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Reinventing education for life

It is estimated that only one in five of today’s elementary school students will find a job in a career that exists today. We often see the future as a linear projection of today, which most certainly it is not. In this age of disruption, the future is full of unexpected transformations and constant change.

One of Canada’s greatest assets is its highly educated population. And it is unquestionable that Canada’s postsecondary institutions are fundamental to educating Canadians to prepare them for the workforce. Yet, we are plagued with endless debates questioning whether Canada is producing graduates with the right skills. One thing is for sure: the benefits to our youth and the country won’t be realized unless the skills students acquire are aligned with the present and future needs of the labour market.

A host of recent employer surveys identify a set of skills considered critical for the modern workplace. Of greatest interest to employers are general skills and competencies — such as literacy, numeracy, communication, critical thinking, problem solving and various personal attributes such as resilience, creativity and being effective in teamwork — that are not specific to a particular discipline.

Preparing our children for the jobs of tomorrow requires the implementation of a flexible curriculum that equips students with skills that are simultaneously generic and transferable. Furthermore, these skills need to teach children how to become learners.

Classrooms need to become more like contemporary workplaces. Imagine a future that will see schools and parents able to monitor the real-time progress of students via the Internet, with learning tailored much more closely to individual needs, offering more choice. Children will do their basic learning online by listening to world-class tutorials, including in the evenings from home; they will then do what used to be their homework in the classroom, with teachers helping them with their online exercises, practical science projects and essay writing, reversing the traditional model.

Higher education will increasingly be conducted remotely, with professional communicators delivering lectures to millions around the world. This will raise standards, deliver economies of scale, reduce unemployment and boost the economy through productivity gains.

In an age of driverless cars, 3D printing and medical breakthroughs, teaching remains largely unmediated by technology. We need to support our educators to ensure relevance to the global realities of life today and the crucial role of innovation in achieving this.

Put simply, a robust, globally competitive Canadian economy requires a steady supply of workers with the knowledge, skills and competencies required by an increasingly knowledge-based economy. According to recent research by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, better matching of skills is key to raising productivity and narrowing income disparities.

The importance of thorough, relevant and accessible labour market information to career decision-making among middle school, secondary and post-secondary students and the parents, school counsellors, teachers and professors who guide them is critical. Our youth need to know what and where the jobs will be so they can plan their education and training accordingly.

And, finally, young people need more work integrated learning. Business-education partnerships play a critical role, not only in career education but in ensuring that students develop the skills and competencies necessary to succeed in their chosen career paths. We need to look no further than Germany, Europe’s strongest labour market, where the “dual training” system enables post-secondary students to segue seamlessly into employment via apprenticeships across 350 occupations.

With relevant labour market information, available and consistent career guidance, and increased experiential learning, our students will increase their chances of successfully transitioning from the classroom to employment. Before we go to the polls on Nov. 30, let’s ask our political leaders how their parties will play a more strategic role in collaborating with the federal government to ensure a renewed and co-ordinated skills agenda focus.

Nelson Mandela once said, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” I could not agree more. Education shapes our understanding and enriches our journey through life.

We need to ensure the learning we have is the learning we need. Education needs to prepare our youth for their time, to secure the future prosperity of our province.

Kim Keating is the 2015 chair of the St. John’s Board of Trade.

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