A Skill Strategy for the New Wave of Globalization

Kiel Focus

Kiel Focus

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Alessio Brown

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Global competition and the global financial crisis have put additional pressures on education programs around the world. A new wave of globalization is under way, in which outsourcing and offshoring no longer just affect unskilled and manufacturing jobs, but also skilled and service sector jobs. This trend has put new demands on education and training systems around the world, because in this new wave of globalization, education and skills will be key, in particular those that emphasize flexibility and the ability to cope with change.

Global competition and the global financial crisis have put additional pressures on education programs around the world.

A new wave of globalization is under way, in which outsourcing and offshoring no longer just affect unskilled and manufacturing jobs, but also skilled and service sector jobs.

This trend has put new demands on education and training systems around the world, because in this new wave of globalization, education and skills will be key, in particular those that emphasize flexibility and the ability to cope with change.

The trouble is, many existing educational systems are not equipped to face these challenges. The current standard model of learning fits neither people´s diversity of talents and attitudes nor the demands of employers. Schools and universities in many countries, despite recent reforms, still focus on developing traditional cognitive skills, teaching narrow facts and solving routine problems with rules-based solutions. Moreover, policies put too much emphasis on secondary and tertiary education, and too little on early childhood education, and family and social environments.

How can conventional approaches be reformed? This is a massive question and a source of much debate, but at the Global Economic Symposium, an annual forum of leaders in policymaking, academia, business and civil society, three approaches were highlighted as necessary for addressing these challenges.

First, make educational systems more flexible in scheduling and timing throughout life, and refocus it on learning to learn and solving novel problems.

Current educational systems must be reformed to enable people to take more personal responsibility for their own and their children´s education and development. This could involve providing more courses that are flexible in time scheduling and spreading educational expenditures across people´s careers. It would also mean raising spending on lifelong learning at least in line with the extra tax revenues such learning would be expected to generate. Skill formation should not be restricted to schools and universities, but should extend from early childhood up to old age, from families to kindergarten to school and university to business, government entities and society at large. A more participatory learning process that features learning to learn and learning by doing needs to emphasized. Active learning, based on student participation and taking initiatives matters more for student potential than passive learning. Educators, especially primary and secondary schools, should focus more heavily on developing student imaginations, social competence and communication skills. Creativity, inventiveness, spontaneity, interaction, social competence and communications skills will become ever more important for individuals to become competitive in the globalised service economy.

Schools must stimulate a child´s ability to solve novel, non-routine problems, to combine different bodies of knowledge and to interact productively with other people. In science, students should be encouraged to run experiments on their own, rather than sticking strictly to textbooks. This will require changes in school curricula and in the ways of testing and grading students, for example, involving more open-ended questions and presenting them with ill-defined problems with no simple answers. It could mean organizing more group activities and grading the group´s performance, rather than the individual´s. The UK SPRinG Programme develops group-work skills in primary schools and pupil independence in effective group work. Evidence shows positive effects on academic progress of its program of group work implementation in everyday classroom (see Ed Baines, Peter Blatchford and Anne Chowne (2007), Improving the effectiveness of collaborative group work in primary schools: effects on science attainment, British Educational Research Journal 33, 5, pp. 663–680). Students must also learn to think independently of these groups, and to be self-confident (and self-critical) when facing different challenges.

A second step is to invest in early childhood education

Any reform of the education system has to pay particular attention to pre-school and elementary school education. Some countries lag in making early childhood education available to all children, yet it is the key to equal opportunity and achievement later in life. Investment in pre-schooling provides not only high returns throughout the education cycle –some 7–10 percent returns per annum, according to some studies (see references)–but boosts achievement levels among children from disadvantaged families (see James J. Heckman, Seong Hyeok Moon, Rodrigo Pinto, Peter A. Savelyev, Adam Yavitz (2010), The rate of return to the HighScope Perry Preschool Program, Journal of Public Economics 94, pp. 114–128, who show that every Dollar invested into high-quality early childhood education produces a 7–10 percent per annum return on investment). Early education must be closely tied to complementary family support. This aspect is highlighted by the experience of Finland which leads in OECD Pisa rankings, although formal school starts later than in most countries, but school receives strong family support.

Cognitive and emotional difficulties often emerge early in life, usually before schooling and, are difficult to correct later on. Family and social factors may be at play, which in turn influence classroom performance. That means education policies should be complemented by family and social policies that provide support for disadvantaged families, help integrate immigrants, improve urban neighborhoods and reduce rural poverty. One example of such policies is New Zealand’s Ministry of Education ECE Participation Program which targets Māori and Pasifika children and children from low socio-economic communities and involves subsidies as well as among other community participation projects, supported playgroups, flexible and responsive home-based early childhood education.

Aid should be properly targeting and subject to conditions, to avoid any bias and to ensure that parents indeed use the assistance for the early education of their children.

A third step is to reinvent education by using new technologies and e-learning tools

Information and communication technologies are the key driver of productivity growth and social change, yet there is a worldwide gap in educating professionals with these so-called e-skills. In particular, traditional curricula should be redesigned to allow a more efficient integration of e-learning materials into traditional paper-based methods. Learners should be taught not only how to use ICT in a narrow sense but also how to harness ICT as tools to help them to learn and think independently. They should be allowed to wander off the set learning path, to follow their own interests and information search on the internet or via integrated packages of e-learning materials, and be guided back along the learning path. The Republic of Korea’s ICT policy in education has been recognized as best practice implemented under three national master plans (see Dae Joon Hwang, Hye-Kyung Yang and Hyeonjin Kim (2010), E-Learning in the Republic of Korea, UNESCO Institute for Information Technologies in Education: Moscow, Russian Federation).

Open access repositories for educational resources and open fora—as provided by the FGV Foundation in Brazil, for example—should be established and made available so as to enlarge the scope and scale of educational resources that can be provided to all interested learners. For example, a worldwide open educational resources clearinghouse is provided by the African Virtual University and Utah State University's Center for Open and Sustainable Learning (http://openeducation.zunia.org/). Open fora provide more opportunities for users to act independently, as well as interact and discuss with users interested in the same topics, thereby increasing the depth and intensity of their learning. This partially dissolves the boundaries between teachers and learners too, and increases the efficiency of knowledge transfer and knowledge diffusion. Open fora can also benefit poorer countries, where the likes of community radio, audio, and mobile phones combine to produce clear education and training value. For inspiration, policymakers could look to the “Take the Text-to-Teach Programme”, for instance, a partnership of telephone companies, content providers, business corporations, and education ministries which has helped improve science teaching and student learning at elementary school in the Philippines, Indonesia, and some African countries.

Whether improving ICT in education means investing in state-of-the-art hardware and software, or simply getting the most out of older, affordable, equipment, the lesson is the same: the new globalization wave is transforming the world and so education must evolve too. Policies that put more focus on individual flexibility in learning, early childhood education and e-technology in learning environments would be a smart step in the right direction.

Global Economic Solutions: Proposals from the Global Economic Symposium (GES) (2008, 2009, 2010, 2011), Kiel Institute for the World Economy. www.global-economic-symposium.org

(Slightly revised version of an article published in the OECD Observer, No. 290-291, 2012, under the title “Rethinking our skills strategy”.)