Under pressure: How meta-educated are we?

Building meta-skills for adult learners (EPALE Turkey 2022 conference)

When TED Talks first broadcasted Sir Ken Robinson’s educational video ‘’Do schools kill creativity?’’ back in 2006, probably nobody would have expected it to skyrocket to the fantastic 72 million views on the TED channel only, marking it the most-watched TED talk of all time. Sir Robinson, an inspiring educational expert and a creativity guru, quickly went viral with his witty and profound elaboration on how schools are, unfortunately, failing to nurture creativity in children. Amid many shrewd observations he made, Sir Robinson passionately affirmed that we are educating children for the future despite nobody knowing what the future will look like, arguing along the way that education can hardly address the unpredictability of what is yet to happen. Regardless of the absurdity that ‘’education is meant to take us into this future that we can’t grasp,’’ it seems like educational systems across the globe have been growing stronger and more sustainable than ever. Indeed, how educational systems will cope with what the future brings in terms of employability of students, will be a decisive moment that might showcase the systems’ fragility and disruptiveness, on the one hand, or a promise of its further technological acceleration, on the other. Adult learners, being the biggest community of learners in the world, are reported to be mainly missing out on the high-tech wizardry and will certainly bear the heavier burden of what’s coming in these uncertain times.

Some of the key issues in the Digital Transition of adult education were successfully addressed at the EPALE International conference held recently in Turkey (21-22 March 2022). There were several takeaways from the conference within the scope of the future of adult education, one of which was how to implement the Metaverse concept into the general teaching practice in adult education. The prefix meta itself is derived from Greek to denote a quality of something that is ‘’more comprehensive’’ or ‘’transcending’’ or, more commonly, epistemologically, means ‘’self-referential’’, as, for example in metadata (data about data). However, although it originated in 1992 as a hybrid concept of ‘’meta’’ and ‘’universe’’, Metaverse has become globally popular in 2021 with Mike Zuckerberg’s company name change from Facebook to Meta Platforms.Given that we all experienced the abrupt shift to e-environments in education and business with the COVID-19 pandemic, Meta has become a buzzword used to encompass a broad network of various 3D virtual worlds focused on social connection purposes.

Ashighlighted by brilliant speakers and panelists at the EPALE conference, the robust world of Metaverse is what adult educators need to adopt in their regular teaching practices so that adult learners do not feel left behind. With the quantum leap brought by Industry 4.0 that has revolutionized the way companies manufacture and sell their products, the gap between education and the world as we know it will get bigger and trickier to bridge as time goes by. To secure upskilling and employability of adults we, adult educators, need to systematically build on learners’ capacity to respond to a permanent change in society and economy, so it must be performed as a collective transformation. In that context, we might be speaking of the necessity for learners’ to acquire meta-skills within meta-education, all geared toward fostering more diverse and practical educational programs that would engage adult learners in using the Digital Transition for their benefit. One of the concerns of such a concept might be how to increase and cultivate the learners’ Social Presence in an e-environment (emotional and social interaction, and connectedness) in that way that learners do not feel as if stuck in a dystopian space. To prevent what I would call ‘’educational claustrophobia’’ – a state of learners perceiving the educational process as worthless or confined, inadequate to enable their full personal and social development – both learners’ and educators’ mindsets must be directed towards mastering Metaverse and nurturing Social Presence for building successful online learning communities. Therefore, Metaverse as a teaching approach could be referred to as a dimension with huge transformative potential, understood, in Derridean terms, as a ‘’participation’’, not ‘’belonging’’ to a general educational framework, introduced to allow efficient educational paths and relevance in students’ lives in modern or future society at large.

Finally, from the Metaversal perspective, modern adult education could be observed as an instructional bricolage, a ‘do-it-yourself’ project within a larger scope of diverse e-resources, a design by means of which new educational profiles and identities are created, taking from a dominant culture what is handy and accessible, to provide it with fresh, purposeful meaning. Given that adult learners are considered to be “in a state of transition” coming from various educational and cultural backgrounds and job experiences, not following a traditional pattern to education and work might be a ‘’been there done that’’ moment for the majority of them. However, as their expectations of education are greater than those of a traditional student, higher pressure is put on adult educators to deliver meaningful instruction within the Metaverse concept and meet students’ rising expectations. And the pressure is a good thing, as ”diamonds are made under pressure”.



These photos illustrate the partnership between students and their lecturers in the Englit lab. The lab serves as a place where ideas are born and put into practice, through a meaningful and open discussion.


