UN Secretary General António Guterres recently paid tribute to the resilience of students, teachers and families in the face of the global pandemic that, at its peak, forced almost every school, institute and university to close its doors. Indeed, despite overwhelming disruption, we’ve seen the pandemic leading to impressive innovation, as educators and students have pivoted online with remarkable speed.
Even now, while returning to the physical classroom remains the top priority, Covid-19 has given us the opportunity to redefine how we learn for the long term. While online learning was a ‘nice to have’ before the pandemic, it’s rapid rise has supercharged uptake and clearly demonstrated its benefits. Using online tools, students have been able to learn in their own time at their own pace, educators have been able to better track progress (and intervene where appropriate) and collaboration between students and teachers has been multifaceted and fruitful.
But, just as technology is facilitating learning, students are also focusing on the tech skills that are needed for the digital economy. We know that over the next decade, as many as 85 million jobs will be displaced as automation profoundly disrupts the world of work - and so responding to this shift has been crucial for educators and learners the world over, even during the pandemic.
The World Economic Forum also tells us that while the robot revolution is likely to displace jobs, it will create 97 million new roles - primarily in areas like data analysis and machine learning. However, these roles risk going unfilled if the education industry doesn’t prioritise lifelong learning - laying the groundwork for a generation which is prepared to re-skill and upskill on an ongoing basis.
It’s important then, that educators prioritise skills capable of morphing to suit the changing workspace. Rather than encouraging the development of narrow skillsets that can (and ultimately will) be commoditized, they need to be laying the groundwork that encourages the development of a polymath mindset. In a world where the skills landscape is ever changing, we will all need to call on disparate skill sets with sufficient ease that it is possible to develop new careers as opportunities come and go.
Equally vital to this adaptability will be the retention of social and emotional skills, especially advanced communication, leadership and management. We’re at a (somewhat frightening) point where the pandemic has normalised an all-virtual world. We need to make sure that learners still have the opportunities to hone these vital soft skills… without which, for all the technological know-how, they will not be able to flex and pivot as the digital economy continues to evolve.
Indeed, analysts like the McKinsey Global Institute believe that reskilling is an issue where corporations must take the lead, but at Instructure we believe that it’s a collaborative exercise - and one which starts in the classroom.
Just as it takes a village to raise a child, it takes all the players in the economy to help develop an employee; which is why we wholeheartedly believe that learning must go far beyond the school years. Rather, it must accompany an adult as they enter the workplace and navigate through various different job roles. To achieve this, however, education institutions, governments and the business community alike must assume equal responsibility to support and upskill the workforce for today and tomorrow.
So, Covid-19 is set to plunge the global economy into the worst recession since World War II. And when it comes to the relentless march of automation, in England alone, the Office of National Statistics (ONS) predicts that around 1.5 million jobs are at high risk of losing at least some of their duties. But we have a crucial opportunity to turn this around. Investing in skills development, not just when in work but when in full time education, could play a massive role in our recovery and growth.
So for us, this moment provides a unique opportunity for governments, organisations and employees to turn this time of disruption into a period of progress.
Jonathan Perry, Manager of Client Services, EMEA, Instructure