Sitting in on the seventh Education Fast Forward debate, we find that it’s time to kick out the ‘educrats’ because learning is ‘everybody’s business’
Andreas SchleicherAndreas Schleicher: skills mismatchThere’s nothing like dropping a stark fact into a debate to refocus minds. That was exactly what Carol Bellamy, chair of the Global Partnership for Education, did at the seventh meeting of Education Fast Forward (EFF7).

“A couple of months ago in Mozambique I visited a primary school with 4,000 students and not a single desk,” she revealed. “They were grouped together, sitting on the ground.” In a debate entitled “Access and Quality in Education – Can We Achieve Both?”, she had suddenly injected  an appropriate sense of urgency.

The debate, created by Promethean with support from Cisco, was being conducted live on Cisco’s TelePresence video-conferencing network, with EFF guests and Fellows in 18 city studios around the world. It was streamed live through the Promethean Planet website and extended on to Twitter, with tweeted questions finding their way back into the debate.

The urgency of the debate (you can dip into the YouTube video below) had been highlighted at the very start by Brazilian educator Vera Cabral Costa. Speaking from Sao Paulo, she said that access to education, and quality, were massive world problems and for her country too. This was made evident by the mass public demonstrations in Brazil which were, she said, related to quality in public services.

“Technology is a great enabler,” she added, “and for the first time in history we can address those questions of access and quality simultaneously.”

The scale of the problem was huge, she said. According to Unesco figures, worldwide 57 million children who should be in primary education had not been enrolled in schools. And of the 137 million who were, 34 million did not finish the primary phase.

‘Better skills, better jobs, better lives’

Andreas Schleicher, deputy director for education and skills and special adviser on education policy to the OECD’s secretary-general kick-started proceedings with his presentation, “Better skills, better jobs, better lives”. A speaker renowned for his use of statistical analysis, his slides, an object lesson in how to use Prezi, were already available online (

He didn’t mince his words. Countries could not bail themselves out of the current crisis. Printing money would make no difference: “What we can do is give more people better tools to connect, collaborate and compete, and  drive our economies forward, and that's why skills have really become the currency of 21st century economies.”

But education “does not automatically translate into better jobs and better lives”, he warned. On the one hand was “this toxic mix of unemployed graduates on our streets” and on the other was “a large section of employers who say they cannot find the people with the skills they need. So there is this mismatch between what our education systems produce and what our economies actually need to drive and move forward.”

His presentation was succinct and direct and brought in the need for countries not to desperately hold on to lower skilled jobs simply out of fear. Areas like Singapore and Hong Kong, had deliberately cultivated a move to “high value-added” jobs that required higher skills but also brought higher rewards for both individuals and countries, he argued. What was needed was honesty in facing the realities and understanding how to audit skills.

‘Skills are everybody’s business’

He concluded with four “tough” questions:

  • How do we prioritise investment for “life-wide learning for all”?
  • How do we figure out “the short and long-term trade-offs”. “Employers good at talking about today – what about tomorrow, and the day after?”
  • How to develop a “lifecycle perspective”. Countries that do quite well with skills for young people might not continue to invest, so skills may ‘tail downwards’ for older people.
  • How to develop a “whole-government approach”?

This issue was no longer just for ministers of education and ministers of employment  –  “Lifelong learning and skills are the currency of 21st century economies. Skills are everybody's business. You can only address those issues when you get a whole-government approach.”

There were clear echoes in the presentation from Carol Bellamy, “Access equals quality, and quality equals access”. While access is a priority of the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals which are working to a 2015 target, it was time to address access and quality together, she maintained.

‘Good news includes 250m kids in school but not being educated!’

Carol BellamyCarol BellamyThe good news, she said, was that there were fewer children out of school. Back in 1999 there were 100 million but the remaining 57 million were still a challenge, and this did not take into account the 250 million kids who were in school but were not getting a good education.

The bad news was that with the exception of south and west Asia, the process appeared to be “stalling”. “And in sub-Saharan Africa the percentage of children out of school seems to be actually rising.” (30 million of the 57 million still out of school are in this region.) “I am very worried about complacency and that we seem to be flatlining,” she added.

It was time to target quality, she stressed, because while there was truth in the saying “If you build it they will come”, they certainly wouldn’t stay if they weren’t getting a quality education. “Quality doesn't mean just enough teachers,” she explained, “although we don't have enough teachers, we don't have enough well-trained teachers and we barely have any teachers for even early secondary. But it means well trained and properly paid teachers, and they do need to be paid. And ideally it also means having enough female teachers to make girls, and boys frankly, feel at ease.”  

These should be teachers “who listen and encourage debate, who will get children to think and to question”. “It's not good enough just having enough classrooms. We need classrooms that are safe. Violence is still a very big issue in both quality and access [many out-of-school children are in conflict zones]. We need classrooms that are truly child-friendly. This doesn't require huge expenditure or resources.”

