Niels Strohkirch, Co-Founder, Acton Academy Desa Parkcity

Born and raised near Hannover, Germany, Niels worked for 4 years as the CFO of the Valiram Group, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia (the largest independent luxury retailer in South-East Asia). After ending his corporate career in 2012, Niels became a serial entrepreneur and is actively coaching and supporting young entrepreneurs and corporate managers to reach their fullest potential in life and business. Niels developed a strong passion to change the future of the children in elevating the education system to equip our children for an ever faster changing world. To support his conviction, Niels co-founded Acton Academy Desa Parkcity. Niels also has a deep interest in Industry 4.0 related industries as AI, IoT, and Blockchain technologies, as well as in Automotive, Health Care and Digital Retail. With a Master’s Degree equivalent in Business Administration from the University of Cologne, Germany, followed by an Entrepreneurship Development Program from Sloan School of Management (MIT), he also has executive education in courses at the DaimlerChrysler Corporate Academy. During his early age, Niels also served in the German Military Service, where he retired as a Second Lieutenant.

The amount of technical information is doubling every 2 years. For students starting a 4-year technical or college degree, this means half of what they learn in their first year of study will be outdated by their 3rd year of study. Assuming they start at the latest level of technological development, which is highly unlikely knowing that to change a curriculum it takes at least 2 years. Hence, the reality is even worse.

Educational institutions offer accreditation via a grading system. Nothing more. And for this honor, they either take money from taxpayers or charge a tuition fee, or both. Worse, in many cases of higher education, this ensures that students start their career with a massive debt. What can today’s schools offer in terms of learning which you cannot learn by yourself? The big-picture answer is: Nothing!

Have schools changed much since Otto von Bismarck established a government-driven school system in 1887 in Prussia/Germany, which was later adopted almost worldwide, to ensure children shall be educated in the right way? The State’s approach: authoritative driven teaching where children must sit still and do as they are told, learn as they are told and get examined as they are told. Depending on the State examiner’s grading system, the children would be offered either a tertiary education followed by a career or end up as laborers. The system was all about reward and punishment. Has anything really changed since then?

Stuffing as much information as possible into a young mind and forcing it out via exams is not appropriate anymore. It is the antithesis of the meaning of the word “education” in Greek, which means “to draw forth from within” or “educere” in Latin, meaning “to bring up, to nourish”.

While the 1st and the 2nd Industrial Revolution took us about 100 years each from the beginning to the next level, the 3rd revolution was cut short by roughly half the time. The 4th Technological Revolution, which started around 2011 is ongoing for only eight years now. Looking at the speed of the development of Artificial Intelligence (AI), Internet of Things (IoT), Blockchain, Virtual Reality (VR), Augmented Reality (AR) and 5G, just to name a few, it seems fair to bet that the 4th Revolution will have an even shorter life cycle than the 3rd one.

One thing is certain though, technology has changed our lives dramatically in the last decade and it will be even more dramatic in the years to come. Many blue-collar and white-collar jobs will simply disappear while new jobs evolve. Just 10 years ago who would have imagined being a “YouTuber”, “Instagrammer” or “Social Media Consultant”.

So, what are the choices left for providing your children with the best education? The world has churned out various school systems which are equipped differently for mastering these challenges in the future. Of course, the traditional schools still exist in a variety of guises and then there are other options, such as Acton Academy, Waldorf School and Montessori Schools as well as many hybrids.

There is another trend called “Unschooling”. Parents drop the original concept of Home Schooling altogether and take the responsibility of educating their children in their own hands. It may appear as the most extreme form of “resisting” traditional school systems and many perceive it as almost anarchic or even anti-government.

Acton Academy places the collective responsibility of teaching and learning in the hands of the children themselves. It is a school of life without teachers but with adult supervision, called Guides. The children form their own community and build their whole lives around it. A golden rule at Acton is that the Guides never answer any questions from the children, instead, they guide them to find the answer themselves. It is all based on the concept that children are natural learners and naturally curious. They only need guidance to use these gifts to their fullest potential.

You have free online services such as Khan Academy, which offer the entire American syllabus for free. If you think that this is not as good as going to school just look at how many online courses are offered by these institutions. It must be working, otherwise, they would not be bothered.

The only way to prepare our children and any adult to face the current speed of change is through cultivating an open mindset to constant change. Change needs to become as natural as brushing your teeth every morning. This means you must be able to literally change yourself daily and create a habit of doing so to survive in the future world. The qualities you need to do so are, critical thinking, excellence, resilience, and unconditional kindness, among others.

How will the future of learning look like? While the children still meet in a “classroom” setting, they will spend more time learning independently with a learning tool, as in Acton Academy. The difference is that while at present they follow the Khan Academy system, in the future AI will detect how each student learns best and prompt the best apps or tools to provide the student with another way of understanding and learning if they get stuck. This is to ensure that everyone is taught according to their own learning style. It is like a private teacher who constantly experiments on how to reach the student on their own terms to ensure the most efficient use of time spent studying.

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