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What makes up Education Skills and Learning?
Prior to the pandemic, technological innovation was changing the ways educational materials are generated, educational content is distributed, material is engaged with by learners, and educational outcomes are evaluated. COVID-19 has highlighted the need to be able to deliver instruction in new and more compelling ways.
Technology companies such as Amplify and Knewton have been digitizing textbooks and creating content based on gamified learning, while others such as Coursera, edX, and Khan Academy have sought to revolutionize education delivery through Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs). However, some education systems, especially at the primary and secondary level, have been relatively slow to incorporate even the most basic, widely available learning technologies - and unequal access to technology has hindered online education efforts during COVID-19.
While technology has long been viewed as a potential means to address issues related to unequal access to education - particularly in rural or hard-to-reach communities and among traditionally-marginalized groups - the pandemic highlighted the need for more related infrastructure. As of mid-2020, a few months after the WHO declared COVID-19 a pandemic, less than half the population in 71 countries had access to the internet for the purposes of remote learning, according to UNICEF.
In addition to the delivery of education, more innovation is also required in terms of school curricula. UNICEF has advocated for balancing hard skills such as reading, writing, and math with soft skills such as problem-solving and creativity; in addition, instruction should no longer necessarily take place through front-of-class teaching, according to recent research.
Funding should be strategically allocated to trials, and any successes can be scaled up in the future. Pedagogy is a field ripe for innovation, especially when it comes to personalized learning. However, research has also highlighted that new learning tools do not always enable engagement with hard-to-reach groups - and it is critical that the drive for related innovation is matched by the monitoring of its effectiveness.
As the education sector is both highly sensitive to change and a central pillar in the economy, better data collection could help ensure effectiveness. Greater public-private collaboration aimed at expanding this opportunity could also be beneficial - since governments cannot necessarily directly influence every classroom, they should instead focus on setting the right conditions for future-proof curricula and more innovative formats.
Digital Fluency and STEM Skills
The hybrid forms of collaboration that have emerged as we move towards a new normal bring their own challenges, and may aggravate existing inequalities. Digital skills are essential, but real digital fluency means applying ethical considerations to technical achievement. Technology has provided a crucial lifeline during COVID-19 by linking people to loved ones and work - in ways that make it clearer just how digitized the near future will be.
To thrive in a contemporary workplace, young people need to develop digital fluency and science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) skills from an early age. Real fluency starts with basic digital literacy - and adds an ability to apply critical thought and ethical considerations to using and developing technology, or dealing with data.
While learners need help to attain an ability to apply innovation in ways that take into account ethical considerations, education systems need to ensure technology curricula are up-to-date on related issues - and teachers need opportunities to refresh their own skills and knowledge to keep up with real-world developments. The ethical use of technology should be embedded throughout an education and lifelong learning, to prepare people of all ages to deal with the thorniest related issues.
Many of the most desirable jobs require a healthy understanding of math and science; according to projections made by the US Department of Labor, many of the 20 fastest-growing occupations for the period between 2016 and 2026 will require related backgrounds and skills.
In addition, the European Centre for the Development of Vocational Training (Cedefop) has estimated there will be 11% employment growth within the European Union for occupations tied to science, engineering, and information and communications technology between 2020 and 2030. Given the importance of high-value-added STEM in future workplaces, it is imperative to ensure access to related education for people from all socio-economic groups.
Girls and women are particularly underrepresented within STEM disciplines, and it is crucial to find ways to proactively increase their engagement during secondary and tertiary education. Properly matching STEM skills with a solid ethical grounding requires investment, though the benefits in terms of increased digital fluency can clearly exceed related costs. That is certainly true for businesses hiring young people equipped with fluency who are less likely to build artificial intelligence and other systems that result in litigation or scandal.
Lifelong Learning Pathways
Relevant Continuing Education
In Europe and the US, demand for physical and manual skills in repeatable tasks is expected to decline by 30% in the coming decade, according to McKinsey & Company, while demand for technological skills like coding is expected to increase by more than 50%. Education typically ends at an early stage of life, to the detriment of workers and employers. As career paths are increasingly altered by fundamental labor market disruptions, there is a growing need for lifelong learning - at all ages, both inside and outside of traditional schools, including after the completion of formal education.
Adult training is vital; helping employees gain new skills will be a key way to alleviate unemployment, address unequal access to resources, and engage older people in the workforce. While nearly 84% of the world’s talent under the age of 25 is being “optimized” through education, that figure falls to 45% for those over 25, according to the World Economic Forum’s Global Human Capital Report. In order to better engage people over 25 in gaining new skills, the UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning has recommended the development of national qualifications frameworks, and providing lifelong learning through community centers.
Skills decline when they are not used, as noted in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s Survey of Adult Skills; accurately mapping the typical skills lifecycle is key for estimating the points at which people will likely have a need to refresh their competencies - whether with the aim of simply changing careers, re-entering the workforce after caring for a family member, or following an extended illness. Ideally, education systems can thrive thanks to a fundamentally strong public sector.
Better integrating literacy and basic skills programs into national education agendas can lead to an improved quality of life. Many developing countries have made significant progress in terms of increasing investment in education for young people, though education systems around the world continue to emphasize the front-loading of learning at an early stage of life - leaving older generations with educational attainment only as an increasingly faint memory.
By working together with the private sector, governments and educators could potentially develop more necessary infrastructure for providing learning and training opportunities to workers at all stages of their careers.
