Around the world, education systems are in crisis. Progress has been made to increase access to at least a basic education over the past several decades, but not nearly fast enough. At the current pace the last impoverished girl will not even have access to a classroom until 2086.
More than 260 million children and adolescents remain out of school, and it is estimated that at least 250 million more are in school but not learning. The challenge of getting all children in school and learning is immense.
To address this, world leaders committed in 2016 to “ensure that all girls and boys complete free, equitable and quality primary and secondary education leading to relevant and effective learning outcomes” by 2030 in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
But what is quality learning in increasingly connected and rapidly evolving information and technology-dominated economy? What is it that children need to be learning now to be literate and ready for the jobs of the future, and how do we build systems designed to deliver this?
For quality education at every level, the most important ingredient is quality teachers. We know this from our individual experience and from the places where the most exciting innovation is happening. Where teachers have the training, freedom, and support to innovate and adapt not only to the needs of individual students but to the changing needs of employers, amazing things are happening.
These educators are often called ‘rebels’ primarily because there are very simply not enough of them. Despite considerable and growing demands on teachers to be subject experts as well as role models, protectors, counsellors and mentors, teacher salaries around the world are low and in the poorest contexts teachers can go unpaid for months at a time. More than 43 countries do not even have enough teachers to reach the 2030 education goal and nearly 69 million new teachers need to be recruited to meet the SDGs.
But ultimately both the imperative to start early and the need for more and better supported teachers leads back to the need for far greater investments. Last year the Education Commission released a report calling for an increase in international financing for education of $44bn annually as a key response to the fact that 50 percent of the world’s jobs are likely to be eliminated by automation by 2030.
In some countries job loss could be as much as 80 percent. Globally, 40 percent of employers already report difficulty recruiting people with the right skills. The answer to preparing the world for change of this magnitude isn’t small-scale innovation classroom by classroom.
Education is a human right because individuals and communities depend on it to build their lives. But more importantly, as the Education Commission clearly articulates, getting this right has severe implications for global stability. There is not only a direct correlation between the quality of education systems and our ability to fill the jobs of tomorrow - our ability to be truly literate for the 21st century - there is a direct correlation between equality in access to education and the risk of conflict.
This article has been excerpted from: ‘What does it mean to be liberate in the 21st century?’