Education systems are failing our kids

How can we prepare them for the jobs of the future?

Source:       Author: Andrea Willige

The world’s education systems are failing our children by not preparing them for the workplace of the future. This is the key finding of a new report by the World Economic Forum, Realizing Human Potential in the Fourth Industrial Revolution, which puts forward a series of practical measures for aligning education and training with future job requirements.

Training for jobs that don’t yet exist

Technology and globalization continue to reshape business models across all sectors and geographies, creating new types of jobs and disposing of old ones at great pace. However, monolithic, underfunded education and training systems around the world have fallen short of responding to this trend. This means that by the time they leave education, as many as two-thirds of children entering primary school today will not have the skills required to get a job. The impact will be worse for women who already have less than two-thirds of the economic opportunity that men have.

The report was put together by a panel of business leaders, policy-makers, unions, educational institutions and academics. It recommends that governments and the private sector work together in eight core areas to ensure the world’s children are equipped for the future.

Reinventing education for a new age

Image: REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun

1. Focus on the early years: Reinventing education starts in early childhood, where the focus should be on literacy and reading. Adequate childcare provision for working parents will be critical in both developed and developing economies.

2. Keeping it dynamic: Training curricula must be aligned with market demand for skills – both job-specific and generic, such as problem-solving and project management. The challenge will be to keep these curricula dynamic and responsive to evolving business needs. In Finland, one of the world’s top-performing nations in education, the curriculum is updated regularly to provide an overall framework, with room for local adaptation by the schools themselves.

3. Open-sourcing education: The report advocates adopting training innovations more quickly, opening up to alternative learning routes (such as Hackathons) and allowing for experimentation with new techniques. For example, the New York City Department of Education has created “Lab” schools and tasked them with reinventing teaching and learning. In Ghana, the US and France, schools are pioneering short courses in coding based on peer-to-peer teaching, project-based learning and gamification.

4. Taking teachers out of the ivory tower: To bring education and business closer together, the report recommends initiatives such as teacher “externships” in businesses, workplace mentoring and involving the private sector in teacher training.

5. Giving students a sense of the real world of work: Similarly, students should experience the world of work from early on – for example through internships and ongoing career coaching – to help them see a variety of career options and the skills required.

6. Addressing the vocational stigma: Vocational and technical education is critical to the world economy but has been neglected and often looked down on as second best. The World Economic Forum advocates promoting vocational and technical career paths more proactively and raising the quality of vocational training on offer. For example, Germany’s vocational training system sees apprentices divide their days between classroom instruction and on-the-job training at a company. Apprentices are paid and their training typically extends to between two and three years. Not only does this approach create an excellent talent pool, it also smooths the – often difficult – transition from education to the world of work.

Image: REUTERS/Ina Fassbender

7. Digital fluency: Digital skills will be fundamental to a wide range of careers, but “digital fluency” is not a given. The report highlights the need for a greater focus on ICT in teacher training and students’ work placements to address the growing digital skills crisis. One successful example comes from India, where the National Association of Software and Services Companies (NASSCOM) has partnered with NGOs and the Government of India to build National Digital Literacy Centres across the country to enable digital literacy.

8. Education, education, education: Given the rapid evolution of the job market, workers can no longer rely on just one skillset or narrow expertise to sustain long-term careers. The report advocates incentivizing employees to commit to lifelong learning so they continue to develop their skills or even retrain for new roles. For example, in Singapore, individuals receive an annual training allowance they can spend on a range of training courses all geared towards developing future-oriented skills.

The fourth industrial revolution will turn the world of work as we know it on its head as it continues to unfold. The report suggests that, unless the world’s monolithic education systems can be reformed and rendered more nimble, their failings will come back to haunt future generations’ ability to prosper.

We may have less than 5 years to change how we learn, earn and care

Source:      Author: Saadia Zahidi

Over the course of the last year, at World Economic Forum and elsewhere, I have asked participants two questions. First I ask for a show of hands on whether they feel confident about their current skills taking them through to the end of their careers – about one in five raise their hands. Then I ask if they feel confident about advising their children on their education to prepare for their own futures: none raises their hand. These are some of the most knowledgeable, leading figures in the world and yet they, like many of us, are uncertain about what the future of labour markets looks like.

This is not surprising.

