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Play now 45 mins

21st Century Education

45 minutes
First broadcast:
Saturday 29 September 2012

The second of five Forum programmes in which eminent thinkers lead discussions about the most pressing challenges in today’s world: this week, Professor Martin Rees, UK’s Astronomer Royal, and his guests talk about education.
Should education prepare people for work, or make us think more creatively, or to be better citizens? What can we expect of digital technology: how much will this change the way we learn and could it help those currently excluded from education? And what about those often mentioned economic benefits of a good education, how real are they? Joining Martin Rees and an audience of academics and students at Murray Edwards College, Cambridge, are Paris-based educational consultant Alexandra Draxler, educational policy advisor Alison Wolf and digital entrepreneur Conrad Wolfram.

Illustration by Emily Kasriel: Educating the next generation with creativity and rigour.


2 items
  • Sir Martin Rees

    Sir Martin Rees

    With more than 500 research papers to his name, Martin Rees, Baron Rees of Ludlow, is one of the world’s most distinguished cosmologists. As Cambridge Emeritus Professor of Cosmology and Astrophysics, former Master of Trinity College, and Visiting Professor at many other leading universities including Harvard, Caltech, Berkeley, Kyoto and Princeton, he has a long-standing interest in education. Focusing on science education, he is very keen to ensure that the natural enthusiasm and inquisitiveness of young children doesn’t become stifled by the time they leave school.

  • Alison Wolf

    Alison Wolf

    Alison Wolf is Professor of Public Sector Management at King’s College London who specialises in the relationship between education and the labour market. She argues that the main purpose of education is to grade and select people rather than simply broaden their minds. She also says that it’s a mistake for countries to pour almost all their resources into educating young people at the expense of adults: in the 21st century we all need life-long learning.

  • Conrad Wolfram

    Conrad Wolfram

    Conrad Wolfram, director of Wolfram Research, is campaigning to change the way mathematics is taught in schools. He says that while importance of math to jobs, society, and thinking has exploded over the last few decades, math education has gotten stuck or has even slipped backward. He also believes that, ultimately, computers will allow mass access to what has been traditionally a preserve of the privileged few: individualised learning tailored to your needs and interests.

  • Alexandra Draxler

    Alexandra Draxler

    Alexandra Draxler is an education specialist who has spent many years writing about education methods in the developing world and working for UNESCO and other leading institutions. She says that while it’s now fashionable to moan about teachers and education, many countries have made great educational progress in the last few decades. She argues that education must address ‘soft’ skills as well as nurturing our intellects, and notes that that the countries that focus less on grades, like Finland, often do best.

  • The Forum at Murray Edwards College in Cambridge

    The Forum at Murray Edwards College in Cambridge

  • The Forum at Murray Edwards College in Cambridge

    The Forum at Murray Edwards College in Cambridge

    Sir Martin Rees and Alexandra Draxler

  • The Forum at Murray Edwards College in Cambridge

    The Forum at Murray Edwards College in Cambridge

    Alison Wolf and Conrad Wolfram

  • In next week’s programme

    We will be discussing the tension between the real and the virtual with the British ceramicist and writer Edmund de Waal, American mathematician Robert Kaplan and Israeli 3D-printing artist Eyal Gever.



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