Transforming European education to equip the workforce of tomorrow


Youth unemployment continues to be a problem across Europe, sitting at more than twice the rate of adults, and has not gone unnoticed. Recognised at the highest level, the European Commission laid out its plan to help solve this within its Europe 2020 strategy. While working with governments around the region to create jobs is a vital part of this, ensuring that youth leave education with the skills they need to enter and thrive in the workforce is equally as important.

Europe isn’t alone in looking to improve how it equips students for the workforce. I’m fortunate to travel around the world and meet educators at schools with a wide range of resources. Each face their own challenges and have ideas on how to solve them. But there’s one common thread I see in many of these schools: we’re still teaching students for the skills they needed for the jobs of yesterday – not those of the future.

Speaking broadly, we educated children (ourselves included) to fill a role in society and become productively employed. But the notion that teaching students today in the same way, and with the same content, that we did 50 or 75 years ago and have them be prepared doesn’t hold up any more. We can no longer assume that those same measures of success in the schools of the last century will guarantee success in the next. In fact, we might even argue that they will not.

Previously, we taught for jobs in businesses with top-down hierarchies competing for market share. Now, businesses focus on networks and relationships – taking collaborative approaches to create new markets. Companies are becoming more people- than organization-centric. And, rather than have one career for 30 years, most will have more than 10 careers before they retire. This is the world of 21st Century work, which will replace 20th Century jobs.

This week, at the Microsoft Education Leaders Briefing in Brussels, I’ll be joining policymakers, international experts and education leaders from across Europe to discuss these very issues, and what can be done by the public and private sectors to solve them. As well as curriculum reform, learning objectives and new models of assessment, we’ll also be sharing best practice examples of how transformative education models, including the use of technology, can increase student success beyond the classroom.

Many see the introduction of technology into the classroom as an obvious way to help teachers drive the change needed. However, while technology can be a disruptive force, supporting educators with this alone isn’t enough – expensive roll-outs that don’t deliver results have shown this.

Technology will absolutely play a role – but we need to harness its power to drive transformation. When left unchecked, technology will disrupt for a short time, however true change will never be realized. Technology in education goes far beyond just the device and, where we see the biggest impact on learning outcomes and student success, is where it is the enabler – helping students to grow the skills they need, rather than purely being used for content consumption.

On a practical level, this can mean several things. Technology will enable mobility and anytime, anywhere learning. But, more than that, it can actually change the way in which we learn. We’ve started to see these shifts in pedagogy already with Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), and flipped classrooms, and technology – specifically cloud technology – is certainly helping to enable those changes more broadly. But the real change is being driven from within, by teachers feeling empowered to try new approaches, and by students motivated by pedagogy that is more in line with the social, digital world in which they live.

Cornwallis Academy (United Kingdom) was awarded Microsoft Showcase School status because of its proven ability to do just that. The school built a modern learning environment, with one large learning space, that allows students to work individually or as part of groups. A 1:1 device program empowers students to manage their individual learning, collaborate with classmates and solve problems independently. It also allows educators to track performance, connect with their students and make updates to their teaching programs when needed. Most importantly, beyond an increase in exam scores, Cornwallis has seen significant improvements in student attendance, engagement, and overall behaviour.

As the European Commission works with governments around the region to implement its Europe 2020 strategy, the private sector has an important role to play in ensuring these goals are delivered. Neither side can work in isolation, nor can we fail to include the educators who are committed to ensuring tomorrow’s leaders leave education with the skills they need.

These changes can happen, and they will happen – by partnering with teachers, students and school leaders to understand how technology should be used to achieve a new set of transformational objectives, these changes can happen. As an industry, we lead the way in decreasing youth unemployment, while building a stronger economy that can compete on a global stage.


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