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At the Foothills of Our Digital Journey

At the Foothills of Our Digital Journey

The HSE April International Academic Conference is held in a distributed format this year, with some sessions broadcast online and papers and video presentations from others posted on the conference website. Dr Ger Graus, a Guest Professor at IOE and Global Director of Education at KidZania, is an invited speaker for a special session on ‘Digital Transformation of Education’ that is also conducted in this new distributed form. His paper explores how we can better prepare children to learn and live in the digital era through non-formal education

Professor Dr Ger Graus

Dr Graus has been at the heart of innovation and project development and led such initiatives as ‘KidZania World Online’; ‘Individual Pupil Participation Profiles’; ‘KidZtalks’; ‘KidZania Careers Weeks’; ‘KidZania LitFests’; education ‘Think-Tanks’; ‘Ambassador Schools and independent evaluations by, amongst others the University of Cambridge, Cass Business School, Havas Helia, Tribal Planet Inc and Tecnológico de Monterrey. Based on these evaluations’ findings, Dr Graus is now spearheading a ‘Futures Awareness’ campaign to globally introduce careers education into the primary school phase. After all, as he frequently notes: “Children can only aspire to what they know exists.”

Challenges of the Digital Era

The main challenges, in Dr Graus's view, lie in the fields of usage, morality, expertise and access. Usage is important because we are not all capable of usage to a sufficiently good standard. There is of course firstly the simple issue of access: by and large, if you are disadvantaged, there isn’t any, or it is of inferior nature. There is also the further matter of quality and breadth of content; for the user this is too often a matter of luck of the draw - consistency is still lacking. As for morality, we have not yet come to terms with appropriate digital behaviour codes. Expertise implies the need to reformulate the concepts of learning, teaching and who the teachers are. Finally, and once more, access matters because we are in danger of making the gap between haves and have-nots, and between those who can and can-not make use of digital tools large beyond repair.

Digital Agenda and Democracy

The question of how to access the digital literacy in the world is a matter of democracy. We need to ensure that all can access the digital agenda. This is our moral obligation. In doing so we need to redefine access so that the poorest, most disadvantaged and remote have the same access as the privileged, advantaged and urban. Without this there is no progress. The role Russia plays is of its choosing: it can lead or follow, enable or obstruct, trust and be trusted, collaborate or function in isolation. This part is about the choices we all need to make. Globally, the COVID-19 crisis has exacerbated all this and has necessitated greater urgency and greater speed.  

The main goals for developing digital literacy are about creating a better, more equal world by utilizing the endless potential of digital technology for good.

It is also about getting the digital project to work for us as people, to make our lives easier and better and not just to serve economies and industries. The way of achieving this is by redefining education and who the teachers are. First of all, there is the matter of what we expect existing teachers to do differently and/or better in terms of content, connecting on-line with the real world etc. Secondly, there is the question of existing teachers becoming facilitators and project managers of children’s learning, utilizing the expertise of others, including the worlds of technology, business, and other young people. There is also the challenge of redefining education as beyond schooling including all aspects of life.  

We are merely at the foothills of our journey and it is too early to speak of ‘best’ examples of education in digital literacy through non-formal education; it would be unambitious to do so.

What is clear is that the link between schooling and education, between formal and non-formal education needs to be even stronger so that the purpose of digital agendas can also be understood. I am hugely optimistic about this aspect and there are many interesting developments already visible and on the horizon. Global responses to the COVID-19 crisis and the education challenges this presented have been manifold, innovative and instant. This also shows that not all change is slow!

In all of this there can no longer be the old divide between schooling, on-line and non-formal. Every aspect is a piece of a jigsaw. And, yes, there is a challenge to bring the non-formal aspect more into the ‘serious’ education fold, but if we begin by focusing on the purpose and reality that this can bring, I believe we will have made an excellent start.

Dr Graus started at KidZania London in 2014, where he has been responsible for developing the UK-wide education strategy, including partnerships with schools, higher education, commercial and third sector learning partners.

Ger Graus was awarded an Honorary Doctorate by Staffordshire University in 2011 and was made an Adjunct Fellow by the University of Adelaide in 2013. In 2019 he was appointed as Academic Leader at the Instituto Tecnológico y de Estudios Superiores de Monterrey in Mexico, also known as Tecnológico de Monterrey, making him an Honorary Professor at the university. In 2018, he was granted the Education Leadership Award by the World Education Congress in Mumbai, India. He is also an Honorary Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire.

Dr Graus now works with and advises organisations globally on the learning agenda in its widest sense, including the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the Council of Europe.