Reshaping student assessments to meet the needs of the future workplace

A lifelong digital learning record could be the answer to meeting the UK’s growing skills gap challenge

In our fast-paced, constantly-evolving world, rapid advances in technology continue to alter the way we live and work. As a result, the global jobs market is changing at an alarming rate and it’s crucial that our upcoming generations are equipped and ready to take on the future of work.

According to a report published by Dell Technologies and authored by the Institute for the Future, 85% of the jobs that people will have in the future don’t yet even exist yet. A few years ago, the World Economic Forum (WEF) in its The Future of Jobs report also claimed that 65% of children entering primary school that year will have careers that haven’t yet been invented. Keeping skills in line with the rapidly changing workplace is one of the biggest challenges we face. Technological advancements such as Artificial Intelligence (AI) and automation are increasingly replacing many of the tasks traditionally performed by humans and we’re seeing new categories of jobs emerge, for example, cloud solution architects, data scientists and digital performance managers. We can only imagine the types of roles that will exist by the time today’s five-year olds leave education.

School leavers looking to start their careers in the near future need to be able compete effectively, and soft skills such as analytical thinking, creativity and emotional intelligence are becoming increasingly important as these traits can’t be replaced by robots.

Skills versus academic success

But is our current education system fit to support the needs of these jobs of the future? Many would agree the UK’s education system from early years to 18 is in need of an overhaul. With a jobs market that’s beginning to place a higher value on skills than a person’s ability to retain facts in an exam, our current approach for assessing young people needs to be reconsidered. If policymakers are unable to make significant changes, these students will continue to wade through an inflexible curriculum that isn’t relevant to their futures.

“School leavers looking to start their careers in the near future need to be able compete effectively, and soft skills such as analytical thinking, creativity and emotional intelligence are becoming increasingly important as these traits can’t be replaced by robots”

And I’m not alone in my beliefs that the way our education system is set up for assessment is no longer fit for purpose; with GCSEs and A-levels cancelled for the second year in a row, the Rethinking Assessment Group is calling for change now. It claims that we have a ‘mutant exam system’ which was created with the best of intentions to boost standards, but has unfortunately turned into something that doesn’t measure the right things, nor is it reliable. It also believes that education should encourage the full and diverse range of strengths of every child.

It’s estimated that the UK’s skills shortage is costing organisations £6.3 billion – it’s therefore imperative that we connect education with traits, skills and needs of industry. To do this, we need to end our outmoded practice of judging a person’s capabilities based on how they perform in an exam, and instead find a way to document and demonstrate the full range of a student’s core skills, aptitudes and competencies.

Let’s take the example of a 16-year-old who has been a model student throughout his school career. He works well as part of a team, is an excellent communicator and is really creative when it comes to problem-solving and contributing new ideas in class discussions. However, his one weakness is exams – he struggles to retain information and doesn’t bode well under strict exam conditions. His GCSE results certainly don’t reflect his academic ability, and nor do they evidence the array of impressive soft skills and competencies he has to offer future employers.

A holistic view

With billions of pounds spent on education technology each year, isn’t it time policymakers invested in a digital platform that would enable schools to capture and display a more holistic view of a young person? Digital lifelong learning records can stay with young people throughout their school careers and offer teachers a way to record and showcase a more complete, rounded view of a child’s academic achievements, alongside other key milestones, strengths and competencies.

This systematic approach to capturing, unifying and personalising a young person’s learning across their entire schooling and beyond will provide evidence-based, data-driven actionable insights which help improve educational outcomes. Crucially, the availability of these data points in an easily accessible digital lifelong learning record could contribute to the UK’s skills gaps challenge by identifying those with the soft skills or attributes to become a future software engineer or coder. It will also help young people quickly appreciate where their key talents lie and help them identify future career paths that suit their core competencies.

A ‘entire lifecycle’ approach to education – the ability to frame challenges and opportunities from early years through to employment – is critical. Furthermore, two-way communication into this lifecycle approach will be paramount to ensuring that policymakers can assess and impact change both vertically and horizontally in the education system.

Let’s stop doing our young people a disservice and hindering our future economies by shifting the focus from a 12-year process of academic success to a new, agile and evidenced-based way of demonstrating progress and skills beyond our standard curricula.

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