Better Education Systems Are Needed
BSSB.BE gallup.com 11.12.2015
The bad news: There’s global consensus that the world’s education systems desperately need improvement.
The good news: There’s also consensus on how to fix those systems.
At the World Innovation Summit for Education (WISE) in Doha, Qatar, last month, Gallup and WISE released the findings of a survey of 1,550 education experts from 149 countries. These experts express considerable dissatisfaction with the job primary, secondary and postsecondary schools around the world are doing in educating students and preparing them for work.
- The WISE community also believes their country’s educational system is largely stalled. Just 34% say their country’s educational system has improved in the past decade, while 29% say it has worsened and the rest say it has stayed the same.
- Princeton economist Alan Krueger, former chairman of President Barack Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers, reacts to these findings saying, “The irony is that at a time when technological change is rapidly changing the world of work, the education systems in many countries are failing to innovate and take full advantage of the opportunities offered by new technologies.”
- The WISE community is the most positive about how well math and language arts are taught, with 49% of respondents rating their country excellent or good in teaching each subject, while the other half rate them only fair or poor. About four in 10 are positive about the teaching of technology and computer skills (40%) as well as science (43%), but the ratings are sharply lower for essential workplace skills like teamwork (35%), critical thinking (25%), entrepreneurship (24%) and creativity (24%).
- When asked which of eight educational challenges are the most problematic for primary and secondary schools in their country, 60% of WISE respondents select the quality of teachers. Nearly as many, 58%, cite a lack of project-based learning. School funding, lack of access to updated technology and several other proposals garner far fewer mentions.
- To address teacher quality, 75% believe offering more professional development is key, while another 57% would raise teachers’ salaries. The majority, 59%, also believe teachers are not treated with enough respect.
- Sixty-nine percent of the WISE sample say it is chiefly universities’ responsibility to prepare students for their first job; just 25% assign this responsibility to employers. But when asked to identify the leading challenges preventing universities from fully achieving this, 62% cite a lack of work/internship opportunities that prepare students for jobs, and 52% choose a lack of project-based learning. Ineffective career counseling is a distant third, at 38%.
In a follow-up question, respondents identified internships, co-op programs and mentoring as the ideal kinds of collaborative efforts needed between schools and employers. Secondarily, they would like to see more input from private companies on curriculum and identifying the workplace skills needed.
The big takeaways?
Although the WISE community is largely dissatisfied with how educational systems are performing, they are more concerned about deficiencies in the teaching of relational and thinking skills than they are with core academic skills like math and science. And they want to see higher quality teachers paired with more hands-on learning to better prepare students for the transition from the classroom to the workplace.
This means fostering more collaboration with employers to ensure students are taught the right skills and have the opportunity to exercise these skills in real-life settings before entering the workforce. Such investments may cost employers in the short term, but ultimately could spare them lost productivity, employee turnover and training costs, and will most likely yield positive benefits in the development of youth that go far beyond what anyone can currently imagine.
Julia Gillard, former prime minister of Australia and now chair of the Global Partnership for Education, is enthusiastic when asked if it is realistic to expect employers to invest significant time and funding in their home country’s educational system. “Yes, it is realistic, because I know it happens to great effect right now! A well-run internship provides employers with enthusiastic, fresh-thinking workers, and can give the intern invaluable experience and training to prepare them for their first job. Whilst formal higher education will always demand government funding, these types of partnerships will be essential in producing balanced and well-equipped graduates for the jobs of the future.”
But the experts are also clear on what should be done about it. Their prescription is more collaboration between schools at all levels and employers of all sorts, such as co-op programs, internships and mentoring, that allows students to put what they are learning in the classroom or online to practical use.
Three-quarters of the WISE experts surveyed are dissatisfied with the education system in their own countries. Further, only 12% consider their education system to be innovative, including a mere 1% who rate it “extremely innovative.”
Just 39% of these experts believe universities in their own countries are adequately preparing students for the workplace. And these experts’ perspectives on the key obstacles point to clear solutions. Six in 10 cite a lack of work or internship opportunities that prepare students for a job (62%) as the biggest challenge for postsecondary institutions, while about half cite a lack of project-based learning or application of learning to real-world problems (52%). In contrast, fewer than two in 10 cite a lack of access to technology (18%) or a lack of funding (14%) as major challenges.
In the U.S., research from the Gallup-Purdue Index (a large-scale study of more than 60,000 college graduates) reinforces the challenge as well as the opportunity in education today. Just 29% of U.S. college graduates strongly agree that they had an internship or job where they applied what they were learning in the classroom, and 32% strongly agree that they worked on a long-term project that took more than a semester to complete during their undergraduate experience.
Given this poor report on critical work-preparation experiences, it’s no surprise that only 14% of adults and 11% of C-level business executives in the U.S. strongly agree that college graduates are well-prepared for workplace success. Yet, when students do have the chance to apply what they are learning in the classroom, the odds they are engaged at work after graduation more than double.
Improving on these measures is neither overly costly nor particularly difficult. It will soon be considered shameful if colleges and universities — in collaboration with employers — don’t step up in significant ways to create more meaningful work and learning experiences together.
In Brazil, federal policy provides standard rules and regulations for internships, and many college majors require students to complete an internship for graduation. Universities in the U.S. — even large ones such as Northeastern University — have created co-op experiences for all students. Awarding academic credits for internship programs is a perfect example of how colleges and universities can move quickly to create more incentive for this kind of experience.
Mayors, governors, education secretaries and presidents alike can stimulate new incentives, requirements or accountability models to increase education-to-employer collaboration of all sorts. There is global consensus on what needs to be done. The only remaining question is: Why aren’t we moving rapidly to address the broken link between education and successful employment outcomes?
Brandon Busteed is Executive Director, Education and Workforce Development, at Gallup.