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

30 March 2015 Consultancy.uk 4 min. read

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.”