In a good education system, students move through school, graduate, and somewhere between 30 and 50% complete university. Formal training is complete, education is finished. People who were once students could relax and enjoy the benefits of the skills and networks they had developed through learning, and any decline in their skills would be offset by gains in experience and compensated for by the new generation of graduates coming through the education pipeline. This was an education system which was quite effective until the 21st century where we live in a more globalized and interconnected world.
Now, globalisation, accelerating technological change and massive demographic shifts demand a change in education systems: its purpose, where it happens, when it happens, how it happens. Since new technologies are appearing at such a fast pace, formal education in the first 20 years of life will only form a foundation for future learning. Lifelong learning will become a necessity, not a nice-to-have. And as the world shrinks, people in India or china or eastern Europe are competing with those in Indiana for jobs and those in Copenhagen collaborate with those in Cape Town. It is no longer good enough to be second best: everyone needs 21st century skills – not just better skills, but different skills.
To respond to this socio-economic shift, our education systems need to change. Curricula and pedagogy must focus on building skills for life and instilling a love for learning. We need to think about new ways of organising learning so that those who are currently excluded by geography, poverty or learning style have a real chance. Schools, colleges and universities need to open their doors, and become accessible centres of learning throughout life. And new partners, from the private sector to non-profits, to foundations need to become part of a wider coalition to deliver learning and drive continuous innovation and improvement.
Without these changes, we risk a difficult future: weaker economies, fragmented societies, unhappy people. Incremental reform is no longer enough – we must jointly take on the task of becoming a learning society.
- Director, Cisco Global Education