COVID-19 has added to the threat to jobs already imposed by changing technology. How can we get the new skills needed to cope?

On Day 3 of the Jobs Reset Summit, we heard from Andria Zafirakou, winner of the 2018 Global Teacher Prize who said creativity was the single most important life-skill we all needed.

This Q&A is an edited version of the interview.

How has the pandemic worsened and deepened the global digital divide?

What I’ve noticed is that students who have got access can engage and receive an education, but those who haven’t, for whatever reason, won’t benefit at all. When I say they have access, what I mean is that they either have devices, or opportunities to engage in tech resources, or they have the infrastructure, like broadband. Many schools think, OK, that family’s got a laptop… well, actually that family’s got a laptop, and it’s a very old laptop, and it doesn’t support the software the school is using. Or maybe there are lots of siblings using the same laptop.

And the inequality is so evident now. As a parent it’s raw and it hurts.

Despite these inequalities, are you able to remain optimistic?

I think that something good will come out of this – good opportunities and creative opportunities. We’ll have to think about schools’ curriculums; we’ll have to think about how their teachers teach, and what they are teaching, or whether it’s now relevant. And it’s really important we don’t go back to how it was before. We should use this time – this reset time – to really look, review and change – and gain a good understanding of what we want our futures to be like in our countries.

Andria Zafirakou education jobs work
Image: World Economic Forum

It’s fascinating to look at the jobs that are now considered to be important or to have really helped to save lives − the nurses on the frontline, the delivery workers, the people who we can’t live without. I think there will now be conversations around what jobs we actually need and how much we should really pay to particular employees and in particular areas.

If anything, I hope this pandemic has helped to raise the profile of teachers, helped countries and ministries of education to acknowledge how hard we work, and shown how we are committed to our young people. I mean, teachers… we’re the ones who are creating the futures of any country. I really hope a lot of lessons have been learned.

I also think entrepreneurship is going to grow because people are now finding ways of upskilling themselves and learning new things so that they can find a place in this new society; so that they can find a way forward to live, to function, to feed their own families.

To prepare students for the future, you believe a 'creative curriculum' should be integrated into every school subject. Can you tell us why?

Creativity should be embedded into absolutely every aspect of our curriculums. At all ages. The beauty of having a creative curriculum and teaching creativity is that what you’re actually doing is giving your learners transferable skills. And that means that we’re giving them the opportunity to succeed. If we’re not doing that, then we’re just failing them.

We’re talking about resilience and collaboration − this is what they need in order to thrive in absolutely any profession they choose. According to Professor Bill Lucas [a professor of learning and director of the Centre for Real-World Learning], creativity is all about finding opportunities to collaborate – engaging with conversation, sharing ideas, sharing products. There’s also the aspect of discipline, and discipline is all about mastering a technique, trying again, not letting them give up and making sure that they commit to this journey and that they see it through. And for young people, that’s the hardest − persistence is the absolute hardest. But once you’ve cracked that you’re onto a winner.

What we have learned from the pandemic is that the people who succeed are the ones who are creative, the ones who are thinking up new ideas, the ones who are questioning the status quo, the ones who are solution-focused, and the ones who are resilient. And that is why we need these skills in our workforces.

What would be your message for leaders and policy-makers?

If I were to have a magic wand, I would make sure to encourage everyone in powerful positions just to stop and review. To think about where they want their countries to go, and how successful they want their young people to be − how skilled they want them to be. And the only way we can do that is just by pausing, because we’ve really got a great opportunity to review, I think. And I don’t see it as a negative; I see this as a positive. Now is the time to prepare for our future in a really robust, strategic way. And, you know: let’s be brave, let’s be bold and let’s just do it.