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Speech by His Majesty the King - University of Montreal

15 March 2018

Speech by His Majesty the King of the Belgians

at the academic roundtable on digital technology in learning and teaching

University of Montreal, Thursday 15 Mars 2018.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am delighted to join you here, in this magnificent university hall, at the end of a seminar which - I am sure - will have been rich in fruitful exchanges. Canada enjoys a prominent position in the world of education. Its schools and universities are highly-regarded far beyond its borders. It is therefore a pleasure to be present this afternoon, with you, in your Alma Mater, to debate a topic which is very much of our time, the interaction between digital technologies and teaching.

These technologies, with which we are all familiar, infinitely expand our ability to find information and communicate. This dazzling and fascinating progression has an impact on all of our societies and, of course, on the way we teach.

We might be tempted to believe that the digital revolution, which has condensed a world of knowledge onto the web, frees us from the task of teaching. However, nothing could be further from the truth. The moment that the belief sets in that we can learn everything by ourselves, and that all knowledge is within easy reach, is precisely the moment when the craft of teaching becomes more crucial than ever.

For the very essence of teaching is learning how to think. The teacher imparts not only knowledge and understanding, but also, and above all, points of reference, values and experience. In so doing, he or she enables young people to forge their own path and find their place in society.

To teach is therefore to help young people manage the immense potential offered by new technologies, and to get the best out of them, without them taking over. We are increasingly confronted with the temptation not to make a critical judgement on the information we receive. Faced with this temptation and challenge, the first critical step, which is the precursor to all knowledge, is the capacity to be amazed, and even be in awe. Any journey towards understanding starts with wonder. Then comes critical thinking, which is sharpened by a rigorous education, and which makes it possible to distinguish the essence from the detail, the indispensable from the superfluous, the true from the false.

Technologies create new tools to unleash creativity and develop talent. In particular, they offer enormous possibilities for tailoring learning. Where, traditionally, the teacher adapted the rhythm and intensity of his or her lessons to the average student, current tools allow students to discover and revise the subject according to their own abilities. What is more, new technologies have made cooperative learning possible. A student can explain or go over the content of the lesson with his peers using educational platforms. As a result, teaching is transformed into a more interactive environment.

The purpose of teaching is to nurture vocations, in other words, to not only train young people to practise a profession, but also to give this profession value through the way in which the person devotes him or herself to it. A vocation is more than a profession, it is a state of mind in which we practise it, and the heart and soul that we put into it. What a wonderful task for teachers to help us find amazement and wonder, develop a positive critical awareness, find our path, and finally, find our vocation. In our new technological environment, I encourage you, our teachers, in your wonderful task of teaching and imparting knowledge, and you, our young people, to take full advantage of the extraordinary opportunities awaiting you.