To thrive in a rapidly evolving, technology-mediated world, students must not only possess strong skills in areas such as language arts, mathematics and science, but they must also be adept at skills such as critical thinking, problem-solving, persistence, collaboration and curiosity. All too often, however, students in many countries are not attaining these skills. In this context, the World Economic Forum has taken on a multi-year initiative, New Vision for Education, to examine the pressing issue of skills gaps and explore ways to address these gaps through technology.
In this report, we undertook a detailed analysis of the research literature to define what we consider to be the 16 most critical “21st-century skills”. Our study of nearly 100 countries reveals large gaps in selected indicators for many of these skills – between developed and developing countries, among countries in the same income group and within countries for different skill types. These gaps are clear signs that too many students are not getting the education they need to prosper in the 21st century and countries are not finding enough of the skilled workers they need to compete.
In response, numerous innovations in the education technology space are beginning to show potential in helping address skills gaps. These technologies have the potential to lower the cost and improve the quality of education. In particular, we found that education technology can complement existing and emerging pedagogical approaches such as project-based, experiential, inquiry-based and adaptive learning methods. In addition, education technology can be uniquely deployed to facilitate the teaching of 21st-century skills such as communication, creativity, persistence and collaboration.
Given the early stages of technology adoption, however, we acknowledge that its full potential to have an impact on student learning in primary and secondary education has yet to be realized. We also appreciate that education technology is only one potential component of the solution to the challenges facing education throughout the world. We have found that education technology can yield the best results if it is tailored to a country’s unique educational challenges, such as those related to inadequately trained teachers or insufficient financial resources, among others.
Our survey of educational technology trends revealed that much more can be done to develop higher-order competencies and character qualities, to align technologies with learning objectives and to develop learning approaches that efficiently and comprehensively deploy technology throughout the stages of instruction and learning.
In this report, we argue that for technology to reach its greatest potential it needs to be better integrated into an instructional system we call the “closed loop”. For instance, at the classroom level, education technologies should be integrated within a loop that includes instructional delivery, ongoing assessments, appropriate interventions and tracking of outcomes and learning. At the system level, which can include countries, districts and school networks, we argue that technology can be factored into the broader educational policy decisions that align standards and objectives with 21st-century skills.
We have identified an illustrative set of instructional and institutional resources and tools that further strengthen the instructional system and support the closed loop. Examples of these include personalized and adaptive content and curricula, open educational resources and digital professional development tools for teachers. We also reference three distinct school networks from different parts of the world to illustrate how technology is being deployed to address challenges unique to local country contexts.
Delivering on a technology-enabled closed-loop instructional system – one that will help close the 21st-century skills gap – will ultimately require effective collaborations among a complex and interconnected group of policy-makers, educators, education technology providers and funders. When implemented thoughtfully, these collaborations can begin to bring the most effective education technologies to more of the world’s students in an effort to address 21st-century skills gaps.