It’s been said that learning is what most adults will do for a living in the 21st century. Sound a little exhausting? The fact is that there are fewer and fewer jobs being created that rely on rote tasks and memorization. There are more and more jobs that require creativity, teamwork, problem solving, and ongoing learning. Indeed, it’s fair to say that the illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn. Children need to start acquiring these skills and attitudes early on, which is why education systems around the world are increasingly focused on reforms that involve setting and measuring new goals for learning that will better ensure their graduates’ success in today’s world.
The total number of out-of-school children worldwide has declined from 108 million in 1999 to 57 million today. While this is tremendous progress, a critical question remains: Are they learning? According to the latest estimates from UNESCO, more than 250 million school-aged children cannot read.
But there is some good news. In a previous post I highlighted my recent paper with Noam Angrist, “An expansion of a global data set on educational quality: a focus on achievement in developing countries,” where we use existing sources of test score information to show that there are less-developed countries that have made major educational gains. In that post our comparison of test score gains from 1995-2010 for 128 countries gives the following list of top performers over the last 15 years: Jordan, Kenya, Madagascar, Trinidad and Tobago, and Tanzania, to name a few.
Guyana is on the U.N. list of Small Island Developing States, but don’t be fooled: It is not an island, nor is it particularly small. Its Amerindian name means “Land of Many Waters,” a more accurate description, and a source of some of the challenges the country faces in providing quality education to children living in the most remote areas.
The hall was full all the way to the back and up to the balcony. The audience was lively, contributing loud asides in their seats, applauding often, cracking inside jokes, and even occasionally arguing directly with those on stage. You’d think I was at a political rally, but it was the 20th Nigerian Economic Summit in Abuja last month; the theme of the three-day summit was ”transforming education through partnerships for global competitiveness.”
This week the IFC – the World Bank Group’s private sector arm – holds its 6th International Private Education Conference. The occasion prompted us to think about what it would take for the private sector to scale up and really make a difference to children’s lives across the globe.
What are the jobs of the future? How can I steer my daughter to a career which offers the best potential for secure employment? If I am honest with her, no one really knows. A decade ago, who had heard of an App Developer or a Chief Listening Officer? These jobs, like so many others, simply didn’t exist.
Are we effective in presenting education data to help tackle the real issues that developing countries are facing? The education community continues to be puzzled by two realities: (1) crucial data is often not available and (2) available data is often hard to digest.
In education, perhaps even more than in other social sectors, not every parent is looking for the same standardized service. All parents want their children to learn and benefit from a great education.
But for some parents, other dimensions matter as well. In many developing countries faith and values are important for families and local communities. It is therefore not surprising that the number of faith-inspired schools appears to be growing, with various types of schools within a tradition providing different services (for example, madrasas usually focus on religious education while Franco-Arab schools also teach secular topics).
Over the past several decades, developing countries have made remarkable progress in achieving quantitative education targets. Since the turn of the millennium, almost 50 million children around the world have gained access to basic education – and most are reaching completion. But as recent PISA data shows, this is not typically the case for qualitative improvements in education. A persistent learning gap remains for an estimated 250 million children who are unable to read and do math, even after spending three or more years in the classroom.
In my career as an educator, social scientist and university president, I have worked primarily as an organizational designer and architect. And in doing so, I have been fortunate to have the opportunity to study how universities and other organizations are structured, how decisions related to their design can shape their visions and accomplishments, and how organizations can work together as partners to achieve more than they could alone.
It is my belief that, as the pace and complexity of our global society increases exponentially, there is an urgent need to realign the design and infrastructure of education with the needs of the people our educational systems are intended to serve. While universities have long been vital and powerful drivers of global innovation and economic development, they must now be willing to break free from outmoded paradigms if they hope to continue achieving meaningful progress.