We are currently preparing students for jobs that don’t yet exist . . . using technologies that haven’t yet been invented . . . in order to solve problems we don’t even know are problems yet.
This quote from Richard Riley, former United States Secretary of Education under Clinton rings truer than ever in our 21st-century world. As his quote suggests, students must be prepared for the fact that in their lifetimes, the job market, and what is necessary for professional success, will continuously change and evolve.
In order for students to be prepared to enter the future workforce, they must have a deep understanding of and be able to apply content knowledge. There is no doubt that academic content knowledge is part of a recipe for success. But information on its own will not be enough to help young adults successfully navigate and succeed in an ever-changing work landscape.
So, how do we prepare for successful careers? This question has challenged our education systems for generations. It can be argued that, now more than ever, technological change has brought an unprecedented set of challenges that our youth have to contend with to be successful in today’s, and more importantly, tomorrow’s world.
Knowledge of traditional subjects are no longer an adequate marker of ability.
Not only are today’s students required to master skills in problem-solving, they must also demonstrate versatile and critical thinking skills for an increasingly virtual world.
Education systems around the world have often struggled to meet and anticipate future skills needs. More needs to be done to break down classroom walls and adequately prepare students to have multiple careers in the 21st Century.
The good news is that education systems are now being assessed on how well they prepare students for the future.
A recent global study has ranked countries that best prepare students for the future, assessing education systems of 35 economies according to key indicators such as socioeconomics, teaching environment, and policy.
According to The Economist Intelligence Unit’s ‘2017 Educating for the Future Index, educational systems around the world must find ways to produce graduates who are able to constantly anticipate and acclimatise to the changing demands of the global economy.
The index highlights project-based learning, industry collaborations and the need for technology-based curricula as key areas in which education systems around the world must invest in.
The ‘Future Index’ provides a holistic perspective of education systems, by including measures on respective national education policy environments, teaching environments and socioeconomic environments. These are critical factors that determine the ability of education systems and their institutions to produce resilient and work-ready graduates.
The study ranked 35 economies representing 88% of the global GDP and 77% of the global population.
“The index was developed to assess the effectiveness of education systems in preparing students for the demands of work and life in a rapidly changing landscape. It is the first comprehensive global index to evaluate inputs to education systems rather than outputs such as test scores, and concentrates on the 15-24 age band in 35 economies,” the introduction in the study’s workbook reads.
The overall ranking has New Zealand in the lead with Canada, Finland, Switzerland, and Singapore tailing behind as the top five countries best equipped to teach and develop a set of specific skills in their students.
According to the report, New Zealand earned full marks for its curriculum framework for future skills, the effectiveness of its policy implementation system, teacher education, government education expenditure, career counseling in schools, collaboration between universities and industry, and cultural diversity and tolerance.
“The reasons behind this success are twofold. First, New Zealand views educating for future skills as a broadly-agreed strategic imperative: it is a small and remote country, with the vigilance that comes with knowing it has little choice but to be globally competitive, now and in future,” the report said.
“Secondly, it has a systematic government-led approach to making its education system fit for purpose, across technology, teaching, curriculum and collaboration with industry.”
The study also identified six (6) key skills the young needs to learn to help them navigate the future. According to the study, education will be less about learning information and more about analyzing and using information.
The skills identified are the following:
• Interdisciplinary skills
• Creative and analytical skills
• Entrepreneurial skills
• Leadership skills
• Digital and technical skills
• Global awareness and civic education
Citing Harvard University’s Tony Wagner who said, “Content knowledge is becoming a commodity. The world no longer cares about what students know, but what they can do with what they know.”
The shift toward explicitly teaching and assessing 21st-century and future-ready skills gives students opportunity to develop these skills in the classroom and better prepare them to excel as working members of society.