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World Economic Forum – The future of Education and Skills

Extracts below outlining the future of education and training in a fast-changing world driven by digital innovation, the 4th Industrial Revolution and the Internet of Things (IoT). As a sector, are we ready?!

Education and Skills

Technological innovation is fundamentally transforming education, and updating the skills required for the contemporary workplace. Building future-ready education systems require designing curricula fit for the 21st century, coupled with the consistent delivery of a basic education for everyone that builds a solid foundation for a lifetime of adapting and developing new abilities. Specialized education should provide in-demand skills, and address the disconnect between employer needs and existing instruction in order to optimize global talent.

Lifelong Learning Pathways

Education typically ends at an early stage of life, to the detriment of labour market productivity

As career paths are altered by large-scale labour market disruptions, there is an increasing need for lifelong learning – at all ages, both inside and outside of schools. Adult training is vital for ensuring that those already in the workforce, and their employers, are able to navigate the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Adaptive re-skilling will likely continue to be a key way to alleviate unemployment, unequal access to resources, and inactivity. A dynamic training ecosystem has the potential to provide deeply fulfilling careers to workers and to encourage social cohesion, as noted by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization’s 3rd Global Report on Adult Learning and Education.

In nearly every industry, technological and socio-economic changes are limiting the adequacy of employee skill sets. Regardless of their current competencies, workers will need to dynamically re-skill throughout their working lives. To facilitate this, education systems need mechanisms for motivating individual engagement with active learning.

Skills decline when not used, as noted by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s Survey of Adult Skills. Understanding typical lifecycles are key for mapping the points where people will see a need to refresh their skills, whether for re-entering the workforce after caring for a family member or after having taken a career break after an illness. Fostering lifelong learning requires a focus on certification and the transferability of qualifications.

Related systems should provide a range of appropriate credentials, the possibility to take short- and long-term options to re-train, and opportunities to explore adjacent, in-demand skills. A truly relevant education system cannot be delivered by the public sector or private sector alone; working together, governments, educators and the private sector should be able to develop the infrastructure required to enable learning and training opportunities for workers at all stages of their careers, meeting the changing demands of employers as job roles shift.

Digital Fluency and STEM Skills

Science, technology, engineering and math skills are the backbone of the Fourth Industrial Revolution

Technology is rapidly altering the ways we interact and work, linking communities and workers in increasingly sophisticated ways and opening up new opportunities. Young people, therefore, need to develop digital fluency, and science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) skills from an early age if they are to be equipped to thrive in the modern workplace – and in modern society.

Learners need a deeper understanding of how to apply technology and innovation in order to achieve desired results. Education systems, meanwhile, need to ensure technology curricula are kept up-to-date, while teachers need to have the opportunity to refresh their own skills and knowledge in order to keep pace with external developments. The use of technology should be embedded across the educational experience, to mirror the ways in which technology is now relevant to all sectors and careers.

21st Century Curricula

Learning courses are too infrequently updated, and too often not adapted to the Fourth Industrial Revolution

Educational curricula that impart knowledge and skills that are relevant to the modern workplace, help to build early learner identities, develop local and global citizenship values, and nourish core non-cognitive skills are essential. Education creates the base for future re-skilling and self-actualization, and for civic identity. As noted in the World Economic Forum’s 2017 white paper Realizing Human Potential in the Fourth Industrial Revolution, educational curricula cannot remain fixed, as career paths change faster, and are less linear than ever before.

There is 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 economies of the future. Educational institutions need to provide both in-depth subject knowledge, and an ability to make inter-disciplinary connections.

The Forum’s 2016 report The Future of Jobs noted that the core skills of the 21st century – such as complex problem solving, critical thinking, creativity, collaboration, and digital literacy – are important for enabling people to be flexible enough to adapt to the changing needs of the job market. These skills are ideally developed early, in basic education, and then refined at colleges and universities as well as during lifelong learning.

Education Innovation

Technological innovation is fundamentally transforming education delivery

Technological innovation is changing the way educational materials are generated, the manner in which educational content is distributed, the way learners engage with materials, and the processes used to evaluate educational outcomes.

Technology companies such as Amplify and Knewton are digitizing textbooks and creating content such as gamified learning. Other companies such as Coursera, edX and Khan Academy are revolutionizing education delivery through so-called Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs). Still, some education systems, especially at the primary and secondary level, have been slow to incorporate even the most basic, widely available learning technologies.

Technology presents opportunities to deliver learning in new, gamified and personalized ways, which could change the traditional role of teachers and allow for a blended learning experience.

Relevant Specialized Education

There is a disconnect between skills required in the workplace and the training being provided

Employers are increasingly warning of widening gaps between skills that are in demand and those that are available, highlighting a need to foster more technical talent if countries want to remain competitive. There is a considerable skills mismatch between university graduates and the needs of employers in most economies. Without adequate modifications to education and training systems, the gap between supply and demand is projected to grow significantly. To address this, it will be critical to re-align global talent pipelines with market demand.

Closing this gap will become more complex, as skills requirements change at an accelerating pace – particularly in fields such as information technology. This will require the collaboration of the public and private sectors. In particular, more needs to be done to better balance the focus of policy-makers, investors and politicians between academic training, and technical and vocational education and training. There is a need to better understand the linkages between the two, and ways they can be complementary for individuals, businesses and economies (as noted in the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization’s Education Strategy 2014-2021).

Technical and vocational education and training is underutilized, and often treated with neglect by education systems as a second-best option. Such training and education can be a key driver of economic growth, however, and provide the skills required for jobs that will have staying power in future labour markets.

Disruption to Jobs and Skills

The Fourth Industrial Revolution is shifting job roles and skill sets

As business models are disrupted, the employment landscape is being profoundly impacted. The result will be significant job creation – and job displacement – in addition to both heightened labour productivity, and widening gaps between the skills that employers need and those that potential employees can offer.

The World Economic Forum’s 2016 Future of Jobs report posits that mismatches may emerge not just between the current supply of, and demand for, skills but also between contemporary skills and those that will be required in the future. Closing that gap will require a solid understanding of the existing skills base in a particular country or industry, and of how disruptive change will dictate new skills requirements.