I've just been browsing this recently released report from the Economist Intelligence Unit titled The skills agenda: Preparing students for the future which draws attention to the challenge in education to prepare our current students with the skills and knowledge they'll require to participate fully in the future, in particular, in a digitally-enabled future.
The EIU embarked on a research programme, sponsored by Google, to examine to what extent the skills taught in education systems around the world are changing. For example, are so-called 21st-century skills, such as leadership, digital literacy, problem solving and communication, complementing traditional skills such as reading, writing and arithmetic? And do they meet the needs of employers and society more widely?
Their key findings are:
- Problem solving, team working and communication are the skills that are currently most in demand in the workplace.
- Education systems are not providing enough of the skills that students and the workplace need.
- Some students are taking it into their own hands to make up for deficiencies within the education system.
- Technology is changing teaching, but education systems are keeping up with the transformation rather than leading it.
These findings are consistent with the work of many other reports I read in the course of my work, and very consistent with the work of a group I am part of here in Christchurch where I live comprising members of local IT-related companies, the local economic development agency and some educators. Key issues that this group are considering include the fact that while there is a bias toward increasing demand for employees to fill positions in the IT sector, there is a distinct lack of sufficiently skilled staff available to fill these roles, which in turn is becoming a barrier to companies being able to grow and achieve their organisational goals. The same concerns exist in other parts of NZ – in Auckland earlier this year a survey of 61,000 secondary school students found that less than 6 per cent had a qualification in basic ICT, raising concerns among the Auckland Business Leaders Group about the ability to find staff for the growing number of IT-relaed jobs appearing in the city.
The EIU report does contain several examples of where, at a strategic and systemic level, initiatives are under way that are addressing these issues, with students proved with opportunities at all levels of the school system to develop the range of digital literacies required to prepare them for their future. One example comes from New Zealand – featuring the work of the Manaiakalani Education Trust in Auckland (see page 11 in the report) where the provision of devices for each student has resulted in significant gains in learning for students, and preparation for their digital futures.
While these examples are something to celebrate and share more widely, for the bulk of our education system we are simply moving too slowly, and putting the future of our young people – and the economic future of our country – at risk because of our conservative approach. What we now know about knowledge building, skills transfer, how learning occurs etc. has yet to fully impact the changes in education that are necessary to provide the sorts of programmes and environments that will prepare our young people for these futures. As the report states in its conclusion:
This style of learning places new demands on teachers, who may themselves not be universally equipped with the competencies to lead a more fluid, interactive class. It also requires governments to be willing to rethink their approach to teacher training and professional development. It is no longer sufficient—if it ever was—that teachers are well versed in their subject. They must recognise that the skills a student acquires through learning are as important, if not more so, than the content, and be able to incorporate opportunities for the development of problem solving, collaborative, creative and communication skills into their teaching. These skills cannot be taught in isolation but must be present across the curriculum, embedded in the fabric of how teachers teach.
We have this happening in pockets aroun the country – but how can we link it up and ensure that every student in every school has these sorts of learning opportunities as a matter of course? This is what the transformation agenda is about!!!