Virgin Media - Disruptors

By Heri Chiragi

On Friday 2nd October I was fortunate enough to attend Virgin Media’s “The Future of Education” event. The day included talks and discussions from Richard Branson himself, Professor Brian Cox, Aldebaran technology group and Jonathon Rochelle from Google amongst many others.

Being part of the generation that has witnessed a tripling in their tuition fees, and the academic shift from countries in the West becoming second more and more often to Asian powerhouses such as China and Singapore in worldwide league tables, particularly in STEM subjects. I gathered that it would be enlightening to watch key professionals and enterprisers of their craft discuss ideas and theorise possible solutions for this unbalanced system. Whereby we are paying more and more for an education system that is comparatively performing less and less.

Before I begin I would like to take you back to the start of this year in January. Fresh out of the backend of Christmas, I faced a blinding contrast of seasonal celebrations to me swimming in sheets of paper work as I faced the stark reality; that there was no clear course that would provide me with a university education, practical job experience and no crippling debt.

This then led me to explore the options of our European counterparts; Denmark for example provides full free university education along with a monthly allowance that does not need to be repaid. In fact I soon learnt that the percentage of U.K undergraduates studying abroad has risen from 5-12% in recent years and it was clear to see why.  However due to the language barrier this was not an option for me and I grudgingly stuck with my British university options.

A few months down the line in June, I decided to google “Sponsored Degrees” as it became clear my student loan only covered a fraction of the costs.  I was then pleasantly surprised to find a handful of sponsored degrees in Engineering, I.T, and Business. From here I applied successfully for a BBC Apprenticeship scheme whereby I would work for the BBC and study my relevant business degree simultaneously at Pearson College London and I was naturally ecstatic. The terrible thing was, there were only 8 places and 1000’s of people applied.

It is simply unacceptable that courses of this nature that allows our young people to be adequately educated and trained for life of work are so few and far between. Especially when employees are now more than ever are demanding educated people with experience. In fact 33% of people who work in top tier banks had some form of on job experience before being hired.  Another eye opening fact, that I learnt in the Disruptors event is that a further 47% graduates end up in jobs that do not utilise their degree. So it was reassuring to see that the theme of education preparing a person for real life was prominent throughout the event and was referred to as “blended learning”.

There was also a notion of technology being used more in our education system. Firstly by the Aldebaran technology group; who displayed how robots could spike interest in STEM subjects for children at primary school level.  The was preceded by the idea of making education relevant to day to day life, started off by Richard Branson who mentioned we could teach students about the conflict in Syria, and I mentally linked this to how it could help teach both Geography and History lessons. As unfortunately
in my 19 years of education, my classes only mentioned recent events on a
regular basis in the last year of my Geography A-level. Other ways of bringing
learning to life was through “google expeditions” which would allow whole classrooms to go through virtual school trips using goggles. This was
particularly useful in being a cost effective way of showing children areas
from coral reefs to distant far away countries.

Virgin Disruptors

Another theme that rose to the surface was the idea of a complete wholesome education. Whereby not only would there be a focus on academic results but also soft skills, creativity, and personal service to the greater community. An example of St Paul’s way in Tower Hamlets that worked with Queen Mary University to research on Diabetes in the local area alongside other tasks which contributed to outstanding improvements in results, to a once failing school. It is now ranked outstanding by Ofsted and over 50% of its six form student’s move on to Russell Brand universities with 50% of those students being female and over 90% of them belonging to an ethnic minority.

Continuing with the wholesome education point, I do personally believe that the Disruptors event was excellent in bringing together future possibilities and relevant present case studies. However it came up short on providing real concrete suggestions to how all these things could be replicated, particularly in a way that would make it affordable for all.

Having said this however there were a few hidden concrete ideas on how to make this more
personalised, creative, and practical education system come to life, that I wanted to elaborate on:-    

  • One of the ways we could make this future of education become a present reality is through company sponsored degrees. I myself am on this type of scheme with the BBC however Virgin Galactic also briefly mentioned a similar idea with their ideas of Engineering Institutes in Solihull and Coventry. I also know Rolls Royce has a similar Engineering scheme and KPMG have a 6 year accounting degree. Not only do the students save on fees but companies can then hire individuals who know their craft and their workplace, simplifying the employment process for both parties. Another form of funding could also include a University fee tax similar to Scandinavian countries. 
  • In regards to creating a wholesome well-rounded education, I strongly believe volunteers who are knowledgeable in their field are the answer. Whether that is psychiatrist trainees teaching school children cognitive positive thinking techniques or retired accountants teaching students how to understand the tax system and budget effectively. This is also mutually beneficial as trainees in psychology for example would gain hands on experience whilst younger students would learn useful life long skills.  
  • Thirdly the education system should encourage more involvement in sports and the arts. As this would allow our students to be creative and active. This would In turn help them retain their passion and enthusiasm for education, thus triggering a positive upswing on their academic achievements. 
  • Fourthly ensuring all our subjects linked to present day affairs whenever possible would create well informed individuals who were hungry to seek knowledge and are therefore more likely to be capable of doing so.
  • Lastly making homework given to students more test based. As the practise of exams throughout the year would help pupils perform better on the final exam and would allow British schools and universities to compete well internationally amongst other countries.

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