Vive le Roi, est ce que le Roi mort? - Veterinary Practice
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Vive le Roi, est ce que le Roi mort?

The Mercury Column, in which a guest columnist takes the temperature of the profession – and the world around.

ANYONE WHO HAS HAD THE PLEASURE of watching the TED talks will know that they manage to find talented, inspirational people to bring fascinating topics or unusual aspects of things we know well, to bring challenging points of view into our living rooms or offices on an irresistible one-to-one basis.

Ten years ago, Sir Ken Robinson presented a TED talk with the question, “Do schools kill creativity?”, with his normal blend of immaculate timing which verges on stand-up comedy interlaced with some serious and very important observations and I commend it to anyone who hasn’t already seen it –

His talk revolves around the theme that education is the vehicle that’s made to take us into a future that we cannot grasp. Unpredictability is extraordinary yet our future is invariably uncertain and, as life becomes more technologically and culturally challenging, we are increasingly dependent on the human capacity to adapt. On that basis, adaptive education is not only important but essential to our future.

In his view, creativity is as important as literacy and we should accord it the same status, which would require a fundamental rethink of the principles by which we educate our children.

Children are not afraid of getting it wrong but, as adults, we are frightened of making mistakes and this is reflected not just in the workplace but also in our national curriculum programme.

Why then do we consign creativity to the arts? Of course, within a clinical reference, we could not condone the experimental use of colour to diagnose underlying disease but we should be careful not to limit our thinking to the reactive and comparatively safe embrace of proven practice when the proactive exploration of alternatives may lead us to a glittering future.

As in all things, moderation may be the key to avoiding disaster but the fear of getting it wrong paralyses creativity in our culture and in the management of our own horizons.

Within 30 years there will be more people graduating through an educational pathway than would be the total numbers since the beginning of time and Ken Robinson makes the point that human intelligence is diverse, distinct and dynamic, being individually interactive rather than compartmentalised.

Wrong resources?

The challenges for educators are manifest; we have, over the last 20 years or so, concentrated our resources in the areas of written expression, mathematical reasoning, ICT literacy, reading comprehension and the visualisation of non-visual data, but these are the five skills considered to be least useful by the youngsters in a recent Infosys survey of almost 9,000 “millennials” across nine countries.

In contrast, they believed that time management, verbal communication, co-ordinating with others, critical thinking and related technological skills were the five most important skills necessary to have a successful career. These skills appear to concentrate on an ability to work within a team rather than specifically individual skills. It would be fascinating to survey employers in the same countries to see which skills they most valued.

Employers may be struggling to find candidates with the necessary skills in the global marketplace but, as technology advances, some of the skills currently found in these emerging markets may become outdated, leaving only the more affluent able to enhance and develop new and emerging technological skills.

Indeed, in Thailand, there appears already to be a problem in that six times as many people are graduating with IT degrees than there are jobs available and this clearly indicates that a much higher level of job mobility will be required of tomorrow’s graduates than has been the case to date.

What does this same uncertain future hold for veterinary education? Veterinary schools currently make a big point about their commitment to produce veterinary scientists rather than practitioners and to propel omni-competent graduates with skills across all species into the marketplace.

Are either of these commitments, apparently dear to the profession, sustainable in the long run?

Higher fees for higher education

Some UK veterinary schools have already declared their wish to charge the new, higher level of tuition fees, when these become operable, which would make the cost of completing the veterinary course even more expensive.

Is it unthinkable that a graduate of tomorrow might question the return on investment of that magnitude if it fails to properly prepare a person for the challenges of, say, small animal practice as well as a five-year course designed specifically for those species might have done?

Or would a more focused three-year course provide a better return for a significant number of graduates? Education has become an industry and saleable product offers real competitive advantage.

We make great play on the need for scientists to be able to review the literature and to draw their own conclusions about their scientific validity, yet any competent barrister, in the event of subsequent litigation, would have a field day if a veterinary surgeon had failed to follow the guidelines provided.

Fear of failure is one thing but the fear of litigation is something very different. Is it any wonder that, in the face of such confusing mixed messages, many graduates might seize on EBM as the route which offers the lowest level of risk rather than the highest chance of success?

Clinical guidelines are meant to be seen as a tool rather than as a rule but our ability to adapt and to adopt new ways of doing things is in counterpoint to the everyday realities of the job. How then will the new veterinary schools coming into the marketplace set new standards of education rather than simply swelling the numbers of graduates to drive the process of job mobility?

If, as Ken Robinson so eloquently said, education is the vehicle to carry us into a future that we cannot yet grasp, new veterinary educators have a heavy responsibility to lead the way in harnessing this extraordinary human capacity to adapt to change.

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