Jobs and the Future of Work

Education 4.0: Here are 3 skills that students will need for the jobs of the future

This image shows a classroom setting illustrating the potential of Education 4.0

Education 4.0 involves a new type of learning Image: Photo by Jeswin Thomas

Asheesh Advani
President and Chief Executive Officer, JA Worldwide
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Jobs and Skills

This article is part of: World Economic Forum Annual Meeting

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  • Education 4.0 reimagines education as an inclusive, lifelong experience that places the responsibility for skill-building on the learner, with teachers and mentors acting as facilitators and enablers.
  • To create the environment required to foster Education 4.0, existing educational systems must be upgraded and invested in.
  • Problem-solving, collaboration and adaptability are the three critical skills that Education 4.0 must impart to students.

Education 4.0 reimagines education as an inclusive, lifelong experience that places the responsibility for skill-building on the learner, with teachers and mentors acting as facilitators and enablers.

Here are the three critical skills that should play a central role in each student’s personal curriculum as we prepare students, parents, educators and the business community — working alongside governmental and non-governmental agencies — to invest in and upgrade existing education systems for the jobs of the ever-evolving future.

Problem-solving, collaboration and adaptability are the three critical skills that Education 4.0 must impart to students.
Problem-solving, collaboration and adaptability are the three critical skills that Education 4.0 must impart to students. Image: JA Worldwide

1. Problem-solving - Education 4.0

Problem-solving is at or near the top of every university’s and company’s must-have skillset, but what does it really mean? Students who are competent problem-solvers approach problems with curiosity, ready to embrace the challenge before them. Working independently or with others, students study the situation and ask questions to identify the root cause of a problem, collaboratively brainstorm potential solutions once the cause is verified, experiment and test solutions on a small scale, review the outcomes of those tests, scale up the best solution and keep monitoring the solution to ensure that it’s truly solving the problem. Along the way, students build and rely upon the building blocks of problem-solving: creativity, data analysis, perseverance and critical thinking.

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  • The Future of Jobs Report 2023

In a Brookings Institution series on teaching future skills, educator Kate Mills describes “normalising trouble” in her classroom, looking for opportunities to showcase the way other students (not the teacher) have worked through problems, naming and describing the steps they used and reiterating how the process solved the problem. “After a few weeks,” Mills says, “most of the class understands that the teachers aren’t there to solve problems for the students, but to support them in solving the problems themselves.” This includes giving students a range of go-to strategies for problem-solving that students can refer to if they get stuck. “For me, as a teacher,” Mills continues, “it is important that I create a classroom environment in which students are problem-solvers.”

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2. Collaboration - Education 4.0

At its core, collaboration is about working well with others, sometimes as a team leader and other times as a team member. Collaborative students are influential with and influenced by good data and effective persuasion and they show a willingness to change their minds when confronted with evidence that’s contrary to their initial beliefs. Effective collaborators build relationships with all personality types, working styles and backgrounds, acting quickly to lower tension and resolve conflicts within any team. And, they are respectful communicators, whether communicating in person, on camera, via audio, when writing in any form (from low context micro-messages to lengthy reports) or actively listening.

Five years ago, Pearson Education, the British educational publishing giant, collaborated with the Partnership for 21st Century Learning to review the most significant findings in teaching students how to collaborate. The report recommends building three elements of collaboration into everyday classroom activities: interpersonal communication, conflict resolution and task management. “For example,” the report offers, “if a task simply requires groups to generate a lot of ideas but not to prioritise those options or make any selections, there will be little need for students to coordinate their ideas and contributions. Similarly, if a task calls for consensus but everyone in the group already agrees about the best course of action then there is no opportunity for students to practice their conflict-resolution skills.” Some level of friction must be built into the learning environment to develop and practice collaboration skills.

To design a collaborative-learning classroom, the report recommends organizing students into a myriad of different groups for a variety of tasks and projects, rotating roles among students to ensure that all students experience a range of responsibilities and interpersonal situations and teaching students how to conduct peer evaluations that offer honest, constructive feedback. Not surprisingly, the report also confirms that students with strong collaboration skills have better employment and advancement prospects than those without.

3. Adaptability - Education 4.0

The ability to continually adapt to new situations and realities has long been underrated because 'adaptability' is challenging to define. Adaptability skills range from a certain comfort with uncertainty, sudden changes and unfamiliar circumstances to the ability to make effective decisions and develop innovative solutions under pressure. Youth who are adaptable shift seamlessly from following to leading and back again. They welcome opportunities to learn new topics, master new skills and test themselves.

An Australian research team, led by Andrew J. Martin, has been studying students’ responses to uncertainty, novelty and change for the last decade, noting that learning to adapt requires cognitive, behavioural and affective (emotional) adjustments that include developing resilience, buoyancy and self-regulation. One approach to teaching adaptability is to create a self-regulated process with students in which students self-evaluate their proficiency in a particular area, establish learning goals, work to build experience and skills, evaluate proficiency again, identify the modifications needed to continue to improve and so on. Over time, adjusting and modifying skills and behaviours as a result of evaluation and feedback enables this adaptable mindset in young people.

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The emergence of Education 4.0 offers a unique opportunity to upgrade our educational systems to ensure that we effectively prepare the world’s two billion young people for the Fourth Industrial Revolution, while also reducing inequalities in educational systems and capitalising on the promise of educational technology. By centring individual skill-building and classroom learning around problem-solving, collaboration and adaptability, Education 4.0 offers young people the greatest possible opportunity to succeed in a global economy.

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