Not that long ago, I was offered the chance to speak in front of the great audience of SOFIMUN Conference.
In case you wonder, the acronym stands for Sofia International Model United Nations, the biggest and most prestigious such international youth event held in the country for quite some time.
Basically, an event, part of a global United Nations simulations network, in which a diverse pool of international participants (students and young professionals) take on the roles of foreign diplomats and debate contemporary international matters, while networking and getting to participate in a number of social, cultural and academic events.
I myself, am an ex-MUNer, having received the Most Diplomatic Delegate Award in 2008/9 National Model.
My participation in similar events on a Balkan level, in Lithuania, Belgium, during my student’s years, had made me a great supporter of the cause. Having said that, I can strongly recommend the upcoming SOFIMUN 2015 edition, which is just around the corner now.
Going back to the main topic, in 2013, as a guest lecturer, I spoke on the topic of open source, beyond the Internet.
Generally, ‘open source’ refers to “a computer program in which the source code is available to the general public for use and/or modification from its original design“. Open-source code is typically “a collaborative effort where programmers improve upon the source code and share the changes within the community so that other members can help improve it further“. Getting obvious from its description, the open source concept, or principle, has far broader social implications than the purely developer’s side of the story.
My first vital point at SOFIMUN 2013 covered the issue of the contemporary global crisis that has spread in different branches for the last several years. The current state of global economic development, 7 to 8 years after the collapse of the financial sector in U.S., has clearly proven that there is a lack of proper crisis management in a sector which is resistant to change. I also argued that not only the state of the financial sector matters in 2008, but also the mismanagement disaster to follow, had led to a mixture of serious problems for the future generations to handle with. Because printing money, producing wealth out of thin air, is only more of the same that caused the bubble to burst once. And would definitely cause it to burst once more at a later point in time, only this time – stronger.
Coming to my main point, I linked the ‘big picture’ to a particular social system that massively lags behind and just as the financial system – rejects to admit it and change – the education, that is. Rooted in the 19th century reality, the whole traditional educational concept is so heavily outdated that it simply cannot serve the needs we have in regards to the current and future challenges we are facing – on the labour market, in science, in politics, etc.
Based on studies, we now know that employers seek a lot more in their employees in terms of interpersonal and intellectual skills, flexibility, abilities to take more responsibility and to analyse more complex tasks, far beyond what was expected from them as part of the routine mass production processes of the past. The current education system, however, has only limited to offer, in order to satisfy those raising demands. It basically fails to adapt to the new reality, in terms of development of practical skills and in terms of overall humanitarian learning.
I offered therefore a possible resolution to the problem, introducing to the audience the open source concept of education. The open source educational institutions and programmes would bring all the pieces together, because they would endorse knowledge of the human culture and the world, building on the personal and social responsibility matters, but in the same time would empower the young generation with passion for technology and life sciences.
All based on the fairly simple idea that we learn, we create businesses, we get inspired by collaborating and exchanging ideas, we seek and find solutions to the problems we are facing together, and we therefore constantly try to re-shape our reality and its limitations. And every system that puts boundaries on collaboration, slows down the exchange of information, is doomed to collapse under its own weight.
Therefore, its in the interest of traditional education itself, to adapt to the open source principles, in the face of that powerful treat of being no longer required and eventually get substituted. That would have sounded exaggerated, if weren’t the new platforms for online education such as Coursera, EdX, OpEd, which make the classic unadaptable and unwilling to change universities obsolete, if not today, then in 5 to 10 years time.
What was described as “The best part of the guest lecture“, by the reporters, observing the Model and drafting the annual SOFIMUN Journal, was the fact that “all this theoretical proposals made, actually do find their implementation in reality“.
As I pointed out in front of the audience, there are a number of open source best practices that currently exist in educational institutions around the globe, covering a number of areas, such as the different learning communities, the common intellectual experience projects, community-based learning programmes.
Unfortunately legislature do not always do their best to enable the wider implementation of such innovations in main stream education. In fact, governmental institutions and programmes tend to do quite the opposite – to protect the status que which once worked, but currently fails to deliver any results what so ever, surrounding it with a protective net of policies, rules and procedures.
So what would the best solution be? Advocating for incremental innovations, I’ve always been in favor of a step-by-step transition from one model of social organization to another, especially when sustainability and social convenience matter. Therefore, i would not recommend changing the hardware and software of modern education over a night. In a market where we have the state monopolist, whose hardware and software products lag, but are pre-ordered for each and every user, their technology overpriced and obsolete, but protected by licenses and regulations, what shall be the answer? A question I brought to the attention of the SOFIMUNers.
..Grass-root initiatives, incremental innovations, of course – those that can inspire change, multiply an co-exist, until the stage is set for the bigger developments to happen. The example with which I backed-up my main point was the “Find a Friend @ NBU” Programme, which I established at New Bulgarian University in 2010-2012 period, while I was part of the Academic Council of the NBU, and a Chairman of the Students’ Council.
The pilot programme, limited in budget and institutional support, at first, offered more than 200 freshmen the possibility to connect and to learn from their colleagues from higher course of study. This way, a crucial base for a university-wide learning community was set, where students from different academic, personal, and professional backgrounds not only received, but also contributed with new knowledge, playing a valuable role in its natural dissemination.
All of that was enabled by an online platform, which primary purpose was to popularize the project and serve as its back-office, as I belive online platforms or networks should be an extension, an enabler, of our face-to-face communication and collaboration, not an alternative. The same with online education, of course.
I concluded my lecture emphasising on the fact that already aware of the shifting processes in our present day society, students can only benefit from the open source forms of education, part of which was actually the SOFIMUN conference itself.
Later during the same year, mine was the opening speech at the 1st International Summer University Science Conference in Albena, building on the subject, with my academic report “Towards An Open Source Educational System”. That would be an interesting event to discuss, as this time in the audience there were the Minister of Education and the Chairman of the Parliamentary Committee on Education, Youth and Science. A tough nut to crack, but I hadled it.