Academic Institutions Must Evolve New Theories for Next Gen
| Steffi Singh Coordinator, Global Security Data Center, Ireland - 09 Sep 2020

Covid has taught the world many painful lessons about theories and the harshness of real life. In 2019-20 the theory is absolutely obsolete, like the majority of academic institutions. It’s time our educational institutions started to teach some new theories that are practical in helping the next generation to tackle some of the enormous issues of our time.


Education was once reserved for the elite in society. Historically, members of the clergy,  monarchy the upper echelons on society were the only ones to have divine guidance. Education was not something afforded to the masses. Peasants and factory workers did not need to read Latin or understand arithmetic, they needed to feed their large families.

As modern society emerges education is deemed the imperative ingredient to success.  Having a degree above all else could change the entire forecast of an individual's circumstance or so the theory goes. Until the invention of the internet in the 1990s there may have been a certain level of premise to this argument.

In 2019- the theory is absolutely obsolete, like the majority of academic institutions.

The education system universally- is completely totally and utterly out of touch with reality of the modern day work environment.

The problem begins in the education institutions themselves. Theory is always most valuable when it has some practical application.

I interviewed a computer science student- top of his class who reported that he found his lectures "too easy or that the lectures don't really seem to understand what they are doing..." He stated something which I have heard and seen countless times as a teacher- "the lecturer said none of us will pass the exam and we didn't... but we just continued the course..."

This is a huge issue.When there is a problem in the workplace rarely is it dismissed as a 'non-issue' that we just continue on, without resolving. Usually, there's a change of tact or expertise that's required to address the issue head on or perhaps an injection of finance or additional necessary resources to resolve it. Perhaps, there will be additionally training, auditing and feedback needed.

Or worst comes to worse- someone may even get fired. Their incompetence, mistake or lack of contribution has an impact. Usually this impact in business terms is financial or of reputational damage and therefore, a consequence is needed to address the issue.

I spoke to two baristas in their late twenties- both multilingual, one with a masters in linguistics and the other human resource management, they both lament "I can get interviews.. but the they tell me... I don't have enough experience... I have been trying for months."

Then there are the 40,000 international students, coming to Ireland spending ludicrous amounts on college fees (although nominal compared to the fees in the US) many of the same students are still here a year after qualifying with not a day of work experience and a visa countdown in a chokehold. Few survive it. 

I interviewed two students both studying law in Irelands top institutions- both young ladies report the same feedback - they absolutely 'Hated their course, they have no idea what to do next and they can't see how they will ever get a job in this field because the course is so out of date..."

Other factors, that these two young law students hadn't factored was the value of networking- "....we have to be seen as the perfect all-rounder to get an internship... it's our only hope of getting a job... and the cost! no one told me about the cost involved!"

I have heard the same story recanted countless times- what I thought college would look like, what I believed it would give me access too versus what it actually led too.

Loans, debts and lacking relevant professional experience.

When I think of my teacher training I shudder at the hypocrisy of it all. During training each teacher is assigned a specific lecturer whom is supposed to provide mentorship, guidance and predominantly they become your inspector. This inspector grades your lessons- ultimately they will decide how proficient your 'teaching practice' is.

Now you would imagine, the best kind of person to teach you how to teach is a great teacher? Wrong.

Instead, let's call her ‘Suzie’ became my guiding light as I learned how to teach. Suzie was likeable, approachable a true academic, but my god, she knew nothing about teaching. She once confided in me that in all her time as an academic in education she had only "survived teaching for 2 months... it was so stressful!" When she came to inspect my lesson, with a particularly challenging group, I craved her to impart some wisdom.

All she offered was a faint “Oh they are a difficult group…have you tried teaching them from the side wall of the classroom as opposed to the front desk?”

Side angles, did not work, with a lively group of 13 year old boys. However over time and with the guidance of some more experienced teachers a more ‘direct’ approach helped immensely. I quickly learned what worked with this group- no mercy, predominantly.

By the time I qualified as a teacher. I felt like I had learned nothing about teaching itself.The course was based on theory and the more time I spent in the classroom, the more I realised that theory has little practical application in real life.

Thankfully, the recession had landed in Ireland to teach me more ‘real life lessons’ about the economy and what happens when it implodes. I was forced to emigrate to England and there I found myself ready for my internship. A true test of my skills.

I began teaching in an enormous academy and my mentor, taught me, rapidly. She was notoriously strict and almost unlikeable but her teaching resources were top class she was a Cambridge graduate and they were moving towards far more active and engaging teaching models than the Irish system. I observed her lessons, she observed mine. She was not inspecting them without purpose, she was my colleague, teaching in the room next door whom had more experience and I could learn from that. I was her apprentice. She my mentor and in every walk of life we need good mentors.

Unlike the Irish system. Students worked as teams, they had autonomy, access to technology and they did not have a one glove fits all approach. I was given exam classes, a new curriculum that I had to teach myself as an Irish history teacher, as far as I recalled,Oliver Cromwell was no Hero and colonialism was not the same thing as globalisation. The English curriculum seemed to have some very different theories about our past than the Irish one.

In England, the classrooms were transparent with glass walls for visibility, routine inspections of teachers were met with gratitude and support not fear and every single resource was shared online and contributed to an edited by staff. The impact of this experience on my teaching style was transformative and profound.

When I returned to Ireland, closed walls, closed minds and fear of change prevailed. However, I had learned so much from my experience that I had some very practical tools and techniques to get the results needed and at the same time I continued to learn.

The next time I was inspected by the department of education, I got a standing ovation. When the results came out they were the highest in the school, but alas no permeance, thanks or decent pay and conditionsleft me completely burnt out and with more questions about the education system than answers.

In theory, I wanted to help young people, I wanted progress, in practice,that requires many components that need to work in tandem to get a positive outcome for the student, factors far beyond my control.

Education is at its core a process of enlightenment an exposure to new theories and ways of thinking to solve complex problems, with the current rates of progress in technology. Many previous problems have been solved by computers with ease and this will only continue to accelerate as a process over time.

Above all else students need an education that provides practical, experiential learning that will enable them to work in teams to solve complex problems and think critically- in a way a computer can’t.

There is so much value in education when it provides opportunities for progress and change. Education is to propel forward, to learn from the past and modernise for the future. By the current standards the predominant stance of education in many parts of theworld has become a purely financial enterprise.

To advise a student today,

Go travel the world for one year- it will cost less than one year of college.

Learn a new language.

Meet as many people as possible.

Get a job and keep moving until you find one that fits, when you understand better who you are and what you need from your work environment- look at upskilling and pursuing education more rigorously.

Education is a lifelong process.Theory, is only half of learning the other half is completely dependent on the practical application to real life scenarios, how will the theory help you to advance? How does it apply to real life.

If it does not apply to real life, you may want to consider learning a new theory.

Covid has taught the world many painful lessons about theories and the harshness of real life, it’s time our educational institutions started to teach some new theories that are practical in helping the next generation to tackle some of the enormous issues of our time.


An author, speaker, educator and entrepreneur; Focuses on education reform and women’s empowerment; Global Expert on digitalization and global education reform; An expert Advisor to the World Health Innovation Summit (WHIS) in implementing the UN SDGs in relation to health and wellbeing across the world; Regularly writes in Irish national newspapers; Has worked as a consultant with many companies across Ireland, the US and India. Blog - Irish Wanderer. LinkedIn -

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