Education and Skills

Investing in education could add $2.54 trillion to the global economy: 'Playful learning' is key

Education: child lays with lego bricks

Taking a playful approach to education teaches children creativity and critical thinking. Image: Unsplash/Kelly Sikkema

Bo Stjerne Thomsen
Vice-President and Chair of Learning through Play, The LEGO Foundation
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This article is part of: World Economic Forum Annual Meeting

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  • When education was massively disrupted by COVID-19, many children were already facing disruption posed by climate change and the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
  • To enable children to thrive, society needs to focus on creating learning systems that develop skills they need now and in the future.
  • Improving students’ capacity for problem-solving could add an additional $2.54 trillion to the global economy.

Children today need to find their way in an increasingly uncertain world – a post-pandemic world of climate change, automation and rapid digitisation.

The compound effects of the pandemic, pre-existing inequalities, and the rapid technological change of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, mean that returning to the status quo not only risks undermining the global economic recovery, but also of holding back the potential of an entire generation.

To enable children to thrive, we must focus on creating learning systems that develop the skills that children, families, communities and societies really need for both today and tomorrow.

This is World Economic Forum’s vision for a future-proof Education 4.0, which reflects the LEGO Foundation’s ambition to reimagine education so that children emerge equipped with skills like critical thinking, problem solving, creativity and collaboration.


The Forum’s latest report, the Economic Case for Education 4.0, shows that this is not simply good for children, but also good for the economy. It found that a worldwide improvement in students’ capacity for problem-solving to the average level of today’s top 10 scoring countries could add an additional $2.54 trillion to the global economy.

Catalysing Education 4.0 Image: World Economic Forum

Innovative teaching methods to unlock skills

But how? In a forthcoming white paper, the LEGO Foundation has carried out our own comprehensive review to understand how to make Education 4.0 a reality. We found consistent evidence linking playful learning with the development of children’s holistic skills.

Play is the most natural way that children learn to not only read and write, but also develop physically, socially, cognitively, creatively and emotionally.

Yet, this is not widely reflected in education systems. Changing systems to better reflect this relationship between learning and play will require a mindset shift, as well as collaboration from parents, teachers and policymakers.

Catalysing Education 4.0 Image: World Economic Forum

Investing in the workforce and supporting teachers to teach in new ways, using innovative teaching methods, is critical to unlock these skills. Such methods build motivation, engagement, voice and agency and ensure children maintain their curiosity and excitement for learning.

And children who love learning potentially grow into adults who are better equipped to adapt to the changing workforce needs of dynamic economies. The good news is that education innovators don’t need to reinvent the wheel – there is strong evidence from many countries that learning through play is effective.

Unique opportunity to reimagine learning

As part of the global post-pandemic recovery, there is currently a unique window to identify opportunities for strategic investment to transform learning and to reimagine education.

It requires investment in upskilling and innovative pedagogical development of the teaching workforce, as well as new assessment mechanisms and adoption of new learning technologies.

To reimagine what learning can and should look like today and in the future, systems should be inclusive, focus on the breadth of skills needed, and leverage technological and pedagogical innovation to put learners first.


What is the World Economic Forum doing to improve digital intelligence in children?

Take a playful approach to education

To harness this opportunity, policymakers need to make dedicated, visible public commitments to support the transformation of education and deliberately promote skills and a playful approach to education.

All stakeholders – from governments and non-governmental agencies, to businesses, investors, and educators, parents and caregivers, as well as learners themselves – have a role to play in supporting the growing movement to make Education 4.0 a universal reality.

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The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.

Related topics:
Education and SkillsFourth Industrial RevolutionJobs and the Future of WorkForum Institutional
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