21st century skills needed for future economic growth

5 March 2014

Education experts from around the world have gathered at the Global Education Forum (GEF) in Dubai to discuss the most pressing issues affecting education in the Gulf region. 

Read more

At the centre of debate at the event was the need for education systems to better equip our young people for the demands of the modern workplace. This is an issue of particular pertinence for the Arab world, where youth unemployment and underemployment is a rising problem.

Presenting at the conference was Mr Frank Edwards, the Workforce Director of the world’s largest education company, Pearson. Mr Edwards said that over the last decade the Arab region has been experiencing a growing mismatch between the skills students are gaining through their formal education, and the skills that employers need to drive productive and profitable businesses. Mr Edwards believes that key to overcoming this problem is embedding 21st century skills in school curricula, saying:

'The mounting skills gap crisis is having a damaging impact on countries not only in the Middle East, but right around the world. It can be attributed in part by entrepreneurship and productivity stagnation and the overall slowing of economic growth in affected countries as well as structural weakens in education systems. The problem is also having far-reaching social and political ramifications that policy leaders are keen to address.'

'Pearson research projects have pointed to the need for a different approach in what we are teaching in schools, colleges and universities. The modern world demands that we are equipping our students with skills such as leadership, collaboration, problem-solving, critical thinking, and creativity. And given the pace at which the world is changing through digital innovation, we also need to be teaching our young people how to learn – as they will be forced to adapt to new technologies and new work pressures as they progress through their careers. These are all qualities we call 21st century skills – skills required to thrive in the current world of work, regardless of industry or sector.'

The Global Managing Director of Schools and School Services at Pearson, Fathima Dada, also led a keynote session at GEF, speaking of the need to increase young peoples’ uptake of 21st century skills in order to improve their career and college readiness. Ms Dada said:

'We are faced with what appears to be a puzzling problem – 75 million young people are looking for work, and many more are underemployed. And yet, around 40 per cent of employers complain that entry-level employers are lacking in necessary skills. And we are told that this problem will get worse. this, we can blame two key causes – a failure of the education system in preparing recent school leavers and graduates for work, and a failure in our young people to successfully adapt to the workplace. At the heart of this failure is the inability of education systems to provide learners with the skills that employers need.'

Ms Dada says that we should take an efficacious approach to entrenching 21st century skills in education, and that we must be sure that solutions to the skills gap crisis are actually making a positive difference for both learners and employers:

'We need to ensure – and prove – that the way we are teaching our young people genuinely helps and equips them to progress to the next stage of their lives, and makes a positive contribution to the economic and social community in which they live. By embracing 21st century skills ourselves – taking a collaborative and creative approach to problem solving – we can deliver an educational experience in which learners, education providers and employers all have confidence in.'

What do you think?
Close