From the President: Education for the 21st Century

USCIB President and CEO Peter Robinson

A new report explores approaches to lifelong learning for the 21st century.

By Peter M. Robinson

More and more, technology is eradicating traditional jobs faster than individuals can learn the skills necessary to adapt to new opportunities. The business community acknowledges that the “creative destruction” inherent in globalization and technological innovation can impact individuals differently. We believe that both the public and private sectors must help citizens and workers elevate their skills to meet the needs of the changing job market.

Increasingly, we see a disconnect between what we teach our children and the skills needed to succeed in today’s economy. We need to rethink the fundamental process of how we educate our young and train our workforce. In the 21st century, educators, policy makers and the business community must develop a common global approach to education, skills development and lifelong learning.

This was the focus of a new white paper from the United States Council Foundation, USCIB’s educational arm, and The McGraw-Hill Research Foundation. Summarizing the conclusions of a Roundtable on Education and Human Capital Requirements held earlier this year, the paper calls for a continuous, cogent conversation to respond to the global and personal challenges of the 21st century.

Beyond math and science

Rejecting efforts to elevate science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) over the humanities or other disciplines in favor of a more flexible approach, the report encourages educators to address both individual learning styles as well as the changing demands of the workplace.

It became clear at the roundtable that we do not have a coherent strategy to skills development that will meet the economic needs of the 21st century. Research is fragmented among stakeholders, with business, educators and policy makers each looking at the problem through their own prism. We need a global, multi-disciplinary approach to solving the problem.

As James H. McGraw, IV, president of The McGraw-Hill Research Foundation, noted: “Disruptive events around the world underscore dramatic changes occurring in societies; yet one truism remains unchanged: the key to unlocking a brighter future is forged in education. If we are to tackle the problem of stubbornly high unemployment and meet the job needs of global employers over the long term, we need to embrace a wide range of ideas about education and consider new possibilities.”

The paper offers a number of suggestions made at the roundtable to help improve education, including:

  • Focus first on early childhood, where the best return on investment lies.
  • Build resilience into education systems, improving their ability to respond to rapidly changing needs.
  • Push for mastery of the foundational curriculum through middle school.
  • Focus on processes to reach deep understanding of the knowledge areas covered.
  • Improve the connection between school and work-based learning via apprenticeships and internships.
  • Rethink the front-end-loading of education, as in many cases formal education is continuing well into adulthood via personal re-skilling and corporate training.
  • Develop a better understanding of the role of corporate training and development and its contribution to life-long learning.
  • Place increased value on informal learning avenues (such as after-school programs, museums, etc.) as critical supplements to the inevitable gaps of formal learning.

In the words of Charles Fadel, author of 21st Century Skills and founder and chairman of the Center for Curriculum Redesign, which prepared the white paper: “What is clear is that there is an urgent need to bring to the fore a deeply cogent, synthetic, open-minded and continuous conversation.”

You can download a copy of the white paper here.

The United States Council Foundation and The McGraw-Hill Research Foundation plan to convene a second roundtable to focus on the white paper’s suggestions for immediate action and identify key areas for further study and research. We encourage you to get involved and help us disseminate the results of this project further.

Mr. Robinson’s bio and contact information

Other recent postings from Mr. Robinson:

Ensuring a Dynamic and Secure Internet (Spring 2012)

Green Growth: Getting the Policies Right (Winter 2011/2012)

Supply Chain Challenges (Fall 2011)

Opening the World for Business (Summer 2011)

The OECD at 50 (Spring 2011)

Staff Contact:   Peter Robinson

President and CEO
Tel: 212.703.5046

Peter Robinson is USCIB’s 15th president. USCIB, founded in 1945, is a policy advocacy and trade services organization dedicated to promoting open markets, competitiveness and innovation, sustainable development and corporate responsibility, supported by international engagement and regulatory coherence.
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