New horizons in education | Daily News

New horizons in education

Today, the world will mark the World Education Day for the first time. Sri Lanka, which is one of the very few developing countries that offer free education all the way up to university level will also be marking this important day in the United Nations calendar.

The right to education is enshrined in article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The declaration calls for free and compulsory elementary education. The Convention on the Rights of the Child, adopted in 1989, stipulates that countries shall make higher education accessible to all. The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development recognizes that education is essential for the success of all 17 of its goals.

Education offers children a ladder out of poverty and a path to a promising future. But 265 million children and adolescents around the world do not have the opportunity to enter or complete school. More than a fifth of them are of primary school age. They are thwarted by poverty, discrimination, armed conflict, emergencies and the effects of climate change. Migration and forcible displacement also affect the achievement of the education goals. Moreover, in many countries girl children are discriminated against in terms of education as parents focus on educating the boys in the family.

Here are some statistics that make for grim reading: In 40 out of 93 countries, fewer than 50% of the poorest children have completed primary school; More than 50% of young people in 57 out of 127 countries have not completed upper secondary school; Since 2010, in 24 out of 52 countries fewer than 25% of children in rural areas have the opportunity to attend a pre-primary programme; In 30 out of 127 countries, fewer than 90 females for every 100 males completed lower secondary school; In 35 out of 75 countries, at least 25% of the poorest young women are not literate.

The International Community, alarmed by these statistics, is coming together to make education more accessible. The World Bank, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and the UK’s Department for International Development last week announced a new partnership that will develop tools governments can use to better monitor the quality of their education systems, allowing policymakers to take real-time decisions to ensure that all children are learning.

The multi-year partnership, which was announced during the Education World Forum in London, will provide countries with an integrated system for tracking how well education is delivered and how well countries are progressing toward their policy goals. The World Bank will take the lead on developing the new tools under a multidimensional Global Education Policy Dashboard, working together with education and governance experts from around the world. The Dashboard will soon be tested in 13 countries. Sri Lanka is also likely to be a candidate.

Improving education and teaching cannot be done overnight. Improving education systems requires a multi-faceted approach: children have to be ready to learn, teachers need to teach successfully, schools need to have the right materials, and school management has to provide appropriate leadership. To get this right, education policies need to be aligned with the goals outlined in the SDGs.

Clearly, textbook-only education is out of date. The jobs of the future will require a hybrid set of skills from a variety of subject areas that will change several times over during careers. This means that studying one subject for four years may not make sense for all. This calls for modular learning and education, due to its ability to allow students to personalize the skills and knowledge. It is also important to offer education opportunities for those already employed. Workers expect to learn on-demand, getting the skills and knowledge they can apply as soon as possible. Moving between working and learning will become commonplace, thanks partly to a combination of in-person and online learning experiences.

There is also the rather alarming prospect that some of our jobs will be taken over by robots and Artificial Intelligence. The shelf life of hard skills will become shorter as technology advances more rapidly, and inputs become more automated. Soft skills, or power skills, including collaboration, communication, critical thinking and the ability to make quick decisions will become essential. In other words, as robots take over many vocations, the tasks that only humans can perform (so far) will become more valuable. Education should thus be geared towards these goals. We have seen a microcosm of this phenomenon in Sri Lanka, where thousands of job vacancies appear in the Sunday newspapers week after week with apparently no takers. The reason – school leavers and graduates are ill-equipped with the emerging skills actually needed by the marketplace.

Textbooks themselves are likely to go the way of the Dodo as tab-based interactive education slowly but surely finds its way to mainstream educational institutions. Virtual Reality, Virtual Classrooms, and online/remote learning will all more become important. However, this does not mean that the human teacher, still the most important pillar of education, will disappear. The human element in education will become even more critical in the future as automation increases.


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