.
W

hen it comes to education, we have pretty high expectations. Promises were made – education helps us understand the world more and make it better. It helps us find better paying and more fulfilling work. It improves our social standing, regardless of who our parents were or what they did. Education, we were promised, would break down barriers by empowering youth and encouraging equity. By and large, however, our educational institutions have failed to deliver on these promises. That failure was made clearer – and more critical – by the pandemic. 

Liberalism’s “Rising Tide” Failed Too Many Boats

There was a common refrain during the first decade of the 2000’s. “A rising tide lifts all boats.” We now know that aphorism, if not outright wrong, is at least grossly misleading. Whether we’re talking regional disparities or cleavages within our own societies, we know that in creating economic prosperity vast segments of each society were left behind. The U.S. was one of the biggest winners of post-Cold War liberalism, but even there the prosperity gap has only grown. It’s worse in places in the Global South

These failures span from early childhood education to higher ed and lifelong learning. Our children are being let down by outdated models of education that aren’t preparing them for what society and the workplace demand. The skills children need to acquire today are fundamental things like social and emotional skills, learning/mental agility, and empathy. These skills will not only help them grow up to be happier and more capable in our rapidly evolving societies, but to meet the needs of labor markets that are increasingly beset by crises.

In the realm of higher education and lifelong learning, we were told that getting a university degree was key to succeeding in life and climbing social classes. The truth is darker – institutions of higher education are anything but places of social equity. Research shows that increasing income inequality is a powerful driver in increasing university tuition, in turn depressing enrollment in these institutions among the less wealthy. To reap the promised benefits of higher education, students need to already have access to an array of tools and resources that the less advantaged – whether due to poverty, ethnicity, religion, or other minority status – are unlikely to have. 

And when they do get into university, students are leaving these institutions with degrees that don’t give them the skills the labor market needs – so they’re forced to take on additional debt reskilling and upskilling. The promise of education is falling flat, and the numbers bear it out. Millennials are the first generation to be worse off than the previous generation and student debt levels are out of control (in the U.S., at least.).

The Education and Skills Marketplace, Disrupted

Labor markets require skills that neither our antiquated early childhood education nor higher education institutions are providing. The problem isn’t a hidden one, and disruption caused by the pandemic made it more visible than ever. It’s not that there is no work being done to address the learning and skills gaps, but as is often the case, technological innovation is outpacing policy. 

Companies are building their own platforms to upskill, reskill, and just generally credential their workforce. This credentialing helps employees – many of whom wouldn’t be able to attend university on their own – build the skills portfolios they need to succeed, though often these credentials may not transfer well outside a corporate family. Market intelligence firms like HolonIQ are examining the current and future states of education and how they interact with the wider economy through community-driven research initiatives. Ed-tech is innovating around social and emotional learning (SEL) for young people with the goal of improving overall mental health, societal well-being, and readiness for the workplace of the future. 

Exponential tech is having its impact as well. Innovators are working on how to use artificial intelligence (AI) to help current and potential employees identify the marketable skills they already have and develop skills they want. A consortia of academic and professional organizations is using blockchain to develop a permanent, verifiable skills credentialing system intended to help address a skills gap, which is only expected to grow as AI continues to disrupt labor markets. 

There are some exciting solutions being worked on, but we must be cautious. Adopting tech without considering the continuing place of education in this evolving skills marketplace will have unintended consequences. Education is a millennia-old institution and there are good reasons for that. Better conceived education and more equitable access to educational institutions remain the best way to address the prosperity and skills gaps. For that future to manifest, though, we need education policy and our academic institutions to catch up.

Helping the Future of Education Arrive Well

First, let’s acknowledge that some good work is being done to update how we learn. The pandemic brought the benefits of hybrid learning environments into sharp focus. In the U.S., the Office of Education Technology is working with education institutions, innovators, and communities to use blockchain to empower students, unlocking opportunities for social mobility through student-owned learning records. 

This kind of collaboration is invaluable. That’s why World in 2050 is approaching the future of education, skills, and work from an innovation lab/interdisciplinary perspective. Too often, innovation for the future of education/learning is being siloed – and this is too important to mess up. Innovators need to talk to each other and to learning institutions and policymakers, otherwise we risk seeing inequalities widen. That’s one lesson of the pandemic – we don’t lack the tech to do better, we lack equitable access. 

Talent is universal, but opportunity and access are not – some parts of the world are still iterating on old models because that is all they have real access to. How do we solve the problems of societies where entire segments of the population aren’t allowed real access to education full stop? What about “advanced” economies where the prosperity gap limits access? What about refugees and displaced populations – which are expected to grow calamitously in the face of climate change and conflict? Can we solve these while contributing to a ballooning trillion-dollar ed-tech market?

We have to. At W2050, we believe that the way forward is interdisciplinary collaboration to better democratize solutions, in part by elevating marginalized voices to better understand and mitigate unintended consequences of our innovations.

About
Shane Szarkowski
:
Dr. Shane Szarkowski is Editor-in-Chief of Diplomatic Courier and the Executive Director of World in 2050.
The views presented in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of any other organization.

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www.diplomaticourier.com

Education Failed to Meet Expectations, We Must Help it Evolve

Photo via Unsplash.

