Pathways to 21st-century skills

This paradigm shift calls for re-tailoring of existing educational approach, critical thinking, problem solving

Dr Ikram Ali Malik February 20, 2019
The writer is the chairman of the Federal Board of Intermediate & Secondary Education

Historical review of economic transition — from labour and capital-intensive economy to knowledge-intensive economy — spotlights knowledge as an intrinsic factor embodied with technology as the driver of economic growth and creation of wealth. Emerging trend in replacement of financial capital with knowledge capital has transformed the nature of growth, avenues of employment and composition of production by developing smart products with knowledge-dependent exports. This paradigm shift calls for re-tailoring of existing educational approach, critical thinking, problem solving, collaboration and decision-making approach.

Competencies and skills required in this era of globalisation are markedly different in comparison with those in the past i.e. switch from traditional contents learning to refurbishing of contents through learning tools and skills to become a creator or producer. These skills include ways of thinking, working and living as well as interaction in the world and interaction with working tools. Societies, employers and educational institutions face hurdles in this leap to match in-house talent with growing market needs. Severity of this issue is high for developing countries where output of their education system is of low mental fluency. Though there is growing realisation about importance of technology in the developing world, same is not truly reflected in education and real life.

Pakistan is not an exception to it and there is a general complaint of employers about poor understanding and use of technology by employees, resulting in low productivity of new recruits. Poor hand on technology is largely attributed to lack of realisation and inability of all stakeholders that could not create an environment conducive for knowledge to be used effectively for economic development. Expansion of technology and productivity has a direct nexus with allocations of resources for principle knowledge inputs — Research and Development (R&D). Unfortunately, share of such spending in Pakistan is hardly 0.3% of GDP which is far smaller than in other regional countries like South Korea, Malaysia, Taiwan and Singapore. For instance, Singapore, a 5.7 million-strong country, has annual exports of $370 billion as against $22 billion for Pakistan having a population of over 200 million. Similarly, our educational output is also characterised by limited acceptability with marginal returns in the global labour market.

The need of the hour is to have a paradigm shift in our education system by revisiting and enriching curricula with skills rather than content-based critical thinking; embracing skills-focused pedagogy with training to acclimatise in diverse working environment; and meaningful evaluation and certification system for qualitative improvement to digest emerging economic, social and technological needs. Efforts are also required for international comparability and compatibility of our education system through academic audit by participating in international assessments, like TIMSS, PISA, PIRLS, ILSA, etc. Constraint of enhanced spending on R&D due to limited fiscal jacket can initially be addressed by learning from the experiences of South Korea and Malaysia which invested in transfer of technology than in R&D to double their output in a short period and harnessed the benefits of global technological development. However, this has to be a short-term solution because as signatory of SDGs, we have pledged to increase spending in R&D, creation of productive job opportunities and investment in innovation and technological progress as drivers of economic growth and development. Increasingly digital learning and teaching process also calls for rapid expansion of requisite infrastructure to facilitate cross-border labour mobility to earn foreign exchange. Efforts of the government to revamp the education system, increase in FDI and transfer of technology through CPEC is hoped to bridge skills and technological gaps required for promotion of 21st-century skills.

Published in The Express Tribune, February 20th, 2019.

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