Technical and vocational training is often unjustly neglected by education systems. Employers have long been warning of widening gaps between the skills in demand and those that workers actually have - while governments have touted a need to foster more technical talent if countries want to be globally competitive. One report published by Deloitte estimated that 2.4 million positions in the manufacturing sector alone could remain unfilled between 2018 and 2028, with a potential economic impact of $2.5 trillion.
Accurate, timely career guidance can help successfully transition young people from their school years to employment, by ensuring that they understand their true options based on real labor market data and demand. In 2019, Germany introduced a national continuing-education strategy based on a more holistic culture that takes into account the interests of the government, industry, and trade unions - and employs algorithmic matching, financing, and the visualization of competencies.
Such training and education can be a key driver of economic growth, by providing many of the skills required for jobs that will have genuine staying power in future labour markets. Technical qualifications may be best designed through collaboration between employers and industry groups, and particular attention should be paid to fostering their evolution based on sets of mutually agreed-upon standards.
Proactive career guidance can also help circumvent the gender stereotyping and socio-economic opportunity gaps that often hold young people back from choosing certain occupations. In general, technical and vocational training is underutilized - and often unjustly neglected by education systems as a second-best option.
Without adequate modifications to education and training systems, this gap will only worsen. Closing it promises to only become more complex, as skills requirements change at an accelerating pace - particularly in emerging technology fields. This calls for greater collaboration between the public and private sectors - in particular, more needs to be done to better balance the goals and desires of policy-makers, politicians, and educational institutions with those of entrepreneurs and investors. There is a need to better understand the linkages between these sometimes-disparate interests, and ways they can be combined to serve people, the environment, and broader economies in healthier and more complementary ways.
Quality Basic Education
According to UNICEF, more than 175 million children worldwide have not been receiving pre-primary education, and inequality in terms of access remains high particularly among the poor and disadvantaged. Equal opportunity in life requires equal access to a basic education.
While nearly two-thirds of all countries have attained gender parity in primary education, girls are still less likely than boys to start secondary education; disability and membership in an ethnic minority can present further obstacles. In addition to boosting the enrolment of children in basic education, a greater focus should be placed on learning infrastructure - on training teachers, and creating healthy and safe learning environments not only during school hours but also at home.
Fewer than 10% of countries have laws that help ensure full inclusion in their education systems, according to a UNESCO report published in 2020 - and 40% of the poorest countries have failed to support “learners at risk” during COVID-19.
One widely shared, persistent barrier to providing a broadly accessible, adequate basic education is cost. According to UNESCO’s review of the UN’s Millennium Development Goals (precursors to the SDGs targeted to 2015), an additional $22 billion would be needed every year in order to meet basic education targets for 2030. And, according to a UNESCO report published in 2020, 41% of countries were not conducting meaningful surveys on individual education characteristics such as disabilities - or making related data available. This underlines an acute need for new financing and data collection models, particularly in developing countries.
While many countries are able to provide adequate primary education, many more struggle with quality and availability; this has been particularly concerning in sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East, North Africa, and parts of Southeast Asia, according to the WEF’s Global Human Capital Report.
Providing greater access to a basic education is essential for advancing the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. Alongside efforts to increase access, more concerted efforts are needed to improve quality. This could be aided at least in part by introducing clearer, more widely-recognized global standards to benchmark learning outcomes and enable less-siloed education and more individualized learning paths.
Technological innovation could be one means to help address the issue, especially when it comes to children in rural areas and those regularly migrating with their parents.
Core Soft Skills
By 2025, some 85 million jobs may be lost to the emerging division of labour among humans, machines, and algorithms, according to a WEF report published in 2020, though 97 million more jobs may emerge that are better adapted to the new dynamic. Among to top 10 skills in terms of prominence by the year 2025, according to the report, are soft skills including creativity, leadership, and flexibility. Soft skills should have a more prominent place in instruction, in order to increase adaptability.
Education can generally provide a basis for future re-skilling, self-actualization, and forming a civic identity, specific educational curricula cannot remain fixed as standard career paths continue to evolve and become less linear than ever before. While there is a wide-ranging consensus that no single skill set or area of expertise is likely to be able to sustain a long-term career in the future, the core soft skills of the 21st century - including not just creativity and flexibility but also complex problem solving, critical thinking, and collaboration - will be crucial for enabling people to become better able to adapt to the changing needs of the job market.
Upgrades to curricula should also be built into systems incrementally, to avoid the excessive disruption and implementation time-lag associated with major, infrequent overhauls. Shifting demand for skills across industries will require that curricula be updated and adapted on a regular basis - because they are naturally informed by the evolution of labor markets.
One, single organization cannot provide these soft skills alone, and certainly not for the duration of a person’s life - therefore the creation of adequate learning systems requires at least a certain amount of input from both public and private institutions. Soft skills should be developed early, in basic education, and then later refined at colleges and universities - as well as, ideally, during lifelong learning as an adult. By providing a strong base of soft skills, an educational system can serve as a catalyst not only for an increased adaptability to future jobs, but also for a generally improved quality of life.
In general, more emphasis should be placed on collating insights from government, businesses, and civil society organizations when designing curricula.
EDUCATION SKILLS & LEARNING
Specialized education should focus in particular on skills that are in demand in the real world, and address the disconnect between employer needs and available talent pools.
Technological innovation is fundamentally transforming education, and updating the skills required for modern work. Building future-ready (and pandemic-proof) education systems requires curricula fit for the 21st century, coupled with the consistent delivery of widely-accessible instruction that builds a solid foundation for a lifetime of adapting and developing new abilities.