Jingle all the way: Going eco-friendly with holidays – in academia, (example of good practice)

While we usually demonstrate eco-friendly behaviour on a regular basis and think twice when choosing plastic over paper, we somehow repeatedly get infected by the shopping craze during the Christmas holidays, not thinking ‘green’. Wherever you set your foot in December, you can witness how Christmas is overburdening businesses, schools and households with an excess of unrecyclable wrapping paper, plastic trees and tons of super expensive shiny decoration.

The world Economic Forum reports on the devastating environmental impacts of our 21st century Christmas: globally, celebrating Christmas intensifies consumerism so much that of all the materials flowing through the consumer economy, only 1% remains in use six months later. Unfortunately, holiday shopping and the culture of gift-giving has become a vulgar extension of the consumption economy – it is said that households debt burden continues to rise in Canada, the United States, Australia, China and elsewhere. In 2018, Australians wasted an estimated 10 million dollars on unwanted gifts. The total amount of wrapping paper used only in the UK can cover the world 9 times over. Businesses feel forced to decorate their facilities early in December or even earlier.

To raise the awareness of the ‘toxic’ character of the Christmas spending sprees and to prevent unreasonable spending, especially in the workplace, the role of public educational institutions during this time of the year seems crucial. A wonderful example of good practice comes from the University of Kragujevac, Faculty of Technical Sciences in Čačak. Since the National Foundation for Environmental Education Serbia awarded this Faculty in recognition of their excellent achievements in ecology the status of an international ECO-school, based on the strict criteria, an Eco-friendlier approach to Christmas decorations the Faculty displays in its public premises has been adopted there. Every year in December, the entrance, halls and classrooms get changed into festive clothing, yet, all the materials used for the decoration are recycled or re-purposed: old cotton, hemp sacks, used chipboard, woollen ropes, upcycled glasses used as light bulbs etc. As a rule, unused or old pieces of furniture and thrift shop items are collected throughout the year and carefully stored so that they can be used later for this project. After both teachers and students carefully design a non-spending agenda for the forthcoming holidays, they brainstorm the ideas. Several teams partake in the crafting sessions, unleashing their creativity. Being accustomed to seeing many creative displays, the Faculty employees, students and visitors look forward to a new Christmas design hoping for a magical Eco-friendly atmosphere with zero waste.

The last December (2019) the Faculty went the extra mile. The traditional Christmas decoration project of the Faculty was enriched with a wider organizer’s initiative, with the right cause: for the first time, stakeholders and NGOs were actively involved in the process. The highlight of the 2019 event was the lecture given by the representatives of the Birds lovers’ association ‘Owls on Alert’ and Shabby Chic Design Studio, on how responsible spending habits and implementation of circular economy in everyday actions can help save the planet. Finally, at the end of the sessions, the mayor’s assistant in ecology gave a talk sharing an official 2020 Eco agenda on behalf of the local authorities, hoping to motivate students to broaden their eco-perspective and encourage their further activism in the community. It is estimated that the 2019 decoration project had engaged more than 200 students and teachers, both in lectures and decorating sessions.

It is essential that, at the times of the year when we might be less conscious of our actions, the initiative to ‘go greener’ takes place in academia, i.e. the adult educational institution. As a gathering place of young adults, educational professionals and industry representatives, academia serve as a fantastic eco-hub for the community, capable of mapping the spots of eco-intervention which might bring about the change. With the reputation universities have especially perceived as centres of science and progress, similar projects would likely be warmly welcomed and learned from, for the benefit of local communities and their inhabitants no matter their age or profession.

Universities, with their wide range of educational practices, have proven to possess the know-how, public attention and creative potential to change the negative trends in ecology. Academia easily adopts the role of a nucleus which incites collaboration, disseminates knowledge and searches for solutions in the field of sustainable development. Sometimes it is not enough to offer undergraduate or graduate studies in ecology or provide certificates for students who attend eco-seminars. Neither it is always necessary to write complicated eco-projects with big budgets whose first results are to be seen in the distant future. In many cases, what we need to see is small but sustainable actions of goodwill in which diverse structures of participants are involved in the same task – to demonstrate that we can bring about the change – here and now.

So Marry Christmas and happy ECO New Year.


Citizenship education in Serbian higher education: re-defining curricula for better results

Many years ago, while I was still teaching at Grammar school in my hometown, I applied for a programme designed for shaping future leaders in education. Having been fully funded by the American government, the opportunity to stay at an American university for a month was super attractive for both teachers and students. Citizen education had been a compulsory subject in elementary and secondary schools in Serbia at that time, so the basic values of the field were well institutionalized. Needless to say, the process was highly selective, aiming at discovering the hidden potentials of the candidates. Luckily though, two of my students and myself were among the 5 teachers and 15 students from Serbia who were awarded the fellowship.

