Education and Skills

Finland, Switzerland and New Zealand lead the way at teaching skills for the future

Students use a mathematics teaching robot Ovobot during their lesson at the school in Tampere, Finland March 27, 2017. REUTERS/Attila Cser - RC1639E025C0

Students use a mathematics teaching robot Ovobot during their lesson at the school in Tampere, Finland. Image: REUTERS/Attila Cser

Sean Fleming
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Finland is the world leader at the provision of future skills education, according to the Worldwide Educating for the Future Index (WEFFI), which is now in its second year, closely followed by Switzerland.

Both countries particularly excel in the policy environment category, and specifically in terms of formulation of future skills strategy, the periodic review of strategy and the assessment frameworks to support future skills training.

The WEFFI report, by the Economist Intelligence Unit, looks at policy initiatives, teaching methodologies and the socio-economic environment of 50 countries. It found the five worst-ranked countries to be Egypt, Nigeria, Algeria, Iran and Pakistan.

Hard truths for soft skills

We live in an era that is increasingly being defined by change – in terms of both its speed and its spread. A number of start-up businesses, harnessing the power of technology, have successfully up-ended the status quo of sector after sector. There’s Amazon, which disrupted the sale of books and became the world’s biggest bookseller, before disrupting the book itself with the creation of mass-market e-readers and electronic book consumption. More recently, Uber has managed to redefine the taxi sector, and in the financial world fintech companies have changed the way people manage their money.

But the next wave of change will have more profound effects, which is why it is so important for national governments to set in train the right policies. As things stand, according to the WEFFI report’s authors, most countries’ educational systems are not configured to equip the next generation with the skills they are most likely to need.

Part of the challenge facing educationalists is that technological change will call for skills that fall outside of age-old approaches to curriculum design and teaching. Emotional intelligence, creative thinking, and collaboration are just three core aptitudes that will be needed, but which cannot easily be taught in a traditional classroom environment.

Get out of the classroom

This fast pace of technological transformation - often referred to as the Fourth Industrial Revolution - is based on a suite of technological developments that includes automation, artificial intelligence, the internet of things, the fusion of genetic science with biotech, and always-on access to data.

Have you read?

The report highlights the importance of language learning and the role of AI as a teaching aid in the classroom. But it also points out that many key elements of future skills learning will take place outside the classroom. In the United States and United Kingdom, after-school clubs for primary and secondary school students are connected to evidence of better school attendance and better academic results. The benefits are being seen in high-poverty areas with low-performing schools, in particular.

“In research published in 2016,” the report states, “UK experts found that attendance in such clubs is associated with positive academic and social outcomes, particularly for disadvantaged children. Its findings also suggest that children who participate in organized sport and other physical activities have better social, emotional and behavioural skills than those who do not.”

While so many aspects of life have changed almost beyond recognition, classrooms have altered little in 200 years. A group of students sit at desks facing the front, where a teacher stands, ready to impart facts; the challenge for teachers will also be to keep up with the pace of change.

“Updating curriculum should always be on the agenda,” says Jaime Saavedra of the World Bank, quoted in the WEFFI report. “But it is incredibly urgent to invest in changing the behaviour of teachers and improving what happens inside the classroom.”

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