How can we tackle the systemic failures in education that our graduates must do battle with today? I was fortunate to have the chance to address this topic as a panelist in the session I moderated on Tuesday on the topic of Reshaping Education, at this year’s Davos, the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum.
For me, the question of how exactly we can furnish the millions of young people currently unemployed with the skills required for the world of work is one of the most pressing issues facing us at the moment. The World Economic Forum has just launched an initiative to create a “new vision for education”, bringing together a cross-section of the New Champions communities – including Young Global Leaders, Global Shapers, global growth companies, technology pioneers, and social entrepreneurs.
Jamie McAuliffe, CEO of Education for Employment, kicked things off with the observation that “soft skills are the hard skills to find”. Whilst I’d say that McAuliffe is spot on here, I’d go one step further and venture that in fact, these days, identifying hard skills also poses a challenge to employers in light of the increasingly jarring skills mismatch. This is due – at least in part – to an education system that simply cannot keep up with the rapidly changing demands of twenty-first century industry. A sobering estimate of 900,000 ICT related jobs unfilled in Europe, according to the European Commission, reinforces the gravity of this trend.
So, how can we improve things for the swathes of graduates that the system is currently failing? There’s obviously no quick-fix solution to this problem, which calls for widespread and deep-rooted upheaval in an traditional institutional system which is notoriously resistant to change. With this in mind, one of the most exciting points of the panel discussion was raised by Zach Sims (CEO of the brilliant free online learning resource CodeAcademy) and Vikas Pota (CEO of Varkey GEMS Foundation, who run a network of schools worldwide). New innovations in education, particularly in the digital arena – MOOCs, for instance – are hugely valuable. Firstly thanks to their ability to improve and democratise access to education, and secondly as a way to personalise the education experience, by virtue of their on-demand nature.
Organisations such as CodeAcademy play a vital part in equipping people with technical literacy, a hard skill which I believe will become as important as learning how to read and write at school, as indicated by the future jobs growth in technical areas. In the same vein, Bhavneet Singh, President and CEO of Global English at Pearson, spoke about the role of “edutainment”, which seeks to bring the principles of the media and gaming world into education – a brilliant strategy for reinventing the way we approach teaching and learning, bearing in mind the amount of time that children spend engaging with games and videos. This fact isn’t going to change any time soon, and that’s why we need to embrace the idea that these types of interaction can be a force for good.
In terms of the soft skills that will become ever more important in future, four key areas arose: adaptability, confidence, global mindset and applicability. The latter relates to an ability to join the dots between everyday life and the need to learn new things – at short notice, independently, intuitively. This is exactly why we need to ensure that every young person has the ability to be a changemaker; to take ownership of their futures. It seems to me that this type of learning veers away from the bricks-and-mortar university model, and towards the digital model of MOOCs and other online learning resources. I realised that I was passionate about empowering young people and equipping them with the skills and confidence they need back when I was at secondary school; it was a realisation that inspired me to launch StudentVoice. I truly believe that engaged learners – who have a sense of ownership in their education – are most likely to flourish to their fullest potential, in contrast to those who find themselves in the passenger seat, passively absorbing (or not absorbing) the information presented to them in the classroom.
But encouragement alone is not enough. Although there was much food for thought during the session on Reshaping Education, the reality is that the ground covered during the workshop barely scratched the surface of the issues we are up against today. That said, these conversations, at Davos 2014 and elsewhere, are the start of a broader dialogue. It is exciting to see the gaining of momentum, and change on the horizon.
A salient point from the latest McKinsey report, Education to employment: getting europes youth to work, is that there is a total mismatch between the perception of education from the practitioners – 74% of whom believe education prepares graduates for work, versus only 35% of employers and 38% of graduates sharing this sentiment. If we are to close this gap, there is work to be done. I look forward to seeing how the World Economic Forum project progresses. It is only with a multi-stakeholder approach – rallying together politicians, academics, entrepreneurs and NGOs – that we can we combat these problems.
And in the meantime? I believe the first step is to eradicate the current disconnect between education and employment, and I am proud to say that at Enternships, we are building a platform that we hope will address this. To enable tomorrow’s workforce to meet the demands of tomorrow’s employers, we need to shift the balance of power back to the individual. We need to listen carefully to the skills employers want, and translate that into something attainable for students and graduates, utilising every model of education afforded to us – from the traditional to the innovative. We need to be humble, we need to continue to question the status quo, and we need to be open to change.