Quantum education, hierachies and company schools

Education should take lessons from the quantum world and become less hierarchical in nature. Or Big Tech giants and Company Schools will start to take over.

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July 30, 2020
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I’ve always been intrigued by the world of quantum physics (the realm of subatomic bits of matter), especially the part about quantum superposition in which individual units can exist in two states at once, like light being both wave and particle. I won’t start explaining quantum physics, here, so if you are not familiar with the subject, just look at this very clear cut clip:

Actually, what you just need to know is this: the quantum world is all about probability. Before you measure it, a unit is everything. Once the unit has been observed, a certain choice has been made and it is only one thing.

Quantum education

I believe that the education sector has a lot to learn from the quantum world. We force students to make a choice about a career path – with a neat package of skills and knowledge that we think are useful for that path (but often no longer are) – before they even had the chance to taste that path, not even knowing if they like it. Especially today, when students are training for careers and jobs that haven’t been invented yet, forcing them to make that choice so soon seems unwise. Higher education ought to be more organized like a portfolio or a menu, in which students can choose all the subjects that speak to them, not just the ones that are bundled in strict silos. Young people ought to be both “particle and wave” before they choose a certain direction. Just think of what a youngster that decides to study neuroscience, maths, AI, creativity, painting and storytelling could mean for creative AI companies like Magenta or maybe for something completely different (as we can’t know if Magenta will still be relevant in 4 years). In a world that evolves so fast, it’s just crucial that youngsters study what they love. All the rest is too uncertain to bank on.

Empowerment, not hierarchy

And of course, it won’t do to ‘teach’ knowledge, it’s just as much – more even - about training the plasticity of a young brain in order to better react to a complex, volatile and uncertain world. And about showing them how to collaborate, be creative, be critical, listen, be compassionate, lead and all the other mindsets that cannot be taught, only trained by doing. A big part of that will be to provide an environment to really empower - not tell - students to learn all these things. For all what has been said about companies having to ban their hierarchies, a lot of educational institutions are still incredibly hierarchical with the teaching personnel as “Master” and the students who obey. I love Esther Wojciski’s TRICK approach - she raised Susan (CEO of YouTube), Janet (professor at UC San Francisco) and Anne (CEO of 23andMe) so she must have been, onto something – which is an acronym that stands for trust, respect, independence, collaboration, and kindness. Esther is a big believer in allowing young people to make their own choices ànd their own mistakes. After all, how can we expect them to enter the workplace as empowered and creative individuals, if we have always told them what to do and how to do it, right up until they leave the educational system, right?

Company schools

Last, but not least, I could see a future in which large corporates will have their own internal company schools, where they would train and employ students at the same time (as well as retrain those employees who need to). Much like an internship, but without the school, the temporariness and with a contract. I believe that this is a possible scenario for two reasons:

  • Educational institutions are often (no, not all of them, but many) very slow to adapt to the reality of the market. And what tends to happen to an industry that’s too slow to adapt? Two things, actually. One, the big tech giants slide right in to take a piece of the cake, as so beautifully explained by Sven Mastbooms in his column in De Tijd (Dutch, unfortunately). Two, the market adapts and large players that are often no longer content to stay within the lane of their own sector (a cross-industry trend that is only increasing), will find their own solutions.
  • There is a war for talent raging out there. And lifelong learning is becoming the norm. If you add these 2 things together, you’ll understand that those companies that can ensure employees that they will keep them relevant and valuable by (re-)training them permanently (instead of firing them when they need people with different skills) will win that war and attract – and keep – the best talent.

Now, it’s not because I could foresee such a scenario that I am a fan of it, because this will increase the power of companies over their employees by an order of magnitude. Training and shaping young and impressionable people into the mould of their ‘culture’ and ‘indebting’ them because they will have provided them with an ‘affordable’ (affordable, but not free of emotional cost) alternative to education, could potentially be detrimental. If this is where we are heading, we should definetly keep an eye on the consequences.

Laurence Van Elegem
Laurence Van Elegem
Laurence has more than 10 years of experience in marketing, communications and disruptive innovation. Passionately curious, she is fascinated by the impact of technology and science on the way we work, consume and live our lives.
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July 30, 2020
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