Teach as Borlaug Did
The advances in science in the past few decades have occurred at a speed and sophistication like we had never experienced before in human history. It is also estimated that in the next two to five years the advances would be greater than ever in our history.
As technology develops at this rate and sophistication, one would assume that we could solve human suffering, malnutrition, eliminate poverty, recover our biodiversity and create a sustainable world of peace, justice and dignity for all. Contrary to this, we perceive a more divided world with more violence, world leaders that take us back to conflict and separation, more hungry people, more obesity with its consequences for the health of our population and a deterioration of the environment that is no longer a theoretical risk but a real threat to human survival on the planet.
We know that ending hunger is possible as shown to us by an extraordinary academician and researcher in the ‘60s and ‘70s. Dr. Norman Borlaug, who was himself a researcher, understood the role of scientists. He knew that his role was not only to do research, teach and publish his results, but to take the practicability of those findings to where it was most needed. Norman Borlaug saved millions of lives by utilizing his research to increase the production of food and make it available to millions of people who otherwise would have died of starvation.
More than 50 years have passed since one man saved the lives of millions of people, and today with all the advances in science we have not been able to impact the world the way he did. Why is it that we continue to have children dying of curable diseases? About 8 million people die because of the contamination we have created. Poverty which had been slightly reduced in the past has increased again in the last few years. The inequalities in society have been dramatically increased, and we see more violence and wars than in the so-called “Cold War.” We are getting to Mars and have satellites that can help us in communicating, predict the weather and determine the humidity of the soil and the nutrient needs of plants among other things. We produce robots that can talk and do jobs that humans can (probably decreasing job opportunities for us if we don’t plan accordingly). If we have the science, the financial resources to solve poverty, the knowledge to stop the environmental degradation, the food to stop starvation, why can’t we solve our basic needs for a more harmonious and peaceful society?
I believe that academic institutions, especially universities, have a very important role to play and can produce the change we need at a faster rate than any other initiative. Dr. Borlaug must be a role model for academicians to follow.
Universities should measure their success by the ethical leaders they produce, by the opportunities they give to the young people of the most economically depressed families. The students who come to our classrooms should be instilled with the human values that can produce a more sustainable and harmonious future. Our academic curriculum should be explicit in terms of the values we want our students to have. We as faculty and administrators should serve as role models in those values that can make our world a better one. We should measure our success not by the endowment, or by the quality of the buildings we have or by the publications of our faculty. We should measure our success by the kind of graduates we have and by the positive impact our students are having wherever they go. And that impact is not necessarily measured with the material goods our graduates accumulate but rather by how much they give back of their own and how positive is their impact in their communities.
Universities which have the opportunity to educate the future leaders need also to be transformed. Universities base their education in traditional, lecture-type courses, where the professor talks and the students repeat in an exam what they have heard. Instruction should emphasize learning rather than teaching. It has to be more interactive, promoting students’ participation, giving the opportunity for the student to ask, to make mistakes and learn from them. The curriculum should be student-centered, and the professor understand that not all students have the same abilities. The role of the professor is to uncover the student’s capabilities and motivate them to make every effort to be a successful professional. In this time and age we also need to form social entrepreneurs. As much as possible we should encourage the students who come to our classrooms to be job creators rather than job seekers. That way we can create more jobs, better economic conditions, and produce more food and goods that are healthy and provide opportunities for the growth of our society.
The World Food Prize (WFP) is an example of an organization which creates a space to discuss these same kind of issues. The leader of the WFP Ambassador Ken Quinn has been a strong promoter of the change we require and of the legacy of Dr. Borlaug.
They organize meetings every year bringing distinguished individuals to discuss and present solutions to the challenges we are facing, as well as bringing people from different backgrounds together to promote peace and justice in our society.