In all the initial excitement, we learned that the idea behind this initiative was to gather young people from South-East Europe in a structured programme to teach them collaboration, democracy, and civic engagement. Indeed, the experience proved to have been what was advertised: 4 weeks of intensive work on classes and seminars ended with a group of youngsters flashing around their newly acquired competencies. I remember I was amazed at seeing all of them solve complex environmental issues in heated debates while offering creative solutions to popular political misconceptions. At the end of the process, as they were all demonstrating respectful behaviour towards the nationality, race, and gender of their collaborative peers, the 16 year-olds lavishly displayed their understanding of the world expressing the viewpoints I did not know even existed.

Not only were my students transformed by this programme, it was ME who also learned so much: I got trained to understand the importance of civic engagement is social changes and to use the skills once I get back home. With the programme being a complete success, my students and I showed some reasonable benefit from it: one of them graduated from the Law faculty and started his own business in Belgrade, and the second mastered quantum physics and works as a scientist in Germany. I left Grammar school and pursued a career in higher education.

I thought that students who attend universities already possessed skills and willingness to tackle current societal issues, especially those students who could directly relate to various discrepancies of the ‘what the world is’ and ‘what it should be’. One of the reasons I thought students would be interested more, was the fact that they had already been familiar with citizenship education in their previous education. At the point when they become ‘full of age’ and are actually legally approved to vote on the elections, they must have been eager to take the matter into their own hands and start changing the society for the better. Or it is what I thought. I was wrong.

The ‘citizenship culture’ has not been established in any of the small neighbouring towns my students have been coming from. By introducing ‘the culture of change’ in communities with the aim to put into practice things learned at school, the citizenship etiquette with its norms and goals would definitely be assured. Drawing public attention to societal issues usually IS a cry for action, but sometimes, an established pattern of civic engagement makes that path more approachable and more prone to success. If you have SEEN an action being debated on, improved – polished – upgrades AND adopted, you have actually traced the citizenship culture in a community. At the same time, you have given the added value to curricula which offer citizenship education as a university course.

Unfortunately, ideas of cosmopolitanism turned into practice, with individuals considering themselves (and others) citizens of the world, have clearly been strange to my students. They neither perceive themselves as potential policymakers nor they understand their role in shaping a generation of community leaders. Even when they are invited to partake in activities which have the potential to enable social changes and, more directly, mobilize young people to create ‘citizenship culture’ as such, students generally tend to ‘choose to remain inactive’. They just ‘do not have to get involved’ – they have never seen other students do it, so why bother now? Disbelief in change is high in the percentage. If the change depends on them, even more.

To sum up, what all those young people have learned in secondary schools stays in the realm of those ‘boring subjects’ we just have to attend. However, it is not them to blame. After the educational ties to citizenship education have been violently cut off with the ending of the secondary education, a question can be raised: Why teaching citizenship education to the minors and then just stop once they become legally allowed to act on a number of actions, ones they initiate themselves, or of the others?

If the 21st-century skills are widely recognized as the 4C’s: communication, collaboration, critical thinking, and creativity, how can higher education add to the shaping of citizenship culture to blend them all? Collective learning for social change among thoughtful and committed colleagues at this educational level, under the guidance and support of university teachers, can really make a change. We, teachers, should not be only those who advocate for and strengthen students’ citizenship skills, we are responsible for making THEM bring about the changes that matter. And by doing so, young people will define the core values in the ‘citizenship culture’ which, once settled, will only serve us for the better.


The Importance of English in the Modern Business World

While the British Council calculates that English is only the third largest language in the world, it has emerged as the international language of business communication, particularly in certain industries such as travel, hospitality, engineering and construction, healthcare, and finance.

English spread throughout the world as a result of British colonial rule and it became accepted as the standard for communication in many African and Asian countries which had disparate languages and dialects, and English soon became an accepted standard language for global trade and commerce. In the modern world, English is key in several major global industries.

Students wishing to study engineering and construction will often take specialized English classes in order to be able to create more job opportunities inside or outside their country on large internationally funded projects. They need a high standard of spoken and written communication in technical English.

Many of the world’s largest stock exchanges are based in English speaking countries. These include the New York Stock Exchange, the NASDAQ, London Stock Exchange, Toronto, Australia and Johannesburg. English has become a key language for investment, foreign exchange and banking. Many large corporations organize and pay for business English classes for their staff.

English has become one of the key languages of the internet. Anyone wishing to do work with computers or do business online needs a basic command of business English and should be able to spell common words accurately.


