I originally read this in a blog by Dr Maryellen Weimer and found it very inspiring and instructive. I’ve made some minor amendments to the original post in the link above and hope this inspires anyone who’s an educator or a student (which should really be each and every one of us!).
Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.
Xun Kuang, Xunzi – Ruixiao: The Teachings of The Ru, Book 8, Chapter 11,250BC
“All discussion of reform must begin with the ordinary student, not the genius, not the prospective scientist or professor of abnormal psychology but the citizen of the republic who must earn a living in addition to living a humane life.”
– Paige Smith, Killing the Spirit: Higher Education in America, 1990, p. 200
“Good students are those who learn. Whatever their preconceptions, barriers or deficits—whatever their story—they take new information and new experiences, and to the best of their ability, make them tools for transforming themselves and their world. And at last I’ve learned that a good teacher is someone who can recognize and connect with good students—in all their forms.”
– Mark Cohan, “Bad Apple: The Social Production and Subsequent Reeducation of a Bad Teacher,” Change, November/December, 2009, p. 36
“Our students live in cacophony. Clamour, chatter and din fill their ears, and may even injure them. To many, a moment of silence in unendurable. I cannot ask them to put their heads down on their desk and be quiet, as Mrs. Morgan commanded me to do in Grade 2. But we can educate ourselves to be models of intellectuals who trust and value silence, who practice what we have always known; when no one is speaking, someone is learning. We can create oases of silence where cool springs of insight trickle and flow.”
– Ron Marken, in Silences, 2008, p. 115
“Most teachers resist showing students the dirty part of real learning and by the dirty part I don’t mean the hard work…. I mean the part where we fail nine times in a row before we find a good approach. I mean the parts where we are confused about our project, defensive in the face of criticism, doubtful of our abilities…. Whatever the venue … teachers like modeling their knowledge, not their ignorance, and they avoid referring to the muddy paths, fear-filled moments, and just plain failure that are the unavoidable parts of getting the knowledge we possess.”
– Marshall Gregory, “From Shakespeare on the Page to Shakespeare on the Stage,” Pedagogy, 2006, p. 324
“Skills as complex as questioning, listening and response are learned step-by-step; mastery is a climb up a ladder, not a pole vault.”
– C. Roland Christensen, Education for Judgment: The Artistry of Discussion Leadership, 1991, p. 156
“If members of another profession—say surgeons—were like college teachers, they would perform in isolation without apprenticeships, learning to cut and sew by trial and error. They would know anatomy but be ignorant of biology. They would hold colloquia discussing incision tips and suture innovations. To demonstrate the quality of their work, they would ask surviving patients to fill out bubble-sheet questionnaires with items like: ‘Does the surgeon demonstrate a commanding knowledge of his field? Is the surgeon well organized? Did she show respect for patients?’ No one would look at survival rates.”
– Larry D. Spence, “The Case Against Teaching,” Change, November/December, 2001, p. 14
“The teaching life is the life of the explorer, the creator, constructing the classroom for free exploration. It is about engagement. It takes courage. It is about ruthlessly excising what is flawed, what no longer fits, no matter how difficult it was to achieve. It is about recognizing teaching as a medium that can do some things exquisitely but cannot do everything.”
– Christa L. Walck, “A Teaching Life,” Journal of Management Education,November, 1997, p. 481
“Learning is my daily bread. It is wholly selfish, I fear, but I feel more alive in a community of learners than anywhere else. I am a voyeur, a peeping tom. I like to watch other people doing it almost as much as doing it myself. But unexpected (yet dependable) flashes of intuition or dogged discoveries or familiar ideas enlighten and warm me and make my joy complete. Every day.”
– Peter G. Beidler in Distinguished Teachers on Effective Teaching, New Directions for Teaching and Learning, No. 28, 1986
“The highest education is that which does not merely give us information but makes our life in harmony with all existence.”
In the book, Abdul Kalam touched on the topic of books that shaped his worldview. I wanted to share his thoughts about books and the ones that shaped his life as he himself said: “the transfer of thoughts and ideas, ideals and principles is a part of the circle that is life.”
Abdul Kalam describes books having always been “close companions” in his life life and how he used them to help him“understand the world.”
The works of Leo Tolstoy, Walter Scott and Thomas Hardy were constant companions of Abdul Kalam. He also was moved profoundly by the poetry of T.S. Eliot, Lewis Caroll and Wlliam Butler Yeats.
He however highlighted a few books that had a last impact of him.
The first was ‘Light from Many Lamps,’ which was an anthology of inspiring stories by various authors and edited by Lilian Eichler Watson. He describes the impact this book had on him as thus: “If I am ever in danger of being swept away by my own emotions, this book brings about a balance in my thinking.”
The second book was the Thirukural by Thiruvalluvar, a collection of Tamil rhyming couplets.
