Revamping education for work: a life of learning

Updating formal education amid a constantly changing employment landscape is essential, says Pankaj Kulkarni, Head of Infosys UK

Statistics show that the earlier a young person is exposed to a new skill like computer programming, the more likely they are to excel in it, and to consider pursuing it as a career. However, computer science education is not yet a mandatory part of the national school curriculum in many developed countries. Despite this, a growing number of regions, schools, educators and parents recognise that it is a critical skill their children need in order to succeed in a rapidly transforming and very digital world. 

Young people today are acutely aware that the education landscape is shifting under their feet, and that the employment market they will enter is going through a transformation unlike any in human history. Enabled by rapid innovation in high-tech, the global economy is moving towards a place in which the set notions of formal education, career progression and everyday office life will be relics from the past.

The buzz words today are robotics, artificial intelligence, the sharing economy, mobile internet and smart technologies – all of which will have a profound effect, especially on the young people who are today completing their degrees and preparing to enter the workforce.

A recent survey conducted by the Future Foundation showed that young people are acutely aware they need to be engaged in lifelong learning if they are to succeed in this brave new world. The study, of young people aged between 16 and 25 in nine developed and emerging nations, also highlighted awareness of the very real danger that the disparity between those with advanced high-tech skills and those without them will continue to widen. 

The buzz words today are robotics, artificial intelligence, the sharing economy, mobile internet and smart technologies – all of which will have a profound effect, especially on the young people who are today completing their degrees and preparing to enter the workforce

While the human potential to learn anything at all is evenly distributed across the population, the opportunity to actually do so is not. State education systems are not keeping up with the times. Adding computer science to the curriculum is a solid and essential first step for many schools. In addition, the mind-set of the education industry must change.

Students and employees of the future can only be as successful as their learnability quotient, meaning: the formal education they receive in their first 25 years is one-half of the equation, and learning from the job(s) they will do is the other. The current school system focuses on testing and grading rather than creating a future workforce with a high learnability quotient. So in order to fully prepare students today for the working world they will enter tomorrow, the education system must be reformed. 

More than 80 per cent of survey respondents across the markets surveyed recognise that continuous learning and a flexible skill set, or a “liquid mind-set” is the key to success in the 21st century. While change is happening in some countries, in the US for example, no country is leading the charge. Significant policy shifts as well as strengthening public and private partnerships must happen in order to evolve the system into one that can show tangible value for today’s young people. 

Going forward, technology skills will no longer be a “nice-to-have” but rather they will be a “need-to-have”. Not only for software engineers, but for all industries, businesses, trades and ventures.

The idea of a liquid mind-set around skill acquisition has not yet become mainstream. Only a few countries are thinking about how to approach and institutionalise this idea. According to the survey, over half of young people in the UK think that the formal education they received or are still receiving did not prepare them for what to expect from working life. Even more feel the pressure from an increasingly competitive and globalised job market, not least from automation: four in ten believe that within the next decade a robot will be able to do their current jobs. This constant shift, that young people are acutely aware of, means formal education can’t be the only part of economic and social policy that is left untouched.

W: www.infosys.com

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