“Humanity weaves the web in which she becomes entangled” Persian mystic poet Hakim Sanai wrote in the eleventh century. These words are directed at the rigid way in which man gets caught up in rules and categories. Sanai’s poems provided the literary foundation for Sufism, a mystical and moderate branch of Islam. IS, quite keen on strict rules, carried out a horrible attack on a Sufi mosque in Egypt just last week.

Sanai’s line seems just as appropriate in a secular setting. Columnist Idriss Aberkane also refers to this suffocating web in his recently published book Libérez Votre Cerveau (Free Your Brain). In the book, he advocates the implementation of a radically different system of education. He writes that: “In a constantly changing world that is horizontal, eclectic and connected through the internet, our educational systems are rather hierarchical, vertical, dogmatic and rigid.” He is right: We ought to make more cross-connections, teach people to think flexibly and opt for risk-taking and experimentation rather than security.

Earlier this month, the Social and Economic Council of the Netherlands (SER) published its (second) advice regarding future-oriented vocational education. According to the report, “mismatches between supply and demand” are on the horizon, given the transitional phase that we are in. Olof van der Gaag, director of the Dutch Association for Sustainable Energy (NVDE), confirms this. In this paper, published on 17 November, he wrote that the shortage of suitable employees is a cause of frustration in the energy transition. The SER advises to strengthen regional, sectoral and national cooperation and stimulate schools to become learning organizations with room for professionals.

I’d like to add my own two cents. In the future, we will have the opportunity of letting technology, robots and algorithms do much of our work. This will cause jobs to disappear, particularly those that were previously done by people with a high school diploma in vocational education. Institutes of higher education should adapt to this by deciding not to educate people to be human robots, but rather focus on what makes human beings unique.

Education, senior vocational education (MBO) in particular, has improved a lot, but still has room for further improvement. Let me list three things: lateral thinking, creativity and empathy. The first might require some explanation: This involves “organizing existing information differently in order to bring new information into being” – also referred to as “out of the box thinking.” Kids are surprisingly skilled lateral thinkers, but our educational system teaches them to unlearn these skills. Creativity and empathy don’t fare much better.

In his book, Aberkane states that: “Every fully flourishing human being serves some economic purpose, but not every economically purposeful human being is necessarily flourishing.” Quite so: a flourishing person manages to make himself or herself useful time and time again in a changing world. Let’s transform our confining web into a springboard to the future.


This article originally appeared on Studio Zeitgeist