Written over 2000 years ago, the Thirukkural is arguably one of India’s greatest written work and discusses the human condition, ethics, morality and virtue.
He describes this particular kural (or rhyming couple) as one that has influenced him profoundly:
உள்ளுவ தெல்லாம் உயர்வுள்ளல் மற்றது
தள்ளினுந் தள்ளாமை நீர்த்து
(Think of rising higher. Let it be your only thought.
Even if your object be not attained, the thought itself will have raised you.)
Finally, the religious texts of India, including the Quran, the Vedas and the Bhagawat Gita were also instrumental in Abdul Kalam’s development.
He considered that these religious texts “all hold deep philosophical insights into the plight of man and have helped me resolve many dilemmas.”
From the Quran, he narrated how an excerpt from verse 35 of Surah An-Nur (‘The Light’) had a particularly profound impact on him,
“Light upon light. Allah guides to His Light to whom He wills”
From the Bhagavat Gita, Abdul Kalam narrates the words of Lord Krishna to Arjuna in the battle of Mahabharata (during another vision of the garden where all the flowers which blossomed in the morning now fall to the ground)
See the flower, how generously it distributes perfume and honey.
It gives to all, gives freely of its love.
When its work is done, it falls away quietly.
Try to be like the flower, unassuming despite all its qualities.
Abdul Kalam once wrote a poem which he used to recite to young people he met which best describes his feelings about the written word:
Books were always my friends Last more than fifty years
Books gave me dreams Dreams resulted in missions
Books helped me confidently take up the missions Books gave me courage at the time of failures
Good books were for me angels Touched my heart gently at the time
Hence I ask young friends to have books as friends Books are your good friends.
This was the legacy of the great Abdul Kalam.
“Hard work and piety, study and learning, compassion and forgiveness – these have been the cornerstones of my life.”
“I believe this [income inequality] is the defining challenge of our time.” Barack Obama (2013)
“One of the leading economic stories of our time is rising income inequality, and the dark shadow it casts across the global economy.” Christine Lagarde (2015)
There is a clear recognition of the risks, dangers and the pain which income inequality imposes on society. Despite the recognition, it is a problem which seems to constantly be forwarded on to successive generations to resolve rather than finding a decisive set of solutions.
We will all do well to pay heed to the US Senator John Sherman who in 1890 when he introduced his landmark Sherman Antitrust Act said that he sought to “put an end to great aggregations of capital because of the helplessness of the individual before them” and also because he fundamentally believed that amongst all of the nation’s problems, “none is more threatening that the inequality of condition, of wealth and opportunity.”
So why does inequality matter? Why is it important that we all strive towards resolving it? Societies that are hugely imbalanced and unequal ultimately become fractured which in turn lead to painful social and economic consequences that affect everyone. Neither the rich nor the poor will be able to avoid the huge social costs of a fractured society.
The stark facts
62 of the richest people in the world own what the bottom 50% of the world’s population own.
1915: The richest 1% of Americans earned 18% of the national income. 1930s to 1970s: The share plummeted and remained below 10% From the 1970s: The share has increased to almost 30%
1980: The top 0.1% wealthiest Americans controlled about 9% of all household wealth 2015: The top 0.1% own 22% of all household wealth.
USA: The top 1% of America control 40% of America’s wealth
Germany: Poverty has risen by half since 2000.
1965: CEO pay at the largest 350 U.S companies was 20 times as high as the pay of the average workers 1989: The figure is 58 times as high 2012: The figure is now an astounding 273 times as high. (It is worth bearing in mind that Peter Drucker argued that the pay ratio between the top executive and the humblest worker should be no greater than 20 to 1.)
OECD: The gap between the rich and poor is now at its highest level in OECD economies in 30 years according to a report produced in 2014. The overall increase in income inequality has been driven by the richest 1%.
2008: The United Nations University (UNU) and the World Institute for Development Economic Research (WIDER) estimate that the global Gini coefficient (a measurement of inequality between 0 – representing complete equality and 1 – representing complete inequality) was 89.
An alternative way to interpret this is that in a population of 10 people, if one person had $1000, the other nine have only $1 each.
The economic success stories of many countries hides a dangerous truth – that a significant majority of economic gains are going to those at the very top of the income distribution whereas those lower down have seen real incomes stagnate or diminish.
This has in turn perpetuated further inequality as those in a position of privilege often use their wealth and influence to shape policies that further increase their concentration of power. These policies have not necessarily been in the interests of those lower down the income ladder.
A research conducted by Martin Gilens, a political scientist at Princeton, lends credence to the notion that the US government responds more positive to the most affluent ten percent of Americans whilst “the preferences of a vast majority of Americans appear to have essentially no impact on which policies the government does or doesn’t adopt.” (A video of Gilen’s lecture can also be viewed here.)