Globalization and technology are accelerating both job creation and destruction. Some estimates have put the risk of automation as high as half of current jobs, while others forecast a considerably lower value of 9%. Still, all occupations will go through change: we found that on average one-third of the skillsets required to perform today’s jobs will be wholly new by 2020.

At the same time, education and training systems are not keeping pace with these shifts. Some studies suggest that 65% of children currently entering primary school will have jobs that do not yet exist and for which their education will fail to prepare them, exacerbating skills gaps and unemployment in the future. Even more urgent, underdeveloped adult training and skilling systems are unable to support learning for the currently active workforce of nearly 3 billion people.

In addition, outdated cultural norms and institutional inertia already create roadblocks for half of the world’s talent – and are getting worse in the new context. Despite women’s leap forward in education, their participation in the paid workforce remains low; and progress is stalling, with current forecasts for economic parity at 170 years.

The near-term outcomes of these dynamics, compounded through other demographic, geopolitical and economic factors, are profoundly challenging. They include skills gaps in the workforce that are difficult for employers and workers alike, unemployment and job displacement, particularly in blue-collar and services work, rising fear of further technological unemployment, insufficient supply of talent for many high-skill occupations, and loss of female talent and potential. Together these factors are exacerbating income inequality and creating a crisis of identity.

Yet, most of these dire predictions need not be foregone conclusions. If leaders act now, using this moment of transformation as an impetus for tackling long-overdue reform, they have the ability not only to stem the flow of negative trends but to accelerate positive ones and create an environment in which over 7 billion people on the planet can live up to their full potential.

Instead, in several advanced economies, we are seeing the political and social consequences of short-term, emotive – and sometimes disingenuous – thinking. For those who are losing out from the changes underway, fear is an understandable response. But turning away immigrants, trade or technology itself, and disengaging from the world, is a distraction, at best. At worst, will create even more negative consequences for those already losing out – and many more. It is up to courageous, responsible and responsive leaders and citizens to take the long view and set out on the path to more fundamental, relevant reforms, and an inspiring future.

How? By investing in human capital and preparing people for the new opportunities of the fourth industrial revolution. The World Economic Forum has worked with leaders, experts and practitioners to create a common vision and a shared change agenda focused on how we learn, earn and care.

1. Transform education ecosystems. Most education systems are so far behind the mark on keeping up with the pace of change today and so disconnected from labour markets that nothing short of a fundamental overhaul will suffice in many economies. The eight key areas of action here are early childhood education, future-ready curricula, a professionalized teaching workforce, early exposure to the workplace, digital fluency, robust and respected technical and vocational education, openness to education innovation, and critically, a new deal on lifelong learning.

2. Facilitate the transition to a new world of work. While there are deeply polarized views about how technology will impact employment, there is agreement that we are in a period of transition. Policy needs to catch up and facilitate this transition. We propose four areas of action: recognition of all work models and agile implementation of new regulations, updated social protection, adult learning and continuous re-skilling, and proactive employment services.

3. Advance the care economy. Often undervalued and unregulated, care is one of the most fundamental needs among both young and old populations. It has a strong impact on education, and holds potential for job growth. We propose six areas of action: recognize and value care as a vital sector of the economy, professionalize the care workforce, rebalance paid and unpaid work responsibilities, expand high-quality care infrastructure, create new financial provisions to facilitate care, and use technology as a tool for balancing care and work.

Image: World Economic Forum

To do any of this – and to make it pay off – it is critical that policy design includes agile multistakeholder governance, empowerment of the individual, objective measurement, universal access and long-term planning as fundamental tenets.

The rapid pace of change means we need to act urgently. By some estimates the current window of opportunity for action is three-to-five years. This may sound daunting but there are a large variety of robust success stories to learn from and emulate. There are also substantial new commercial opportunities – such as adult education, care services, employment services – that make this space ripe for public-private collaboration.

It’s the harder path to follow, there’s no doubt about it. Transforming education ecosystems, creating a care economy and managing the transition to a new world of work require political will, innovative policy, new financing models and, most importantly, a new mindset.

But this is also the only viable path if we want to get ahead of the transition underway and turn this moment of flux into an opportunity for revitalizing growth and realizing human potential in the age of the fourth industrial revolution.

The whitepaper on Realizing Human Potential in the Fourth Industrial Revolution: An Agenda for Leaders to Shape the Future of Education, Gender and Work can be found here. Saadia Zahidi is Head of Education, Gender and Work and Member of the Executive Committee, World Economic Forum.