WEF & BCG: Students lack skills needed in 21st century

30 March 2015 Consultancy.uk

Today’s students lack much-needed 21st century skills, research by BCG and WEF shows. Students not only need to possess foundational skills, including languages and math, they are also expected to be adept at certain competencies, such as problem solving, and character skills, such as leadership. According to the researchers, education technologies can help close the skills gap. To deliver on the potential of these technologies, collaborations between stakeholders will prove essential.

In today’s rapidly evolving, technology-mediated world, students are expected to possess ‘twenty-first-century skills’. It is no longer enough to be skilled in language arts, math, and science, which are known as ‘foundational skills’, students should nowadays also be adept at skills such as critical thinking, problem solving and collaboration, the ‘competencies’, as well as at curiosity, persistence and leadership, which are ‘character qualities’.

Students require 16 skills for the 21st century

The Boston Consulting Group (BCG) and the World Economic Forum (WEF) recently released new research which reveals large gaps in students’ skills, gaps that suggest that many students are not getting the education they need to prosper in the twenty-first century. In their report, titled ‘New Vision for Education: Unlocking the Potential of Technology’, the partners look into skills gaps of the world’s students and examine ways education technology can help close the gaps.

The research, which is based on a study of 91 countries across a range of income levels, indicates that students from developed countries often possess more skills than those in less-developed countries, with students from less-developed countries especially showing gaps in ‘competencies’ and ‘character qualities’. Underlying the skills gap in less-developed countries are significant macro-level issues that impede learning, such as poverty, conflict, poor health and gender discrimination. These factors should be tackled first before addressing the skills gap in these countries.

The researchers also found wide variations in performance among high-income countries. “For example, the U.S. has gaps in numeracy and literacy when compared with high-performing peers such as Japan, Finland, and South Korea,” explains Allison Bailey, a Senior Partner and the Head of BCG’s US Education Practice. “That means that all countries must improve their education systems to grow and compete.”

A wide variation in skills exist among different income groups

According to the partners, education technologies, such as adaptive learning platforms and interactive games, can help close the gap as they can both lower the cost and improve the quality of education.  The researchers state that the technologies can complement existing and emerging pedagogical approaches such as project-based, experiential, inquiry-based, and adaptive learning method, to facilitate the teaching of twenty-first-century skills such as communication, creativity, persistence, and collaboration.

To integrate these technologies, a ‘closed-loop instructional system’ is needed. “Technology is a positive disruptive force for improving the efficiency and quality of education. However, for technology to reach its greatest potential in teaching and learning, it needs to be better integrated throughout the instruction process and focus on problems unique to each country’s educational context,” comments Mengyu Annie Luo, Head of Media, Entertainment, and Information Industries at the World Economic Forum. At the classroom level, through such a system,  teachers “create learning objectives, develop curricula and instructional strategies, deliver instruction, embed on-going assessments, provide appropriate interventions based on student needs and track outcomes and learning.”

A closed loop is necessary to address skills gaps

Effective collaborations among a complex and interconnected group of policymakers, educators, education technology providers, and funders are needed to deliver on the potential of technology to address skills gaps. The report lists four actions for stakeholders to follow up on:

  • Assess and realign education systems and standards for the development of twenty-first-century skills
  • Develop and promote technology expertise among teachers
  • Develop products to fill gaps in twenty-first-century skills measurement and instruction
  • Provide funding for piloting, transferring, and scaling up technology-enabled models

The researchers conclude: “Responding in these ways can begin to bring the most-effective education technologies to more of the world’s students. With effective collaboration in place and thoughtful implementation, the world can close the twenty-first-century skills gap.”


Deloitte gagged by Government over academy insolvency

20 March 2019 Consultancy.uk

Big Four firm Deloitte is subject to a so-called gagging clause with relation to its work to close the multi-academy trust WCAT. According to reports from the UK media, the clause prevents Deloitte from saying anything that would “embarrass” the Department for Education.

The UK Government initiated its flagship policy of pushing for the academisation of state schools in 2010. An academy trust is an exempt charity regulated by the Department for Education. The belief of the Conservative-led coalition at the time was that by bringing in an outside source to oversee the financial side of the school – such as a business as a sponsor, or a larger academy chain – the pressure of keeping a school afloat as well as increasing results is lessened, and the existing school body can focus on education standards, whilst the sponsor keeps an eye on the budget.

Since then, the number of children in state-funded schools in England taught in an academy or free school has risen to more than 50%. The incumbent Conservative-led Government has made it a policy to see all schools in England become academies in the next two years. Education Secretary Damian Hinds has cited standards rising faster in many sponsored academies than in similar council-run schools as a reason why state schools should consider the switch.

Deloitte gagged by Government over academy insolvency

However, while the Government remains keen to extoll the supposed economic virtues of becoming an academy, 2017 saw one of its keystone academy trusts collapse into administration. Wakefield City Academies Trust (WCAT) was a multi-academy trust that managed 21 schools across West Yorkshire, South Yorkshire, and East Yorkshire. The board of the trust of seven secondary and 14 primary schools announced that, just days into the new school term, it did not have “the capacity to facilitate the rapid improvement our academies need and our students deserve”. Deloitte was installed to oversee the insolvency process.

Over the course of the following year, Deloitte was paid £198,570 to support the Department for Education (DfE) for 12 months to shut WCAT, according to a freedom of information request obtained by Schools Week. The department needed financial and insolvency expertise to put the trust into insolvency and transfer its schools to other trusts, a process which concluded in November 2018. However, in order to undertake that work, Deloitte was required to agree to a contract banning it from saying anything that would “embarrass” the Government or any other crown bodies, including the office of the Prime Minister.

This is of particular interest, as it has also emerged that the DfE gave the beleaguered academy trust £500,000 in 2015, despite serious concerns about its finances. Education news platform Schools Week found that at the time, then-Education Secretary Nicky Morgan had announced WCAT as one of five “outstanding” sponsors to share in £5 million under the government’s Northern Powerhouse scheme. This occurred despite Government officials' awareness of concerns at the trust, including potential irregular payments and poor financial management and governance.

A copy of Deloitte’s contract to oversee the winding up of WCAT reportedly included a clause preventing the Big Four firm from distributing facts which could “cause, permit, contribute or is in any way connected to material adverse publicity” relating to the DfE. Under the header “publicity, media and official enquiries”, the contract stated that it could not bring the DfE into “disrepute by engaging in any act or omission which is reasonably likely to diminish the trust” which the public has in the department.

In 2018, UK broadsheet The Times revealed that about 40 charities and 300 companies similarly leveraged such “gagging clauses” in Government contracts, totalling £25 billion. The DfE has since told the press that it puts publicity clauses in place to “protect commercially sensitive information”, and that these do not stop organisations from fairly criticising government departments or policies. While this was echoed by Theresa May, however, the Prime Minister also promised to review the wording in such contracts – something which suggests that the gagging details may be more comprehensive than the DfE might admit.

Related: Quantuma appointed administrator for Manor House School.