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The Financial Express
Swasti Lankabangla Swasti Lankabangla

Inequality in education - the biggest challenge

| Updated: October 18, 2017 10:56:06


Inequality in education - the biggest challenge

Professor Klaus Schwab, Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum (WEF), describes the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) in his book, The Fourth Industrial Revolution, as fundamentally different from the earlier industrial revolutions. The 4IR will bring in new technologies that combine the physical, digital and biological worlds, challenging our ideas about what it means to be human. 
The 4IR will not be an isolated phenomenon or merely a problem for the "West". Every nation will have to redefine strategies and reformulate policies. Today we live in an interconnected world where breakthrough technologies, demographic shifts and political transformations have far-reaching societal and economic ripples - that create both opportunities and threats. 
Standing on the threshold of another industrial revolution, world leaders agree that a platform like Davos must be evolved to maintain relevance and contribute meaningfully to the future. At Davos, discussions revolved not only around political and economic challenges at macro level but also beyond challenges of today on topics such as - "what it means to a human today and in the future". With the penetration of technology such as robotics and artificial intelligence in workplace, structures will dismantle and uncertainty will grow. With rising questions on jobs being taken by such technology, the rise in populism, the silence and apathy towards geopolitical and climate change issues, the question grows: how will nations cope and assure inclusive growth?
WEF REPORT ON EDUCATION: Technology and globalisation have been dismantling and reconstructing the world for centuries, reshaping business models across all sectors and geographies at a great pace. But the transition to a new world is challenging and may become a threat to societies when met with unpreparedness. Education-from early childhood and continuing throughout the course of a working life-has tremendous potential to combat inequality and unlock the potential of individuals and entire economies. 
The World Economic Forum's white paper "Realising Human Potential in the Fourth Industrial Revolution: An Agenda for Leaders to Shape the Future of Education, Gender and Work" suggests that 65 per cent of children entering primary school today will have jobs that do not yet exist and for which their education will not be able to prepare them, exacerbating skill gaps and unemployment in the future workforce. 
Being at the tail end of the industrial revolutions, Bangladesh has grown accustomed to viewing education as a way for job creation. Our education systems were built to create managers and not thinkers or problem solvers. Bangladesh's current education system is a fragmented and defunct outcome of the 2nd industrial revolution that required managerial skills and preliminary interaction with technology or even worse "stuck in literacy." We are obsessed with the number of graduates and golden GPA holders instead of focusing on learning that is crucial in formative years.
What should the future of education be? On a panel discussion Allen Blue's (Co-Founder of Linkedin) stand on working with universities to make the youth more employable today was problematic. His argument came across as another short-term solution where companies can mould employees to maximise profits and dispose them when they have technology to replace them. Mainstream solutions in the line of education, employment and employability usually keep the benefit of the company at its core rather than the greater societal impact.
Today, the distinction between information with knowledge is blurred in the traditional education system, where learning the information is perceived as knowledge. Nevertheless, in my opinion, knowledge is ability to synthesise and act. We need innovative ways to build this capacity in the next generation by focusing from early childhood development, teachers' training, diversity and inclusion, collaborative learning through empathy and STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) education, public policy and the arts to engage students in problem solving and project management and most importantly ensure their physical and mental wellbeing. 
In my discussion with Lutfey Siddiqi, a visiting professor from the London School of Economics, he stressed upon the importance of training children in the art of constructive conflict and the habit of seeking out diversity early on. This helps build tolerance and respect for differences of opinion, a necessary trait in a world that is becoming increasingly divided. The correlation between the failure to instil values systems and shutting down of marginal voices has led to "unresponsive and irresponsible" leadership today. How we argue determines how we learn about each other and respect diversity and yet coexist. 
EDUCATION BEYOND EMPLOYABILITY: An example of the future of education comes from an unexpected part of Latin America. From Argentine politician Esteban Bullrich (who was previously the Education Minister of the country), I learned their policies and system focuses not only on developing the skills needed but also empowering teachers. He mentions, cultivating their digital intelligence amplifies their capacity to empower students, where teachers will no longer be the repository of knowledge but a facilitator of learning behaviour.
Our approach to education needs to stretch holistically, ensuring the breadth and depth of knowledge in problem solving, developing global citizenship values and empathy. Thus, the next generation of skill sets will need to be constructed to create an 'entrepreneurial mindset' for inclusive solutions. The entrepreneurial mindset is often seen as only the drive to create businesses, but I believe it goes beyond that and encompasses the ability to nurture empathy, develop problem solving skills, inspire collaborative learning and take risks to act. 
PREPARING FOR CHANGE: The 4th Industrial Revolution will force a fundamental rethinking of the content and delivery of education across the world. Addressing the existing inequality in education is the biggest challenge ahead of us as we struggle to show millions of youth a clear vision of the future. Taking a step towards investing in quality and inclusive education is crucial. Given that, challenges today are far more complex than the past, we need to develop holistic approaches towards greater social and economic inclusion. Technology has the potential to help us achieve this goal in ways that we are yet to imagine. We have the opportunity to innovate and reinvent the methods that serves the purpose. 
There is no doubt that the challenges we face in education are colossal indeed. From content that will build the right skills to training teachers - it is about changing an entire system, an entire generation's mindset. 
The writer is the founder of Toru, a social innovation hub working to empower youth to build and scale social innovations in education and health.  He is a Global Shaper at the World Economic Forum and part of the 2017 cohort of 50 young leaders at the Forum's Annual Meeting in Davos. 
 saif.kamal@toruinstitute.com 
twitter: @saifkamal
 

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