Key Trends in Education and Skills Development: Highlights from The Global Education & Skills Forum (GESF) 2018

By Ebunoluwa Bolodeoku

The Global Education & Skills Forum (GESF), an annual event, is the world’s foremost gathering of leaders and practitioners from the public, private and social sectors, addressing the challenges of education, employment and equality. In its sixth year, the 2018 forum focused on and revolved around the theme “How do we prepare young people for the world of 2030 & beyond?” and those in attendance discussed and sought solutions to achieving education, equity and employment for all. Through numerous talks, classes, debates, and meetings; delegates considered what we need to teach our children and how we need to prepare them for the future.

The following are the key highlights shared from GESF (2018):

A new wave of technology is closer than we think

The emerging role of technology in education headlined the forum – from virtual and augmented reality, to blockchain, artificial intelligence and robotics. On the Plenary stage, Blippar founder Ambarish Mitra showed us cutting-edge technology that will change the way we see our world, while MIT’s Iyad Rahwan asked delegates to rethink the ethics of handing over human decision-making to artificial intelligence.

Meanwhile, in the “Tomorrow” emerging EdTech conference, some of the world’s most exciting startups pitched their own ideas for the future of education, with the winners of the inaugural Next Billion Prize showing us technology’s power to give a voice to the voiceless.

The world is not investing enough in education

World leaders at the forum urged the international community to prioritize partnerships with the Developing World and commit to more funding for education and skills. In the words of Global Partnership for Education Board of Directors Chair Julia Gillard: “If you ever want a dollar to have an impact, you need to look at that whole pool of the international flows and domestic financing”.

There is a risk that the emerging economies fall behind on education

Experts and political leaders from emerging economies in South America, India, Africa and the Middle East and North Africa spoke of the state of education in their countries.  Some warned that new technology and automation are rapidly reshaping the world of work, and that developing States must invest in the education and skills of their workforce to compete in the world of 2030.

The skills we need are changing

A key trend from many speakers was the need to prioritise so-called “human skills” in curricula and classrooms. Speakers from educators to executives all emphasized the importance of critical thinking, problem-solving, collaboration, creativity and empathy.

As former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair said, education must encourage “young people to become creative thinkers, not just pass the exams”. But robots won’t replace teachers. In a series of Masterclasses over the two days of the forum, the top-10 finalists for the Global Teacher Prize showed us that there’s no one path to becoming a good teacher – and that a great teacher cannot be automated.

Teachers can empower their students – and beat “Fake News”

The rise of populism and the backlash against globalisation was an important focus of our conference. In his plenary address, celebrated historian Simon Schama warned of the danger of the “glamorization of ignorance” and the promotion of “gut-feelings” over available scientific evidence. Many speakers argued that education’s response should be a focus on global values and on empowering students with vital critical-thinking skills to combat the rise of “fake news”.

Our world’s climate is changing – and education can help

Our conference heard of the existential threat posed by climate change – and why climate literacy is a vital skill for the world of 2030. That was a message powerfully delivered on the plenary stage by Nobel laureate and former US Vice President Al Gore in the GESF 2018 Address, who asked delegates: “Must we change, can we change – will we change?”

Education can help disadvantaged students defy the odds – and rebuild lives shattered by violence

Our forum was privileged to hear the stories of extraordinary individuals whose education helped them to overcome incredible adversity. In the words of former child soldier Mohamed Sidibay: “When I learnt how to read and write I felt powerful.”

But GESF also gave us an important reminder of the violence that affects so many schools around the world. We heard the harrowing testimony of three survivors of the Florida Parkland high school shooting, as well as an important rallying call from teachers in conflict zones across the world for governments to ensure the safety of schools.

Teachers matter

Everyone remembers their favourite teacher, and every one of our delegates had a story to tell about the teacher who changed their life – and why education matters to them. Among them were superstar celebrities, actors and sports personalities, including actresses Priyanka Chopra and Charlize Theron; champion Formula One Driver Lewis Hamilton; Olympic medallist Mo Farah; and lauded singer Jennifer Hudson.

But most importantly, they included the teachers who are at the heart of GESF. In the words of Global Teacher Prize 2018 winner Andria Zafirakou: “I’ve just spent the most amazing few days meeting the most phenomenal teachers and they have come from all over the world. I am celebrating this win with you – and all our teachers back home.”

In this article, I have decided to share the highlights from the largest forum of educators in the world with the hope that this will be an impetus for readers who have any interest in the development of the Nigerian Educational sector to go back to the drawing board. It is clear given these key trends that we have some way to go and conversations have to be had at the various levels which must now translate into key, deliberate and measurable action steps with a view to developing a framework for education development that is very much aligned with the world view and the future. After all, what is the point of education that does not translate to employability and relevant skills development. Every stakeholder must recommit to the actualization of the much-required changes in the Nigerian education sector.

“When I learnt how to read and write I felt powerful.” – Mohamed Sidibay, former child soldier

Ebunoluwa Bolodeoku is a Strategy and Operations expert. She holds a B.Sc Economics from the University of Lagos and an M.Sc Finance & Management from the Cranfield School of Management, United Kingdom.