Andreas Schleicher, head of education for the OECD economic think thank and in charge of the international Pisa tests, sets out the biggest social, economic, political and technological questions being asked of schools around the world.
- Wealth gap versus social mobility: The gap between the richest and poorest is widening, with more intense pockets of extreme privilege and deprivation. This inequality ends up on the doorsteps of schools. Such division is one of the biggest challenges for education systems. How will such economic inequality be balanced against calls for schools to offer fair access to opportunity?
- Rise of the Asian consumer: The global middle class is getting bigger – and 90% of the new entrants will be in China and India. How will the global economy change when the most educated populations are from Asia, not North America and Europe? Also key questions to ask are: what values will these newly-wealthy consumers want from their schools? And will universities be ready to expand to meet a much bigger demand?
- Migration on the increase: There are a lot more people on the move, with Asia replacing Europe as the most popular destination for migrants. How should schools adapt and support pupils arriving from around the world?
- Show us the money: Funding pressures will be a big issue for education systems. The question is who should pay for more students going to university? And what happens when funding levels have to be cut?
- Learning versus the echo chamber: Digital technology can connect people as never before, building links between countries and cultures. It can also make the world more volatile and uncertain. When news and information is customised for us by algorithms, it can leave people only hearing like-minded opinions, insulated against opposing views. How will schools and universities navigate a more open approach to ideas?
- First class humans or second class robots?: There have been plenty of warnings about artificial intelligence threatening jobs. But education systems will need to equip young people with the skills that can be adapted and updated for a changing jobs market.
- Lessons for life: Life expectancy is increasing and a less predictable jobs market means adults are increasingly likely to need to re-train. However, at present, those who need adult education and training the most, are currently the least likely to receive it. It’s a problem that’s too often been ignored, but it will become increasingly important for people’s skills to be aligned with the jobs available.
- Online or offline?: The internet is an integral part of young people’s lives. In some countries the amount of time spent online by 15 year olds has effectively doubled in three years. But education still has to come to terms with this permanent online presence. What part should it play in learning?
- Teaching values.Everyone expects schools to teach values, but in an increasingly polarised world who decides which values should be taught? The digital world has allowed more people to voice their opinions, but this is no guarantee they can access reliable and balanced information, or be willing to listen to others. How can citizens sort fact from fiction? And how should schools teach the difference between opinion and objective information?
- Not even at the starting point. For hundreds of millions of the world’s poorest children, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, these issues will be irrelevant, because they do not even have access to school places or are in schools of such low-quality education that children leave without even the most basic literacy or numeracy.
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