TRAFFIC AND DEMOCRACY (CEEPUS essay challenge, 2017)

Lauren Beukes once said: “Traffic in Joburg is like the democratic process. Every time you think it’s going to get moving and take you somewhere, you hit another jam.” Joburg from the above quote might be Johannesburg – the largest city in South Africa and one of the 50 largest urban areas in the world. In fact, it is. At the same time, Joburg depicted as a wildly congested jungle of roads with steaming vehicles getting nowhere might be any city anywhere in the world at the beginning of 2020’s. Probably it is.

The quote makes us think more deeply about both democracy and traffic. If democracy is relatively difficult to introduce in many parts of the world due to various reasons, one must wonder why traffic becomes even harder to handle for an average traveller in the century which set all the records in technology advances of traffic industry. Why are we stuck? How long are we supposed to wait? What for? How much do our personal preferences influence the method of transport we choose? Is commuting becoming a lifestyle as such?

If democracy is ‘saying out loud what you think’ you might tweet your political views while sitting in a train. Taking the subway on your way to school rather than going on foot to save precious time can help reflect the meaningfulness of traffic in the modern civilization. Despite the Internet revolution which allows us to see places on videos and talk to people in real time, travelling seems more legitimate than ever. We still stubbornly wait for hours for boarding a plane. Either way, write down your thoughts as a Facebook status, you will be kept waiting. You might be even having enough time to write a book. Turn around. You will be one of many other people doing the same. Why do we always forget that traffic is a social affair?

Democracy, by definition, is a system of government in which the citizens exercise power directly or elect representatives from among themselves to form a governing body. How similar is the traffic as a phenomenon of civilization? Did we choose this system of transport on purpose or it was imposed to us? Tracking the origins of traffic would be a tiring task, I admit. Starting from the first wheel moved by just a pair of hands, traffic solutions have passed a big way to become modern, comfortable and pricey options. As the solutions in engineering and materials were becoming more practical and updated, the manufacturing industry evolved throughout the world.

Where are we now?Many distant parts of the world became easier to reach. Travelling became a pastime, not only a business need. So much has been done to make travelling fun and easy. Catering on board, Wi-fi access and air-conditioning have become pre-requisites of modern vehicles. However, obligatory passenger controls on airports have ruined the enjoyment in travelling and endangered ‘democracy’ of privacy by thorough check-ups. Safety of millions of people is on the first place and should remain so.

The costs of some vehicles have made them unavailable with wider population. Many famous car makes cost a fortune, although, their industries promise elegance, comfort and reliance in return: the more, the better. Or is it? Are the car prices money for value compared to average income per capita? Who will pay for the pollution of water and air they cause? Do you need to take a loan to buy an expensive car part? And, finally, is the investment justifiable if you are taking just ONE person to work in your car? Yourself? Since social networks allow us to travel at the speed of our thought, somehow all other methods of travel seem slow and inappropriate.

The future of traffic solutions must be more suited to meet the needs of an average world traveller, travelling for business or pleasure within a limited time span: safe, fast and inexpensive. Achieving that goal is not easy, neither democracy is. However, a systematic planning of traffic development throughout the world is the first step. The experts must perceive the whole world as one traffic platform and work within the scheme. Otherwise, travelling has no point and is doomed to locality and short distances.

A new traffic concept of the 22nd century would use the advantages of the existing one and minimise its flaws. This means that the new goal of traffic vehicles would be having more eco-friendly methods of transport, easier to maintain and cheaper to afford for wider population. Wind power, solar energy, electricity, even recycling materials used as fuels mixed with robotics and information technology could shape a useful outline.

Conquering new places seems like a doomed battle: ground, water and air have already been taken. Underground as well. Since there is no room for stealing more space, the existing one has to be modified and carefully preserved. Lesser noise, smoother transitions from ground to water or air, smaller, less complicated stations, departure and arrivals lists adaptable; special air crafts to reach people endangered by sudden flood or fire, versatile and ready to switch from ground to air in seconds, if needed. Using the same system of roads in levels would allow bikes, cars or trains to reach desired destinations at their own speed. Engineers should devise a net of traffic roads which would make travelling equally fun, easy and eco-friendly.

When you are late, traffic looks like it’s a sign of bad planning. But it’s not. It is a sum of strenuous work of thousands of people who succeeded in putting their ideas into practice. It has to be imperfect, because all humans are. Traffic has been created as a ‘democratic’ way to pick and choose where to go and how. Traffic is tiring and complicated. Above all, it is unpredictable. That’s why it is so irresistibly adventurous.