Global Achievement Gap-Assessment

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.

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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.


3 comments on “Global Achievement Gap-Assessment

  1. I do believe that educational institutions pursue other goals. I also believe most of those are egalitarian and often mis-guided. What I see out in the world is a mass of "highly educated" individuals even with graduate and post graduate degrees who are unable to function in the workplace.They lack focus, the ability to apply knowledge in context, the ability to work in collaborative environments, understanding of system, self discipline, etc.As for English…no doubt reading, writing, basic literacy, oral and written communication are imperative. Add to that however using all of those skills for a practical purpose ranging from cover letters to technical manuals, marketable poems to film scripts. Then tack on mobile tools and networks.No one will ever again write the great 17th Century novel…nor should they. That doesn't negate the value it just means that they need to be writing the next great 21st century product and publishing it in a form that is consistent with this century.By the way, corporations are spending billions on training. The problem is they are often so disappointed with what we as traditional educators have been doing that they are forming their own universities to help bring students up to the standard of performance they need. This includes applying all knowledge in context.Here is an interesting link from Sir Ken Robinson. It is worth the time to watch.

  2. I find what you say stimulating but don't you think that academic systems pursue other goals than employability?I teach ESL in a French Naval School for 16 17 year olds and our task as teachers is to make the students employable .As English teachers it is to develop the ability to communicate.The employer, the Navy sets the objectives directly and it works.Maybe it means that employers should invest more in training themselves rather than expect academic systems to deliver employment-ready young people.T Hubert

    • My biggest question would be what are those goals? In my mind education’s goals are to equip all people with personal tools that will empower them to be productive citizens. Part of empowering and equipping is teaching them ways to be productive and equipping them with skills.

      We have an abundance of out of work philosophers and thinkers but a shortage of doers. Education needs to be contextual. Theory must be rooted in practice to be effective.

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