Schools at all levels around the world fail to prepare students for the workplace.
This was the clear message from business, government and education leaders of 50 nations participating in the Bahrain 2010 Global Education Conference. The global achievement gap between what industry expects and what education delivers is not caused by a lack of content but of context and practical application.
The basic problem stems from the fact that educational institutions mistakenly interpret rigor as adding more difficult coursework not demanding mastery of existing content at all levels. They are also mired in an archaic assembly line system that fails to deal with the requirements of a knowledge-based economy that is agile, pull oriented, media rich and increasingly accessible.
The result is both business and students are unhappy. Fewer jobs require a 4-year degree but more technical skill. Mobility has increased and students at all levels feel increasingly unprepared to meet the challenges of a 21st century workplace.
According to Dr. Mona Mourshed partner and co-leader of Global Education Practice of McKinsey and Company:
- 30% of available jobs internationally remain unfilled because companies are unable to find qualified talent to fill them.
- 70% of students leaving school at all levels lack practical experience.
- 56% of students leaving school lack any specific career training.
- 58% lack a sense of work ethic and professional conduct.
- 62% lack the ability to adequately communicate in both oral and written form.
- Students entering the work place (including those leaving university and graduate schools) are generally unable to produce immediate results.
Only 20% of the unfilled 7.2 million jobs require a 4-year degree. Most of those unfilled postings are high pay positions that require a high degree of relevant technical skill.
Business leaders recommend several core competencies or “survival skills” necessary across the board for success in a 21st century workplace. These universal requirements are in addition to mastery of job specific theoretical knowledge and technical skill.
Dr. Tony Wagner co-director of the Change Leadership Group at Harvard Graduate School of Education defines the core 21st century survival skills as:
1. Critical thinking and problem solving,
2. The ability to create, collaborate and communicate across media rich networks and systems,
3. Agility and Adaptability,
4. Initiative and entrepreneurship,
5. Effective oral and written communication
6. Accessing and analyzing information and
7. Curiosity and imagination.
Increasingly, the worldwide challenges are remarkably similar. Dr. Wagner suggests three areas of global concern.
Global equity must be achieved in the areas of basic literacy, access to education, and availability of web-based access/infrastructure.
The method of teaching and assessing knowledge and skills must be drastically overhauled to accommodate altered learning styles, motivational and knowledge based economy demands.
The understanding of what motivates the “net generation” to excellence must be accurately understood and addressed.
According to John W. Scott, CEO of Bahrain Polytechnic, “Employability Skills must take priority for both students and employers.” He suggests that to produce work ready graduates educators must collaborate with industry leaders to:
• Determine the desired outcomes and employability skills.
• Develop measurable behavioral descriptors.
• Design a “Universal Curriculum” around competencies.
• Use learning strategies that develop competencies through problem based learning opportunities.
• Create transparent assessment methods.
• Provide evidence of performance and industry recognized portable credentials.
In order to systemically transform education we must alter a few perceptions.
First and foremost employability skills can no longer be considered secondary “add-ons” or by products of the education process. They must be integrated into every level of teaching and learning.
Second, educators must be willing to reflect the face of change in business, industry and the professions. A knowledge-based economic system requires students and educators to prepare for a rapidly changing future. This preparation cannot be based on what is rapidly obsolete knowledge, pedagogy or technology.
Technology and pace have changed the workplace but not education. The world requires technology as a tool that facilitates learning. It is place neutral and time independent. In contrast, educational institutions are increasingly focused on locations and seat time.
This disparity demands a change in the traditional content, teaching strategies and notions of a “knowledge only” education.
Meaningful change is inhibited by:
• entrenched pedagogy and vested interest,
• lack of political will,
• lack of confidence in the new paradigm
• uncertainty as to the implications with respect to international competitiveness,
• old world teachers and the lack of or interest in retraining,
• old world designed curriculum,
• inflexible facilities and a lack of resources to change and
• unwillingness to accept that an entirely new approach to teaching and learning is required.