/ 18 July 2021

Summit to explore redefining the future of education

General Electric Upgrade At Tushanang Primary School, Classroom
The Free State department of education has confirmed that it had to shut schools in the Xhariep district after 100 pupils were infected with influenza B and human rhinovirus.

The right kind of focused education is of fundamental importance in building the versatility, adaptability and creativity of new generations of leaders and workforce talent across the spectrum of industries and sectors globally. 

With the world of work changing rapidly through technological advancements and the emphasis on the fourth industrial revolution in recent years, education has moved with the currents globally. The latest challenge was brought along by Covid-19, which enforced widespread societal change. 

Some institutions adjusted well in shifting to learning online, as they had already been working on digital models before the pandemic. Others had to adapt as quickly as possible to the demand for digital education as their traditional business models buckled under the strain.

The International Finance Corporation reported early this year that about 200-million students in higher education in 188 countries had been affected by campus closures since the start of the pandemic early last year. 

As tertiary education institutions expand their digital content and schools are forced to move from their classroom-based models to online teaching, there is a real risk of a growing digital divide. 

The Future of Education Summit 2021, to be held virtually on 29 July, will tackle this specific issue in education, explore the technologies that will lead change in digital learning, and discuss several other pressing issues. 

While basic education has to prepare learners for higher education, higher education institutions have to ensure that they prepare their students to be work ready and meet the needs of future employers. 

One of the panel discussions at the summit is Closing the Skills Gap & Building Capacity: The 21st Century. With current gaps in the fields of science, technology, engineering and maths (Stem), there is a move especially in the more developed countries, to a curriculum that is almost exclusively focused on Stem. On the other hand, to cope in a rapidly changing world of work, learners and students will also need soft skills required by business.

A McKinsey Global Institute Report indicates that a shortage of skills will push at least 14% of the global workforce away from their current employment by 2030. Then, the World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs Report states that by 2025 50% of the world’s employees will need reskilling because they will need to adapt to the new technologies that are being developed.

Added to this, the pandemic has further disrupted industries and forced many companies to implement remote working. This new way of working in turn has affected traditional classroom business training and learning. 

Those who have made an impression in life and business, such as billionaire Bill Gates and the president of the African Development Bank, Akinwumi Adesina, have long sung the praises of lifelong learning. Although long degrees will still have their place and relevance, regular top-up short courses and micro-credentials are likely to take on a more important role in the building and sustaining of a career. 

The financing of quality education is another priority. Before the crisis hit, low and middle-income countries faced an education funding gap of $1.5-trillion a year. Solutions can come through government education budgets, public private partnerships, development assistance, and private equity investments. 

The speakers for this year’s virtual summit come from notable institutions internationally — from the United Kingdom to Ghana, from Australia to Singapore — and some of South Africa’s top educators. They will also discuss the purpose of education, and how this has evolved, to bring us to where we are today — on the brink of a challenging but exciting new world of work and learning. 

The founder of the Future of Education Summit and vice-chairman of the ABN Group, Rakesh Wahi, says: “The purpose of education has evolved over the last 100 years from preparing contributing members of society, to critical thinkers, teaching morality, enabling creativity and productivity thereby resulting in a learning and ethical society. However, each of these values limits the scope of education in today’s context. If we recognise that education must address the needs of the society in which it exists, then it’s clear that we have to adapt to the current and future needs as they evolve. It is therefore very timely to be having a discussion around redefining the purpose of education with international experts so that we can understand the changes required in this all important industry.”