We hear a lot about, “the knowledge economy.” But unless we live in a part of the world where countries face hundreds of thousands of people unemployed, we may not have considered what this change in the fabric of our world means for education and the economy in the developing world. I put education and economy together, because they are so closely linked that policymakers consider them jointly. It is still true that education must be the answer to the extremely poor people everywhere learning, growing, and eventually fully participating in the world. These are modern countries where some people enjoy all the same luxuries and access that people in the West enjoy, but who are challenged by large percentages of their populations living in extreme poverty at the same time. We have to remember that the school, as we know it, developed under very similar circumstances during the early days of the Industrial Revolution. It is not uncommon in the world’s history for education to be looked to, and eventually become successful at, helping the poorest of the poor understand the challenges and learn the tools that make them unemployable, therefore feeding the growth of the new economy. That is what is being looked for here.
This article is the first in a series on the challenges for education on an international scope for the next decade or more. Having just returned from a conference initiated by Crown Prince H.H. Shaikh Salman bin Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifa, of the Kingdom of Bahrain, I have had the privilege of participating in discussions that make up the substance of these articles. My writing here is meant to be an overview, and to propel the interested reader to think deeper. Let’s look first at three challenges that the dignitaries and policymakers agreed need to be addressed.
Challenge number one: students coming out of school are not prepared to take jobs
Employers in international settings, increasingly require what has been termed, “soft skills.” These include: an ability to work in teams, communicate, speak up with challenges and new ideas, and participate fully in group design process. The school design that came out of the Industrial Revolution wanted something entirely different, the person getting a job in those days needed to sit down, passively take instruction, and do what they were told. We can see, therefore, that the student who sits, listens, and is able to repeat back the content given to them, is not well prepared to step into these new roles.
The modern well-paying job requires a higher degree of literacy and problem-solving as well. The skills that used to be relegated to academics and scientists are now required of teams of designers everywhere. Here we are talking about: an ability to search out information, write out a short synopsis of the details, use technology to disseminate it, and build an argument that is based upon facts and data, one which will stand up to debate. These are not management skills. They are what is required for entry-level positions.