yourself at the forefront. Don’t teach students how communication works; communicate. Apply your class materials in practice, and don’t be afraid to be prestigious. Teachers should really expect more from their students.’

‘It’s an illusion that you can get your students 100% prepared for the job market. There’s too large a gap between education and the real world. What you can do is teach them useful skills. Teach them how to handle conflicts and organise meetings.’

Various studies have shown that the level of education in the Netherlands is dropping slightly and Dutch students are among the least motivated students in the EU. Mekić blames it on all the group assignments that are the foundation of higher education. ‘Suppose you have to collaborate in a group of three students. Then you’re basically responsible for only a third of the work. That’s the mind-set of many Dutch students. I notice they’re not motivated. They’re not challenged enough. That’s what Dutch education is like and it really needs to change in order for us to stay in the race on a global scale. Dutch education in itself is fine, but our students are becoming less and less motivated compared to those in other countries.’

In recent years, Avans has been investing in less growth and more quality. A noble resolve, Mekić says, but no more than that. ‘You can’t achieve that with just Avans. You need to do that together with all the other vocational universities. That’s the only way to make a substantial change.

Mekić compares Dutch educational institutions to Aldi, a discount supermarket chain with an image of cheapness. ‘Education in the Netherlands has a marketing problem: maybe it’s all become just a little too accessible. Look at open days. They’ll do anything to lure in as many students as they can. That’s not how it should be. It gives students an Aldi feel rather than the desired Apple feel of rareness and quality. Tell them instead that it’s going to be hard work, we expect you to give it everything you’ve got, and you might not make it to the finish line.’

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