“There is a need to deeply challenge the system; the Ford-model of education, where schools and universities resemble factories that follow a specific production line, should stop as soon as possible.” – Petroula Karagianni, Greece

Petroula Karagianni says, “I am one of these examples of people with no ‘typical’ career in education.” But Karagianni, who has a degree in business, is similar to many young entrepreneurs who discover education through a non-traditional path, and then become committed to changing it for the better. After receiving her business degree, Karagianni spent two years working for AIESEC, an organization that aims to develop youth in over 110 countries, toward becoming high-impact change agents in their communities. Following her term at AIESEC, Karagianna spent four years in Strategic Planning and Finance in a global bank in Switzerland. Then, says Karagianni, “I came back to work on an area that I truly love and want to have an impact on — Education.”

This work has included blogging about education trends, supporting entrepreneurs, and starting an informal social network in Greece for people interested in education. Today, Karagianni shares her experiences as a business person transitioning to the world of education, and insights on how the field of education can benefit from the involvement of business professionals.

Can you describe how your professional achievements have advanced innovation in education?

During the two years of my term, we managed to expand AIESEC in the Middle East and bring the vision of leadership development and cultural understanding in a region that it was highly relevant. Also, as AIESEC is a totally learner-centered organization; each member has a physical and virtual learning profile that tracks his/her learning experiences so that experienced members can support and mentor students based on objectives. In my time there, we improved the virtual experience significantly, seeing the way that virtual learning was becoming a huge trend globally.

In the past couple of years that I have been volunteering or working with educational organizations, I have taken a few small steps, including:

  • Supporting entrepreneurs in developing and expanding their business through seminars organized in a national level in Greece.
  • I have started a blog that aims to showcase interesting stories around education globally and once a month, host discussions with some cool people that believe in the transformational impact of education.
  • I, with a couple of friends, are launching an informal social network in Athens, Greece for people interested in Education, with the aim to connect, share, learn and create. We use the name Gnosis, which stands for knowledge in Greek.
  • I am rather new in my work in public higher education in Greece, but this time that I have been working on diverse projects related to research and academics, I have focused on creating a professional, but at the same time personal, relationship with the people I work with as well as bring in many of my experiences from the corporate and NGO approach to work and management practices.

What has changed as a result of your efforts?

The obvious answer is myself. I have learned loads as I have received tons of inspiration from the stories of people I have met either through my work, my blog or my daily readings. Outside of that, I think putting education in the top of our agendas is a way to fight the challenges that we face now and will in the future and believe I have managed to put a small stone in this process. I have supported entrepreneurs in setting up their social enterprises, I have reached more than 50,000 higher education students globally through cultural immersion programs, internships and experiential learning actions and I think there is so much more that needs to be done in Greece but also on a global scale.

How can others facing similar challenges implement what you’ve learned through your work?

My advice, as I am also still in the beginning of my journey, is to “find what you love and let it kill you,” i.e. work for something you are really passionate about. For the educators, always keep in mind the end goal, i.e. the student, and use his/her development as a measure of success for what you do every single day. Finally, recruit more people that can support your efforts, either by employing them or partnering with them.

What is the biggest obstacle you have had to overcome to ensure students are receiving a quality education?

Changing the culture from completing tasks to fulfilling outcomes. There are just so many things changing in higher education nowadays that the simple question has been forgotten: “How does everything we do really impact the student’s life towards enabling them to create a better future for the generations after them?” It seems that we get into a race to implement the latest technology, which is definitely extremely important, but we forget the basic, the simplest of all questions.

What is your country and region doing well currently to support education?

Europe has many programs that support and fund mobility of students, either for work or studies or volunteering, such as the Erasmus one. This program has been running for more than 25 years now and has given the opportunity to thousands of young students to live in a different culture and experience the education system of another country. The program is funded by the EU, therefore it is possible for any student, irrespective of financial situation, to participate. Also, the institutions that take part receive the necessary funds to run the program and expand their international relations.

