Column: Fact Check

| Wiendelt Steenbergen

I read something mindboggling the other day: ‘Technological advancements are developing at such a rate that the things that tech students learn during their freshman year will have been outdated by the time of their graduation.’ My immediate thought was, what is it that tech students learn during their first year? Do they have to memorize the latest gadget collection from Mediamarkt?

The second question that this statement raises is, are first year technology curriculums really that perishable? It would be interesting to fact check the above statement, because it is university administrators who, over the last couple of years, have claimed it to be true in one way or the other. The most recent example of this is the president of the University of Twente and the 4TU-federation, who made the aforementioned statement in Het Financieele Dagblad on February 7th.

If a fact check shows that the statement is ‘true’, then that would mean a potential scandal that could lead to a student revolt and a parliamentary inquiry. However, if the statement turns out to lack any merit, then that shows there is a wide gap between what university administrators believe and what is actually going on. And that is problematic, because the aforementioned statement is often used to argue the need for educational reforms. And since educational reforms usually have a large impact, the arguments for them need to be convincing.

But what use is a fact check if the statement turns out to be untrue, if the first part of the assertion is incorrect? What if the technological developments on a scale of a technological university course are not that large at all? Then the second component of the statement is simply not relevant anymore.

It is important to consider that the perception that technology is developing at such a fast pace is heavily influenced by one single sector: ICT. Think of a large, technological advancement with a big impact on daily life during the last five years, and chances are that it concerns the ICT that is ‘hidden under the hood’. The rate of technological advancements in other sectors is, in truth, slightly disappointing. Transportation, medical technology, sustainable energy, materials; the actual progress in these fields is excruciatingly slow. To give you an example, the most important innovation of the last ten years for people who travel by plane, was the electrochromic window. Now, I hear you ask, ‘What about the increasing quality of the in-flight entertainment?’ That’s all ICT.

Long story short, the rate with which technology develops during a student’s life is not a justification to dive into the next educational reform. To make a good case for that, you will need better arguments.

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