March 28, 2022

Education promised to help us find better paying and more fulfilling work, to understand and improve our world, and to break down inequitable social barriers. COVID-19 showed education has failed to live up to its promise, but we can help it evolve, writes W2050 Executive Director Shane Szarkowski.

W

hen it comes to education, we have pretty high expectations. Promises were made – education helps us understand the world more and make it better. It helps us find better paying and more fulfilling work. It improves our social standing, regardless of who our parents were or what they did. Education, we were promised, would break down barriers by empowering youth and encouraging equity. By and large, however, our educational institutions have failed to deliver on these promises. That failure was made clearer – and more critical – by the pandemic. 

Liberalism’s “Rising Tide” Failed Too Many Boats

There was a common refrain during the first decade of the 2000’s. “A rising tide lifts all boats.” We now know that aphorism, if not outright wrong, is at least grossly misleading. Whether we’re talking regional disparities or cleavages within our own societies, we know that in creating economic prosperity vast segments of each society were left behind. The U.S. was one of the biggest winners of post-Cold War liberalism, but even there the prosperity gap has only grown. It’s worse in places in the Global South

These failures span from early childhood education to higher ed and lifelong learning. Our children are being let down by outdated models of education that aren’t preparing them for what society and the workplace demand. The skills children need to acquire today are fundamental things like social and emotional skills, learning/mental agility, and empathy. These skills will not only help them grow up to be happier and more capable in our rapidly evolving societies, but to meet the needs of labor markets that are increasingly beset by crises.

In the realm of higher education and lifelong learning, we were told that getting a university degree was key to succeeding in life and climbing social classes. The truth is darker – institutions of higher education are anything but places of social equity. Research shows that increasing income inequality is a powerful driver in increasing university tuition, in turn depressing enrollment in these institutions among the less wealthy. To reap the promised benefits of higher education, students need to already have access to an array of tools and resources that the less advantaged – whether due to poverty, ethnicity, religion, or other minority status – are unlikely to have. 

And when they do get into university, students are leaving these institutions with degrees that don’t give them the skills the labor market needs – so they’re forced to take on additional debt reskilling and upskilling. The promise of education is falling flat, and the numbers bear it out. Millennials are the first generation to be worse off than the previous generation and student debt levels are out of control (in the U.S., at least.).

The Education and Skills Marketplace, Disrupted

Labor markets require skills that neither our antiquated early childhood education nor higher education institutions are providing. The problem isn’t a hidden one, and disruption caused by the pandemic made it more visible than ever. It’s not that there is no work being done to address the learning and skills gaps, but as is often the case, technological innovation is outpacing policy. 

Companies are building their own platforms to upskill, reskill, and just generally credential their workforce. This credentialing helps employees – many of whom wouldn’t be able to attend university on their own – build the skills portfolios they need to succeed, though often these credentials may not transfer well outside a corporate family. Market intelligence firms like HolonIQ are examining the current and future states of education and how they interact with the wider economy through community-driven research initiatives. Ed-tech is innovating around social and emotional learning (SEL) for young people with the goal of improving overall mental health, societal well-being, and readiness for the workplace of the future. 

Exponential tech is having its impact as well. Innovators are working on how to use artificial intelligence (AI) to help current and potential employees identify the marketable skills they already have and develop skills they want. A consortia of academic and professional organizations is using blockchain to develop a permanent, verifiable skills credentialing system intended to help address a skills gap, which is only expected to grow as AI continues to disrupt labor markets. 

There are some exciting solutions being worked on, but we must be cautious. Adopting tech without considering the continuing place of education in this evolving skills marketplace will have unintended consequences. Education is a millennia-old institution and there are good reasons for that. Better conceived education and more equitable access to educational institutions remain the best way to address the prosperity and skills gaps. For that future to manifest, though, we need education policy and our academic institutions to catch up.

Helping the Future of Education Arrive Well

First, let’s acknowledge that some good work is being done to update how we learn. The pandemic brought the benefits of hybrid learning environments into sharp focus. In the U.S., the Office of Education Technology is working with education institutions, innovators, and communities to use blockchain to empower students, unlocking opportunities for social mobility through student-owned learning records. 

This kind of collaboration is invaluable. That’s why World in 2050 is approaching the future of education, skills, and work from an innovation lab/interdisciplinary perspective. Too often, innovation for the future of education/learning is being siloed – and this is too important to mess up. Innovators need to talk to each other and to learning institutions and policymakers, otherwise we risk seeing inequalities widen. That’s one lesson of the pandemic – we don’t lack the tech to do better, we lack equitable access. 

Talent is universal, but opportunity and access are not – some parts of the world are still iterating on old models because that is all they have real access to. How do we solve the problems of societies where entire segments of the population aren’t allowed real access to education full stop? What about “advanced” economies where the prosperity gap limits access? What about refugees and displaced populations – which are expected to grow calamitously in the face of climate change and conflict? Can we solve these while contributing to a ballooning trillion-dollar ed-tech market?

We have to. At W2050, we believe that the way forward is interdisciplinary collaboration to better democratize solutions, in part by elevating marginalized voices to better understand and mitigate unintended consequences of our innovations.

About
Shane Szarkowski
:
Dr. Shane Szarkowski is Editor-in-Chief of Diplomatic Courier and the Executive Director of World in 2050.
The views presented in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of any other organization.