News The importance of a skills
for life education system Comment by Sir Michael Barber, Chief Education Advisor, Pearson
In recent years it has become increasingly clear that basic reading, writing and arithmetic are not enough to flourish in a 21st century society. The importance of non-cognitive skills - emotional intelligence, communication, problem-solving and team-working amongst them - is pronounced.
This change is being driven by employers, they expect new hires to be proficient in all these areas and as their requirements change, it’s the job of policy makers to create an environment in which these requirements can be met, without losing the intrinsic value of a rounded education. Andreas Schleicher, deputy director for education of the OECD recently made the point “The world economy no longer pays for what people know but for what they can do with what they know.”
Preparing the next generation for the workplace Consequently, a dominant question for education ministries around the world is how do you move beyond an era of rote pedagogical learning and create and sustain an education system that equips students with the skills necessary to thrive in the 21st century workplace. Get that right, and the knock-on effect can be enormous. The OECD estimates that half of the economic growth in developed countries in the last decade came from improved skills. To solve this challenge, educators and policy-
makers are naturally looking around to find the evidence for what is working, and not working, in other countries. And they’re starting to find it. Global research studies such as PIRLS, TIMSS and PIAAC are maturing to reveal trends and insights into the most effective learning systems and the impact they have.
We’ve made our own contribution to this process of evidence gathering and knowledge sharing through The Learning Curve, a report, databank and index examining the wider state of modern education, by comparing data drawn from these studies and other areas. What comes through loud and clear from almost every major research study of recent years is the success of education in the Pacific Asian countries, such as Singapore and Hong Kong - systems that prioritise effort over inherited ‘smartness’ and provides students with clear goals. But even these top performing countries seem to struggle to inculcate 21st century skills in their young people by the time they are ready to enter the workplace.
South Korea is a fascinating example of this; under 20 years-old there score above average for numeracy and problem-solving skills, but are below the average when they get beyond 30. According to Randall S Jones of the OECD, this decline in skills over time is explained by many university graduates “training for white-collar jobs that don’t exist”.
Education strategy differs from nation to nation This means an additional challenge for governments around the world is making sure the employment market values students’ hard earned skills and provides opportunities to use them. Eric Hanushek, the author of an analysis of PIAAC data, argues that the success of the USA is not because it produces an exceptionally skilled workforce, but rather because its economy is well set up to reward people with the right skill sets and this encourages the maintenance of relevant skills.
So, when it comes to fostering 21st century skills, it seems countries are faced with three challenges, namely how to develop this at school age, how to ensure these skills aren’t lost when someone leaves education and how to address the lack of these skills in adults who were never learned them in the first place.
Which of those questions to prioritise, and the answers to them, will differ from country to country, depending on how far developed their education system is. There is little point in a developing nation focusing on developing non- cognitive skills, without ensuring that there is a robust system in place to develop numeracy and literacy skills.
Equally, the clamour to bet the house on technology to address the skills agenda is short sighted. Technology is a game-changer, but it is not a panacea; it is much less effective without the right teacher behind it.
By sharing data as a single global community we can accelerate the process of finding and implementing the right solutions to make these lofty goals a reality. Our report is intended to just be a small contribution to this and I hope and expect the bigger picture to become much clearer over the coming years, as we learn more about what works and what doesn’t.
Charity begins at home for Aberdeen Asset Management Cowes Week
As a local charity based in Cowes, but with an ever increasing national penetration, UKSA’s primary aim is to provide young people from all over the UK with transformational opportunities via sailing – and CEO Richard Thornton believes the core values of the organisation fit seamlessly with Aberdeen Asset Management Cowes Week: challenge on the water while also having fun.
He explained: “Being the chosen charity for the next two years is a big step forward for UKSA, and falls nicely in line with our strategy to massively increase the number of young people on our pioneering youth development programmes*. We have a range of exciting activities planned for the regatta, designed to promote inclusivity for all, and we want to show that sailing is more than just a hobby; it is a catalyst that transforms people’s lives. “One of our key aims as official charity will be to raise enough funds to offer every Year 6 primary school child on the Island the opportunity to get on the water with UKSA. That’s some 1,600 children we would love to get afloat! It’s often an exciting yet challenging time for pupils, on the cusp of transition from primary to secondary school, and the confidence gained by new experiences such as those provided by UKSA can be really helpful.” Michelle Warner, Sales and Marketing Director at organisers Cowes Week Limited, said: “Supporting youth sailing is important for the future development of Aberdeen Asset Management Cowes Week and therefore it’s fitting to focus the charitable objectives of our event on this inclusive approach.”
Lynda Affleck, Head of Charitable Giving at title sponsors Aberdeen Asset Management, added: “As part of our investment in Aberdeen Asset Management Cowes Week we’re fully committed to providing opportunities for the next generation – as demonstrated by the highly successful youth initiative we introduced in 2012 to support crews of under 25 year-olds at the regatta – and this exciting new relationship with UKSA further cements our commitment to promoting youth participation in sailing.”
Mr Thornton adds: “For all these activities we will ask a small donation from participants but the ultimate aim is to get people engaged and involved. We do need support, we welcome enquiries from potential volunteers and there are still some sponsorship opportunities to support us as official charity.”
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