Bridges to the future of education: Policy recommendations for the digital age

Download the book containing the educational policy documents published in the T20 Argentina process during 2018 produced by the "Future of Work and Education for the Digital Era" Task Force.

This book gathers educational policy documents published in the T20 Argentina process during 2018 within the framework of the Task Force on “The Future of Work and Education for the Digital Era”. It puts forwards recommendations oriented to the educational priorities established by the G20: 21st century skills development and education financing.

To download the book, click here.

Here are some opening remarks found in the book by Alejandra Cardini, Director of the Education Program at CIPPEC and Task Force co-chair of “The Future of Work and Education for the Digital Age”.

Argentina’s G20 presidency has changed the role of education policy within this leading forum. This is the first time that Education is included as a working group in the G20 history. This decision has had direct effects on the T20, the G20 engagement group that develops policy recommendations through different thematic Task Forces.

Education systems and policies usually focus on local perspectives. This is an exceptional opportunity to open a global discussion about the future of education among experts and policy-makers. Task Force 1, “The Future of Work and Education for the Digital Age”, has undertaken this challenge. We aimed to produce education policy recommendations based on a vision that stands for education as a key dimension of policy agendas for global development. Since the first working session at the “Inception Workshop: Vision and Strategies for 2018”, Task Force members have agreed on considering education of crucial importance, as it equalizes opportunities, strengthens democracies and contributes to economic growth.

This vision is aligned with United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. More specifically, SDG number 4 seeks to “ensure inclusive and quality education for all and promote lifelong learning” (United Nations, 2017). Universal access to quality education is meant to play a key role in creating a more inclusive, just and equitable world. Achieving these goals is only possible through long-term advocacy. Its consideration within the T20 agenda is an important step forward, as it allows discussing the future of education systems and policies from a global and collaborative perspective.

Under these premises, this Task Force has addressed two very different challenges. On one hand, education policy recommendations seek to deal with a XIX century challenges still present in many regions and countries across the world: access and learning. As UN indicators show, primary education in developing countries has reached a 91% enrolment rate, but 57 million children remain out of school. Most of them, live in Sub-Saharian Africa, Southern Asia and conflict-affected areas. Enrolment rates in secondary education are even worse: 84% for lower secondary education and 63% for upper secondary education (United Nations, 2017). At the same time, recommendations have also aimed at the so called “learning crisis”: many children attend school, but they do not go through deep learning experiences. According to UNESCO’s Education for All Global Monitoring Report, 130 million children attend primary school, but they are unable to read, write and do basic mathematics (2014).

On the other hand, this Task Force provided policy recommendations that aimed at analysing XXI century opportunities emerging from the new relation between technological change, employment and education. The digital age has opened perspectives towards traditional education; these have raised new questions about curriculum, teacher development, certifications, among many other dimensions of education policy. Furthermore, Task Force members have identified opportunities to articulate new digital technologies with alternative learning ways that might enhance pedagogical practices and improve outcomes. Such ideas have also considered States’ role and equity matters.

These two challenges need to bridge old and unsolved educational problems with new opportunities. We must not address them as a two-phase process, but as a complex scenario where new technologies might contribute to imagine the future of education. In other words, digitalization and technology- driven changes might provide education systems with tools to foster inclusion, quality and gender and socioeconomic equity.

With these challenges in mind, this task force has approached education by producing policy briefs in four different areas. Although they are here theoretically separated, many links can be traced among them.

Firstly, this task force has identified the importance of addressing skills development since the very beginning of life. Evidence shows that early childhood development has substantial effects in subsequent education levels. In this regard, we recommend governments to support measures that make systemic approaches sustainable; to initiate and support joint learning looking at Early Childhood Development, Education and Care (ECD/ECEC) initiatives across G20 countries; and to embrace and support systemic approaches to ECD/ECEC governance, policy implementation, and evaluation. In “It takes more than a village. Effective Early Childhood Development, Education and Care services require competent systems”, Mathias Urban, Alejandra Cardini and Rita Flórez Romero explain that it is necessary to support multi-dimensional networks of all actors involved in developing and providing ECD/ECEC services at all levels of government: local, regional and national. This requires cross-national exchange and networking between policy makers, practitioners, ECD/ECEC advocates, and researchers in order to make successful and forward-looking approaches to holistic ECD/ECEC services in the global south.

Secondly, this Task Force has considered the emerging opportunities and threats that technology-driven transformations have introduced in the education field. Recommendations are focused on the value of knowledge and skills as well as digital tools development for better articulation between different dimensions of education policy.

