Transforming education today for the workplace of tomorrow

By Don Carlson, Education Lead, Microsoft Asia Pacific

DON CARLSON _047 - croppedAre today’s youth ready for the workplace of tomorrow? That’s a question and responsibility that, as a former teacher, I take seriously. In our fast-paced, technology-driven world, this is now ever more relevant.

When I used to teach in a rural community in Canada in the late 1980s, my passion was to find ways to make lessons relevant for students with technology and used spreadsheets to help students model return yields on crops.

Fast-forward to today’s modern classroom. While the learning environment is now modernized, teaching methodology remains relatively untouched and students enter the tech-fueled workforce without developing the right computational skills, especially in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) subjects. The result? A higher risk of skills mismatch which results in prolonged unemployment or underemployment, with graduates resorting to taking low-value jobs, thus suppressing wages. Adding to the issue is the fact that girls remain significantly underrepresented in STEM majors which then impacts their job and pay equity, thus further widening the gender gap.

Governments have taken note of such a skill gap and it’s no surprise that education remains high on the national agendas for many countries. However, the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) report ‘Education to 2030’ forecasts demonstrate that government expenditure and affordability of education is by no means an indicator of STEM graduates entering the labor force. By 2030, EIU forecasts that India and China will produce 1.7 million and 400,000 STEM graduates, respectively – the top two countries in absolute terms. However, class size does not necessarily translate to quality education outcomes and employability. What’s needed is a holistic approach to determine how much and how well students learn and the extent to which their education translates into personal, social and developmental benefits.

For students, quality of education is crucial to acquiring digital literacy and other skills needed in the 21st century such as communication, collaboration, creative thinking and problem-solving. Quality of education is not just an attribute associated with branded schools or school facilities but is heavily dependent on the quality or value of how learning is approached for each student.

Role of technology in education
One way of achieving quality education is through improving individual-learning outcomes. This is where technology comes in – it can help expand the learning experience by removing the classroom walls and allowing for greater interaction and communication externally for a richer learning environment.

One example of how technology was used to enhance classroom learning is Hale School, an all-boys school in Perth, Australia. Students use collaborative tools like Microsoft OneNote and Office 365 to work on assignments and projects, while teachers comment in real time. They also use videoconferencing to work with peers in other parts of Australia and the US as well as interact with experts like scientists working on the Great Barrier Reefs.

Image credit: Microsoft Australia
Image credit: Microsoft Australia

For developing countries, the promise of technology offers the best of both words – improving educational outcomes while saving on costs. By training students on technology know-how, communication across cultures and collaboration skills, students are trained to work in a fast-changing labor market.

But, giving students and teachers a free PC or tablet is not the answer. It is important to remember that technology is a means – not an end. Good teachers and motivated students produce strong test scores and impact, not computers. Technology, if used effectively, can be a powerful tool, but without thoughtful integration into the curriculum, technology alone cannot drive transformation in education.

I believe it is important for us to lend our expertise to schools, governments, and organizations in the Asia Pacific region to help them build a technology roadmap to support the vision, not the other way around. Technology should be an enabler to the teaching and learning process and allow teachers to create more customized and personalized learning plans for their students.

What does this all mean for classrooms in developing countries in the Asia Pacific region? A bright future. While developed nations have had the benefit of a head start in transforming classrooms through technology, developing economies with less technology and less exposure to digital technologies have the best opportunity to learn from others, leapfrog them and open up the windows to a whole new world of learning.

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