Prior to the industrial revolution, neither education nor technology mattered much for most people. But when technology raced ahead of education, many were left behind, causing unimaginable social pain. It took a century for public policy to respond with the ambition of providing every child with access to schooling. That goal is now within reach for much of the world.
But the quality of schooling is as, if not more, important. If the largest G7 economy, the United States, were to ensure that all students meet the Sustainable Development Goal of universal basic skills – such that every student would at least complete the lowest level of proficiency in the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) – the economic gains could reach over $27 trillion in additional income for the US economy over the working life of these individuals. But the future of the G7 may be shaped even more by the quality of education outside its members’ borders in the developing world. And for lower- and middle-income countries, the discounted value of attaining the goal of basic skills would exceed 13 times their current gross domestic product.
Yet in the decades to come, much more will be at stake for the G7 than providing more of the same education. Through the digital revolution, technology is once more racing ahead of education. Those who do not acquire the right skills are left behind. That thousands of university graduates are unemployed at the same time as employers cannot find people with the skills they need shows that more education does not automatically translate into better skills, better jobs and better lives. In the past, education was about transferring knowledge; now, it is about ensuring individuals develop a reliable compass and the navigation skills to find their own way through an increasingly uncertain, volatile and ambiguous world.
The kinds of skills that are easiest to teach and test are also those that are easiest to digitise, automate and outsource. The world no longer rewards people just for what they know – Google knows more – but for what they can do with it. Education thus needs to become much more about ways of thinking, involving creativity, critical thinking, problem-solving and decision-making; about ways of working, including communicating and collaborating; about tools for working, including the capacity to recognise and exploit the potential of new technologies; and about the character qualities that help people live and work together.
Innovation requires collaboration
In today’s schools, students typically learn individually; and at the end of the school year, we certify their individual achievements. But the more interdependent the world becomes, the more we rely on collaborators and orchestrators who can join others in life, work and citizenship. Innovation, too, is now rarely the product of individuals working in isolation; instead, it is an outcome of mobilising, sharing and linking knowledge. Schools need to prepare students for a world in which people need to collaborate with others of diverse cultural origins and appreciate different ideas, perspectives and values; a world in which people need to develop trust to work across such differences; and a world in which people’s lives will be affected by issues that transcend national boundaries.
These objectives already feature in the curricula of G7 members, but they need to be refined and developed. First, given the complexity and inter-relation of global developments, the knowledge and understanding that young people need will have to be at once comprehensive, subtle and interdisciplinary. Second, education researchers and practitioners will have to move quickly to identify the skills, attitudes and values that young people will need to play a role in solving emerging global problems, particularly those related to such systemic issues as equity and social cohesion. Third, the next generation will need to reconcile sustainability – putting the world back in balance – with resilience – managing in an unbalanced world.
Measuring global competence
It will be important to be able to measure and assess the multiple components of this kind of ‘global competence’ and here again substantial new thinking will be required. This is where the OECD intends to work over the years ahead, starting in 2018. The triennial PISA survey will include a first attempt to measure and assess 15-year-old students’ global competence. The target population is far larger than that of the G7: more than 80 countries and economies will be involved. In today’s hyper-connected world, that makes sense: our ‘community’ has become truly global. We all need to adjust to this new reality, to learn new ways of working with others, so that we can be more informed, engaged and tolerant citizens of the world.