Her conclusion tied in with that of Andreas Schleicher: “We need a recognition th at education is everybody's business, not just an education minister’s.”

This breadth of responsibility struck a chord with many. EFF Fellow Tim Unwin said that the high levels of youth unemployment meant that it was time to stop pretending to young people that education would get them a job: “Let's stand up and take the blame and do something about it.”

‘First and foremost make room for innovation’ - Lord Knight

Lord Jim KnightLord Jim KnightDoing just that, former education minister Lord Jim Knight, drily joked that he had spent time as an employment minister correcting mistakes made as education minister. Education needed to be more enterprising, but he warned that this involved taking risks: “We have a very risk-averse system and I think we need to re-balance our education systems so that we can best take advantage of technology, but first and foremost make room for innovation.”

In Bangalore, Ramji Raghavan, said that in India, with a huge number of people entering the jobs market every year, there was a feeling that “We may be making the mistake of looking for traditional solutions.” Money could be wasted on skilling if core attitudes, like “enquiry, curiosity, creativity and confidence”, were not in place.

This was reflected in the response from Hong Kong where Sister Margaret Wong advised: “if we have the right attitudes everything will work out. We will have to work hard and work smart and generate the kind of skills required.”

Sir Tim Brighouse in London concurred. “It seems to me that what is lacking in our system is a sufficient emphasis on making sure that our next generation is always committed to working for other people as well as themselves,” he said. A school where he is working as a governor had just adopted a motto “that we are enabling those kids to think for themselves and work for others. That should be something that permeates all schools systems.”

Government ministers (“not Jim Knight”), he warned, “have a tendency not to understand the complexity of policy making”. This struck a chord with Carol Bellamy who warned that education should be rescued from “the educrats”. And that government ministers’ leadership capacity, in terms of the less tradition and broader view, simply “isn’t there”.

Lord Knight also observed: “People who comment on education in the media as well as the people who make the decisions in politics are people who have done very well out of the current education system. They are not the people who have been failed by it. It was time t he sort of people they want and the sort of education that could support them.

So where did the voice of learners sit with EFF7? Michael Furdyk, co-founder and technology director of the 500,000-strong TakingITGlobal youth organisation, mentioned the $45 million investment made by Ontario to support innovation and inspire young people to “create the next Microsoft”.

He also talked about developing kinship and collaboration between learners in developed and their counterparts in developing countries, citing as an example the Challenge 20/20 project, inspired by Francois Rischard's book High Noon, to link schools to address 20 global problems.

Young people crowd-sourcing the features of a ‘future friendly’ school

His organisation had also been involved in work using crowd-sourcing to try and map out the factors that might go towards creating a future-friendly school – 4,000 young people across the world had been involved.  Their priorities included bringing learner voice and emerging leaders to roles in developing and implementing policy and “how to leverage technology for new levels of co-operation”.

Kenyan community activist Agnetta Nyalita felt that young people should be getting the most up-to-date information on skills and how to make optimise their own learning accordingly.

However, there was a danger in countries being seen to overly involve themselves in developing skills for corporations who ought to be doing it for themselves, warned  Eduardo Chaves in Brazil. He said that while he could see that education was “everybody’s business” he was not sure whether that was the case with schools who may be more concerned with fully developing young people as autonomous learners and citizens.

Taking up his point Lord Knight suggested that the two interests “by happy coincidence” could come together. “If we are educating young people to love learning,” he said, “they will in the end be educated in the skills that employers need. I can't think of a job for life any more, except perhaps in the House of Lords...”

He also advocated involving young people in curriculum design that could bring in elements like peer learning that lent themselves to the effective use of digital technologies.
One area holding much promise identified - the new University Technical Colleges (UTCs Both Michelle Selinger and Professor Adrian Oldknow highlighted the kind of work which was being developed in Reading where, next term 14 and 16-year-olds will be working with Network rail to remodel the concourse at Ready Station. the work would be cross-phase, cross-curriculuar and for a real purpose, said Professor Oldknow.

Where a lot of internet collaborations tend to be short and sweet, EFF7 was an uncompromising attempt to cover its subject in depth – over two hours. Media snackers may have dropped in and out and followed the tweets, but the debates are clearly being built up to take the debate to the most influential gathering of policymakers in the UK, the annual World Education Forum (January, 2014).

While the forum may be one year short of the 2015 target of the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals, the current debate marks the progression of the series to keep the issues simmering and prepare for the post-15 action. With participants of the calibre of those involved in EFF7, the 50 or so education minister who are expected in Westminster in January will have a lot to talk about.

More information
Andreas Schleicher Blog for Promethean Planet 
Also Re-posted on Huffington Post Politics 

Blog from Jim Wynn (EFF fellow and chief education officer at Promethean)  
Tom Carroll’s blog on 
EFF7 Storify

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