On one hand, Cristobal Cobo, Alessia Zucchetti and Axel Rivas reflect on non-formal learning, third-space literacies and alternative mechanisms for certification. In regard of these educational paths, they try to answer one of the most interesting questions in this book: “Are these alternative forms of learning a threat in terms of equity and established educational traditions or an opportunity for expanding the right to education?”. According to these authors, such educational paths must be considered by education policy as they emerge throughout the world aiming to prepare youth for entering the job market. They recommend to facilitate, support and promote the diversification of learning, upskilling and reskilling opportunities along with flexible certification mechanisms. Furthermore, they sustain that G20 should encourage international organizations and national governments to provide more flexible ways of recognizing prior qualifications regardless of where they were developed.

On the other hand, Claudia Costin and Allan Jales Coutinho also reflect about education, technology, in a context of rapidly changing economies and new labour market developments. Their work asks for those ways in which future inequalities within and among countries could be diminished by closing the Education-Workforce Divide. Authors explain that high- order cognitive skills, such as creativity and critical thinking, will face a burgeoning demand as a result of digitalization and technological innovations. Under these conditions, they suggest that education systems must integrate unforeseeable social and work demands into schools’ practices to ensure that students, especially those from impoverished backgrounds, develop the skills to participate in their local economies and democracies. Thus, they propose to develop “supporting functions” – based on digital technology- at the highest levels of government in order to enable G20 countries meeting timely and equitably needs and aspirations of children and youth while facing market changes. In this context, they suggest that equal emphasis must be allocated to competency-based curriculum reforms, teacher professional development and evaluation mechanisms.

Thirdly, this task force has developed recommendations on education financing. This topic stands as a clear priority within the G20. Policy recommendations on this issue address not only the question about the amount (“how much?”) of financing, but also complex allocation mechanisms and equity challenges.

Regarding this topic, Javier González, Santiago Cueto Caballero, Alejandra Cardini and Bárbara Flores analyze the relation between resources allocation and learning levels in Latin America and the Caribbean (LATAM). They describe how these are still insufficient and unequally distributed. Authors suggest that G20 leaders should encourage governments to invest more per student due to the high social rates of return of education; this investment should prioritise the early years. They sustain that such investment should be implemented by differentiated subsidies according to the socioeconomic status of students, in order to ensure equitable quality education and to improve the inputs distribution across schools. According to this work, policy-makers should parallelly encourage mechanisms to recognise and implement pedagogical practices which have proved to be effective to improve students learning.

Furthermore, Yoshida, Hirosato and Tanaka follow a similar argument by relating education financing, inclusion, equity and learning outcomes; they focus such analysis on UNESCO’s Sustainable Development Goal 4, “Quality Education”. This work suggests that G20 leaders should advocate and collaborate to ensure that education policy frameworks, accompanied with a broad-ranged major reform agenda, become realistic and feasible plans of action. According to authors, this becomes particularly important for policy-makers’ viewpoints, when considering overall volume of work, timeframe, sequencing, and budgetary implications. Moreover, in terms of education policy assessment, they propose G20 countries to work internationally in order to move beyond the identification of enabling factors even if they may provide useful hints for targeting investment (“what” to invest in); these should be combined with knowledge on practical process and methods of learning improvement (“how” to achieve results).

Although compulsory education funding appears as a clear priority among G20 countries, post-compulsory education could also take advantage of technological change to improve its financing mechanisms. In the last policy brief, Fletcher and Grainger show a growing body of evidence on the efficacy of specific funding mechanisms in particular circumstances. As they sustain, it is not easy for policymakers to learn from the experience of other countries. However, there is a risk that mistakes will be expensively and wastefully repeated. Thus, Fletcher and Grainger propose to develop a trans-national resource that would enable those responsible for this sector to rapidly collect and collate information from different countries and to develop a systematic analysis against agreed criteria. This will allow policymakers to evaluate the appropriateness of any specific financing mechanism.

Before moving forward to policy briefs, we would like to mention that this task force identifies intersectional vacancies between gender and education that need to be addressed in next T20 editions. It is necessary to produce recommendations to deal with parity in enrolment in all educational levels as well as with subtle forms of gender inequality, such as women under-representation in education leadership positions or misrepresentation of gender in textbooks, among other very important issues. Some of these aspects have been addressed by W20 Engagement Group in its policy brief “Education & Employment” (2018). Among some of its recommendations, authors claim that G20 countries must guarantee that every girl and boy in compulsory school age has access to a high- quality education and comprehensive sexual education (CSE). In addition, G20 countries should encourage young and adult women to pursue and continue tertiary studies in areas of advanced technology and in those key subjects that are driving the digital transformation, disrupting society, and creating a risk for increased social exclusion.

Last but not least, it is important to remark that this book is the result of joined efforts amongst diverse think tanks and research centers. It is the first step of an incipient network of organizations that has worked together in the T20 process but will keep on collaborating in the future. This is the first time that Education is included as a working group in the G20 history. It is our responsibility to work together so it is not the last one.

To download the book, click here.