In Greece now, despite the financial crisis, public education has remained free for all, an action that represents a philosophy of thousands of years. Finally, many universities are becoming more international in order to attract foreign students to study topics such as: Ancient Greek, Archaeology, Philosophy, Mathematics, Tourism, Agriculture, etc., which will result in building a strong educational hub in areas where Greece can exhibit a niche.

What conditions must change in your country to better support education?

Referring to public education in Greece, I would say three things: Stronger governance structures, less state control and better Information Management Systems. In general though, there is a need to deeply challenge the system; the Ford-model of education, where schools and universities resemble factories that follow a specific production line, should stop as soon as possible. There is a need for a national education strategy that, apart from hard skills training, will also aim at mentoring learners on three specific characteristics: national identity understanding – in a very healthy, not “nationalist” way, values-based leadership and finally, global citizenship.

What is the best opportunity for innovation in education?

In terms of learning and teaching, the integration of neuroscience and psychology. There is a greater need for these two sciences to work together with educators to better understand how, when and where to teach what. In terms of management of education, the integration of business management theory. I am one of the many people that believe that a balance between using business management theories and keeping the educational objectives is possible, and I look forward to seeing more of that taking place in the future. That will not happen by accident, though; there is a need for more educators to have corporate experience before/during their academic career and for more business people to come to academia.  Ideas and change come with people.

What advice would you give a new teacher (or to anyone wanting to make a difference in education)?

My advice would be to take responsibility for whatever good and bad is happening in Education nowadays. In other words, to make it personal, so that you can make it matter to you in a deep and meaningful way. And to reach out to other people who share a similar passion for Education; the power of the synergies that can come out of such an action can truly be transformational.

What educational “trend” do you think is helping students? Is there a trend that is getting in the way of learning?

MOOCs and in general distance-learning programs have made education more flexible to the needs and everyday lives of people around the world. My MSc is through a distance learning platform and the reason I took it is also because I wanted to experience it as an education management professional; to see its disadvantages and advantages first hand.

The trend that is getting in the way is the same; there is a lot of excitement and hype around online learning, which is understandable, but it also directs funds and attention to that. In my view, there are a few more basic needs that we also need to focus on at the same time: education for all children on the planet, a school in every single village in the world and a computer with Internet access to all schools in the world.

If you could give one educational tool to every child in the world, what would it be? Why?

A pencil, assuming that humans can find a way to express themselves and materials they can write on. This is how the greatest stories, customs and traditions have survived the test of time. Words vanish with the people that speak them out. Written words though, have the ability to stay for longer, be shared and travel across time and location.

About Petroula Karagianni,

  • Birthplace: Athens, Greece
  • Current residence: Athens, Greece
  • Education: MSc Educational Leadership, University of Leicester; BSc Business Administration, Athens University of Economics and Business
  • Website I check every day: www.edudemic.com, www.dailysecret.com and http://www.insidehighered.com/
  • Person who inspires me most: Tough to choose one. Many people inspire me for different reasons. A few examples: entrepreneurs that have managed to disrupt industries and systems and create value for the world, like Daphne Coller from Coursera, Florian Kapitza from Aiducation International and the team from http://www.futurelibrary.gr/ that aims to transform libraries in Greece to living learning spaces.
  • Favorite childhood memory: summer in my hometown in the northern part of Greece, Kastoria, taking the bikes and driving around the town and the river to find blueberries. And when the sun would set down, my grandma calling us (myself, brother and sister) to have a snack; usually a huge slice of bread with a chocolate paste. Priceless.
  • Next travel destination (work or pleasure): Planned: Italy. Not planned: South America.
  • When was the last time you laughed? Why? During casual drinks with friends these past days. I cannot remember the reason, it is just one of these discussions with friends that there is always something to laugh about. Even in the toughest of situations.
  • Favorite book: The Element by Sir Ken Robinson
  • Favorite music: Anything that can express my mood at the time. I have a special love for Country though, as I find it the most simple and honest one amongst other types of music.
  • Your favorite quote or motto: When you keep wandering, you belong.
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