We must be able to compete in a global education system
In a global economy, the benchmark for educational success is no longer improvement by national standards alone, but the best performing school systems internationally. Global comparisons show what is possible in education, they take away excuses from those who are complacent, and they help to set meaningful targets in terms of measurable goals achieved by the world’s educational leaders. But they also give us a perspective on how the demands on education are changing, and how education systems respond to those changes.
Labour demand in the industrialised world shows amazing changes over the last decades. The steepest decline in skill demand is no longer in the area of manual skills, but in routine cognitive skills, memorising something and expecting that’s going to help us later in life. When we can access the world’s knowledge on the internet, when routine skills are being digitised or outsourced, and when jobs are changing rapidly success becomes increasingly about ways of thinking, that’s about creativity, critical thinking, problem-solving and judgement; about ways of working, including collaboration and teamwork; and about the socio-cultural tools that enable us to interact with the world.
Conventionally our approach to problems in schooling was breaking them down into manageable bits and pieces, and then to teach students the techniques to solve the pieces. But today we create value by synthesising the disparate bits, by integrating different fields of knowledge. This is about curiosity, open-mindedness, making connections between ideas that previously seemed unrelated, which requires being familiar with and receptive to knowledge in other fields than our own. If we spend our whole life in a silo of a single discipline, we will not gain the imaginative skills to connect the dots where the next invention will come from.
Much of the time in school is spent learning individually. But the more interdependent the world becomes, the greater the premium on more we need great collaborators and orchestrators. Innovation today is rarely the product of individuals working in isolation but an outcome of how we mobilise, share and link knowledge.
So the premium in education needs to shift from qualifications-focused education upfront to skills-oriented learning throughout life. Our data also shows that skill development is far more effective if the world of learning and the world of work are linked. Compared to purely government-designed curricula taught exclusively in schools, learning in the workplace allows people to develop ‘hard’ skills on modern equipment, and ‘soft’ skills, such as teamwork, communication and negotiation, through real-world experience. Hands-on workplace training is also a great way to motivate disengaged youth to re-engage with education and smoothen the transition to work.
Achieving that is no doubt difficult, and requires a very different approach to education.
Modern enabling school systems set ambitious goals, are clear about what students should be able to do and then provide teachers with the tools to establish what content and instruction they need to provide to their individual students. The past was about delivered wisdom, the future is about user-generated wisdom.
Today’s challenge is to embrace diversity with differentiated pedagogical practices. The goal of the past was standardisation and conformity, now it’s about being ingenious, about personalising educational experiences. The past was curriculum-centred, the future is learner centred.
The policy focus was previously on the provision of education; today it’s on outcomes, shifting from looking upwards in the bureaucracy towards looking outwards to the next teacher, the next school.
In the past we emphasised school management, now it is about leadership, with a focus on supporting, evaluating and developing teacher quality as its core, which includes coordinating the curriculum and teaching program, monitoring and evaluating teacher practice, promoting teacher professional development and supporting collaborative work cultures.
School systems need to recognise that individuals learn differently and differently at different stages of their lives. They need to foster new forms of educational provision that take learning to the learner in ways that allow people to learn in the ways that are most conducive to their progress.
We can no longer ignore countries like China. Today, the talent pool is roughly equal in Europe, the United States and China. But in 2020, a few years from now, China alone will have more highly educated kids than Europe and the United States have kids.
All of this is everybody’s business and we need to deal much more creatively with the question of who should pay for what, when and how, particularly for learning beyond school. Employers can do a lot more to create a climate that supports learning, and invest in learning. Some individuals can shoulder more of the financial burden. And governments can do better in designing more rigorous standards, provide more effective financial incentives and create a better safety net so that all people have access to high-quality learning.
It’s worth getting this right. If the industrialised world would raise its learning outcomes by 25 PISA points, the level of improvement that we have seen in a country like Brazil or Poland over the last decade, its economies could be richer by over 100 trillion Euros over the lifetime of today’s students. I know that many countries still have a recession to fight. But the cost of low educational performance is tremendous; it is the equivalent of a permanent economic recession.
Andreas Schleicher, Deputy Director for Education and Skills and Special Advisor on Education Policy to the OECD's Secretary-General