Thursday, August 02, 2012

Making the right connections

by Barbara Ischinger
Director for Education

It’s becoming clear to me that the crisis in youth unemployment around the world is not just one of the aftershocks of the global economic downturn, but may also have roots in education systems that are not adequately preparing students for 21st-century economies. I took that message to a regional conference on Promoting Youth Employment in North Africa,  held in Tunis in mid-July, where I presented not only the OECD Skills Strategy but also discussed the importance of improving the quality of education and of teachers, and of making quality education accessible to all.

Some 41% of 15-24 year-olds in Tunisia are unemployed – a statistic that is devastating in the present and potentially catastrophic for the future of the country and the region. In more than half of OECD countries, the rate of unemployment among young people approaches or exceeds 20%; and many of the underlying conditions are the same as those found in Tunisia. These include not only weak or stagnant economic growth, but education systems that cling to outdated policies and practices and are divorced from the labour market.

Today, education systems are expected to provide graduates not only with foundation skills and knowledge in given disciplines, but also with the skills needed to adapt to changing employment circumstances and to transfer what they have learned to different environments – what are known as generic skills. To do this effectively, there has to be more co-operation between education systems and industry. Without dialogue, education systems will not know which skills are in demand in the labour market, while prospective employers will not know whether graduates are leaving education with the skills they are looking for. Employers, too, have to be willing to invest in further training for their employees; and policy makers need to provide fiscal incentives to make it attractive for employers to do so.

But equally important, education systems need to adopt more innovative, project-focused teaching methods, particularly in science, to spark students’ curiosity and involvement. I’m encouraged to see this already happening in many places: from France’s La Main à la Pâte programme, developed by the French Academy of Sciences, which aims to reinvigorate a hands-on approach to the teaching of science in elementary schools, to the Agastya International Foundation, which dispatches mobile science labs throughout rural India, to the science education company  founded by Sally Ride, the first American woman in space, who died last month, whose aim is to develop and support young girls’ and boys’ interest in science, math and technology.

There are – and will be – many more of these kinds of initiatives. Their value is not only that they help to make science more meaningful to students, but they can also help to make the important connection between what students learn in school and how that knowledge and those skills can be used effectively in the wider world. And if we can also make more connections between education systems and employers, then we may be able to help more young people fulfil their potential – and help more societies prosper – by creating a better match between young people’s skills and the jobs that propel economies.

Links
OECD Skills Strategy
Related blog posts:
“Creativity” is spelled with a “why”
Understanding youth, unemployment and skills in Africa
Photo credit: Stack of pebbles / Shutterstock

6 comments:

David Price said...

This is a really important message, and one which many developed countries seem reluctant to accept. The UK and the USA in particular seem to think that high-stakes testing is the only route to improved outcomes for young people. Without their engagement, these students continue to have learning 'done to' them. The answer to securing their engagement is more creative, project-focussed learning.
For the past 3 years I have led a project in the UK (www.learningfutures.org) which produced free resources to enable schools to become more engaging places in which to learn. We worked with the High Tech High schools in San Diego to produce a teachers guide to Project-Based Learning. High Tech High's student outcomes show that it is not an either/or between engagement and achievement - you can have both!

Thanks for these important observations.

David Price said...

This is a really important message, and one which many developed countries seem reluctant to accept. The UK and the USA in particular seem to think that high-stakes testing is the only route to improved outcomes for young people. Without their engagement, these students continue to have learning 'done to' them. The answer to securing their engagement is more creative, project-focussed learning.
For the past 3 years I have led a project in the UK (www.learningfutures.org) which produced free resources to enable schools to become more engaging places in which to learn. We worked with the High Tech High schools in San Diego to produce a teachers guide to Project-Based Learning. High Tech High's student outcomes show that it is not an either/or between engagement and achievement - you can have both!

Thanks for these important observations.

Marilyn Leask said...

i agree with Barbara's comments - ensuring pupils have the understanding of how to become econmically independent is fundamental to their future but teachers cannot be expected to automatically have the knowledge necessary to support this learning. Mch more could be done in the UK to alert those in their last years of schooling to skill shortages so that young people can at least direct their energies to areas where these is a likelihood of employment. For example, in the field of education, there is a shortage of qualified applicants for university teacher training posts particularly for primary teacher training. This is a career route which possibly few teachers think of.

Marilyn Leask said...

Barbara is correct but teachers may not have the knowledge and skills to support pupils in understanding how to become economically independent in a world with rapidly changing job markets.

Ashish Shandilya said...

Thanks for sharing this useful info. Keep updating same way.
Regards,AshishSoft Skills Training Programs

Jelel Ezzine said...

I had the pleasure meating Barbara during her visit to Tunisia and appreciate her valuable insight as to our education system especially its much needed coupling with the job market. Moreover, I fully agree as to the adaptation of the system to 21st century socioeconomic needs. Nevertheless, I'd like to emphasise the importance of the absorbability capabilities of the job market which is a necessary prerequisite to the employment of university degrees holders that remains a key challenge in Tunisia and the region.