22nd Century Education

What we all recognize is that the first 21 years of our lives is incredibly formative.

Most of us have been raised to believe that during this time we need to β€˜prove’ ourselves in traditional academic contexts and acquire the academic qualifications that will differentiate us from our peers and allow us to pursue our desired path. These qualifications come to us in the form of school records and, in some cases, higher education degrees. These records live with the organizations where we attended our education or the people that set the exams, not with us, the learners. So our ability to display our qualifications to people that are interested in them – new schools, further education institutions, employers – requires us to work with our old schools to prove those qualifications. One cool change to this familiar situation is that LEF will be delivering wallets – both digital and physical - that can hold our individual lifetime academic qualifications, in much the same way that our money wallet holds our currency and credit cards. These wallets will be β€˜tamper proof’ so that nobody can amend the information once it goes into the wallet. As a result, you and I will no longer have to reach back to our old learning institutions to show future employers or schools what we have achieved, because they will trust the information in our personal wallet.

That, in itself, will be a big help to many people. Those that have had to move a lot in their childhood between schools, including those potentially that have had to change countries, like refugees. An even bigger game changer though, will be the fact that the wallets will be able to include our full range of learning experiences – not just those that are in formal academic institutions. In many countries, 80% of children’s waking hours are spent outside of formal education institutions. There is a whole lot of learning and development that occurs during those times, whether it is attending girls scouts, volunteering at a local food bank, taking care of an elderly relative or younger sibling. These experiences teach us skills that are often equally as impactful in our capability development than the cognitive skills that get recognized in the traditional academic structures. The Learning Wallets – or LearnCards – will be able to capture this full range of experiences and the different contexts in which they were acquired, to give a much richer portfolio of an individual's development journey. We are optimistic that this will widen our ability to recognize the diversity of skills a person possesses and be much more inclusive than our current education and employment systems.

There are many inequities that exist in both education and employment systems that we find deeply troubling.

Longstanding biases in recruitment, lack of relevance of curricula, excessive financial burdens for students, lack of recognition of the diversity of learning and individual development, premature labeling and categorizing of children, unequal access to quality early childhood development, are all deep-seated chronic issues that we believe are close to the root of many societal ills.

Across many countries we find poor completion rates of key stages of education. There are a variety of factors, depending on the country and the stage of education – but a common theme across the factors is the inability for the student or the parent to see the benefit of continuing education versus dropping out. This is particularly true of those that come from low economic backgrounds as there are few role models around them to show the benefits of skills and training through to meaningful employment differentials or the personal network that enables the individual to get in front of the right recruiter. Dropping out of education most often condemns the individual to a future of low skilled employment or unemployment, and a perspective that the system has failed them; a very troubling seed that can grow into much larger individual and social challenges.

This lack of relevance of existing education systems also applies up stream to the employers, who complain of big skills outages within the young employee community that leads to a lack of growth in many pockets of society.

We can use technology to help break this cycle of inequities.

Using digital wallets, verifiable credentials and skills libraries, we can provide much tighter linkages between future employment and the studies of the learner. This is best illustrated through an example.

The Learning Economy Foundation is currently working with Motlow Community College in Tennessee. This is a college that works with diverse socio-economic populations with disparate educational and cultural backgrounds which have historically had difficulties in obtaining employment reflective of their potential. The college is working with local employers to better understand their future hiring needs in terms of specific roles, and then works to break those roles down into bite sized skills blocks that can be directly translated into college courses and credits. The students can then populate the digital wallets (LearnCards) with the courses they need that directly map into future employment opportunities. In addition, employers will be able to look across a community of learners at the aggregated level and identify whether there are any major skills gaps in cohorts of students. This will help identify outages and give the employer the opportunity to work with the college to first identify why students are not developing the needed skills and then remedy the situation real time by, for example, incentivizing students to take the modules that better develop those skills. This way we can get education systems that better serve the majority of students and also adapt more quickly to the needs of the emerging workplace and better equip students for the need of lifelong re-skilling.

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