"A fool’s brain digests philosophy into folly, science into superstition, and art into pedantry. Hence University education." George Bernard Shaw
Yesterday, I enjoyed a beautiful night out on the town with a close friend. We were at the iconic Royal York Hotel rubbing shoulders with the City’s well known “do gooders”. The night was crisp and cold but the sky was clear and the City sparkled with a vibe that reflected its diversity and modernity. The crowd at the banquet was a friendly and cheerful one representing the City’s cultural richness. We had wonderful dinner companions. An Associate Professor of Music, Stephanie, who taught music history, played, composed, sang and taught classical and choral music, a singer in one of her choirs, and a Turkish real estate agent. The conversation was scintillating especially when Stephanie reminisced about the time she played the organ accompanying evensong at the enchanting St. Paul’s Cathedral in London. She waxed prolific about the choral music scene in London and I rushed home to message my daughter Uttara, a London resident, about potentially joining a volunteer choir there, given her musical interests and latent (!) abilities.
Dinner was lovely. There were delectable spinach pastries and vine leaf rolls as starters, a delicious pasta dish for the entrée, salad and, for dessert, Noah’s pudding, which came complete with the recipe.
Following dinner came the headliner. The key-note by the University of Toronto President, Eric Gertler, which ended up being a missed opportunity. At a time when universities have to rethink their relevance functioning in their current form, given the debt load students carry unable to find jobs in the current market, the largest university in Canada bears responsibility to shine light on a new path? With several key influencers present in the room, this talk should have challenged us to re-imagine a world where physical classrooms are replaced by all forms of synchronous and asynchronous learning, where the portals of education find students wherever they are in their lives and where there are dynamic and synergistic collaborations with alumni, industry, other institutions and even nation states! This is the time to rethink the revenue model that universities operate by, given the role education has come to play as a life- long pursuit what with technological advancements altering our reality at break-neck speed. We simply have to keep up with these changes, to do better at work and to live fuller lives! Gone are the days when we could pay lip service to words like innovation and civic engagement, without actually demonstrating how this would look. If universities are only concerned with maintaining market share and boundaries, in traditional ways, then all they will be left with are empty classrooms and expensive real estate, while the educational start-ups ride the high waves. Do we want Canada’s largest university to maintain the status quo, with a deluded sense of its importance in its current form, or do we want it to rise up to the greatest challenges that universities are facing today and pave the course?
I marveled at the symbolism of having a music professor at our table. Especially one who was disrupting the world in her own little way. She was bringing classical music from the ivory tower to untrained singers and lay audiences, breaking down barriers and unraveling the mystique surrounding it. And the diversity of folks gathered in that room each had a similar story to share, a piece of wisdom to impart to help both Toronto and Canada stay ahead of the curve, with a shared commitment to achieving excellence in this knowledge economy. I am proud to say that we have contributed to this in our own small way at MCIS. We continue to help newcomers get a leg up in life qualifying them to work as language professionals, making our courses both geography agnostic and asynchronous.
MCIS offers several on line skills building courses related to language training (www.mcislanguages.com)
Free online training to address human trafficking (built under the auspices of the Ontario Ministry of the Attorney General) is being offered to social work students at some post secondary institutions with wonderful results! Check it out at http://helpingtraffickedpersons.org/