The erosion of the social compact
This wasn’t always the case though. Whilst there has always been inequality, it has never been to this extent or been as pervasive. There was also more concerted effort to reduce the level of inequality and dampen its deleterious impact on society.
The experience of the First World War revolutionised American attitudes towards taxation and redistribution of income. When the War Revenue Act of 1917 was passed, there was talk of “conscription of income” and “conscription of wealth” at a time when young men were enlisting en masse. “Let their dollars die for their country too,” one congressman said. The call for fiscal patriotism helped legitimate the progressive income tax in the United States, and by 1944 the top marginal rate had risen as high as 94 percent.
Across Europe, a fear that the lack of reform could lead to social and political turmoil and the horrors of two World Wars meant that policies such as social insurance, minimum wage, a strong welfare state and progressive income tax were implemented leading to more egalitarian societies and economies.
The experiences of global ears produced visions of a social bond holding countries together and nurtured the notion that every single person owed a debt to the welfare of the broader community and society.
However since the 70s, the disappearance of these conditions has meant that the support for egalitarian public policies has also diminished.
We now live in a world where even high skilled jobs are being commoditised so that even highly educated workers are not making sufficient progress as gains in economic growth are limited to a very elite group of financiers, entrepreneurs and managers. In the past only unskilled workers lost jobs to automation, now even highly skilled occupations are at risk with the advancement of artificial intelligence, robotics and automation.
The social structure of Silicon Valley provides us with an instructive view of the future: One where expert systems have replaced the majority of people and a tiny but well-remunerated minority direct the economy whilst the majority exist to serve them alone.
The conflict is no longer just between the working class and the middle and upper classes – it is now between a tiny elite and the great majority of citizens. As the majority develop a sense of common interest, or what Marx may have termed ‘class consciousness’, the need to resolve inequality will become more acute as the resentment of it intensifies.
What happens when income inequality starts to become entrenched?
Health: Societies that are more unequal tend to have lower life expectancies, higher infant mortality, higher levels of infant mortality and high levels of diseases and conditions such as HIV/AIDS.
Human capital development: As inequality rises, scores on the UNICEF index of child well-being become significantly worse. Literacy rates are also lower and youth unemployment also becomes a major issue. A higher level of equality also leads to a greater level of innovation as a result of greater access to opportunity.
Social mobility: Inequality restricts social mobility – equality of opportunity is enhanced by greater income equality. Reduced social mobility further exacerbates income inequality and this becomes a vicious spiral from which an effective functioning economy becomes more and more difficult.
Economic progress and stability: An IMF report highlights that by reducing inequality and bolstering longer term economic growth are “two sides of the same coin.” In both rich and poor countries, inequality is strongly correlated with shorter spells of economic expansion and growth over time. Unequal economies are also more susceptible to severe boom-and-bust cycles leading to greater volatility and crisis. Extreme levels of income inequality depress economic growth. An OECD report estimates that inequality has had a cumulated loss of GDP across OECD economies of 8.5% over twenty-five years.
Social challenges and issues: Inequality breeds corruption. Unequal societies also lead to greater economic instability. If one considers the root causes of the Arab Spring, the lack of economic opportunity or equality is one of the main drivers leading to revolt.
A blueprint for change and resolution
The solution and change required for income inequality is not a zero-sum game. There will be those who are impacted more than others, but it is essential in calibrating the world in a more equal way.
It is very easy to be dangerously complacent and ignore equality, but chronic economic inequality hurts everyone, both the rich and the poor.
Resolution of a problem like inequality requires a revolutionary approach. We need to accept a fiscal revolution or risk a social one.
I’ve highlighted below briefly some key practical steps that need to be considered as we seek an urgent resolution to the problem of income inequality.
Tax reforms – Income taxes need to be more progressive (the way they were previously in times of greater equality). There needs to be a reform in the way the transfer of wealth is also taxed. The OECD has suggested that attempts to reduce inequality tax and transfer policies will not harm growth as long as the chosen policies are well designed and implemented. The OECD further argues that redistribution efforts should focus on families with children, on the youth and the improvement in human capital investment through the promotion of skills learning and development.
Continued focus on economic growth and employment – Policies targeting economic growth need to continue as growth ensures jobs are created and ensures employment. Employment will support social mobility which is essential to the reduction of inequality.
Ensure emphasis on social mobility – Social mobility is a key driver towards the reduction on inequality. Emphasis on education, skills learning and development is vital to support social mobility.
Support small savers and small businesses – Policies should not be tilted towards just merely taxing the rich but also be aimed at increasing the wealth of small savers and businesses. For instance we should consider the introduction of accounts for small savers and businesses that guarantees positive returns in excess of inflation. It is also a widely observed phenomenon that lower income families borrow more to support their consumption and this in turn creates a systemic risk.
Enhanced social policies – Governments and policy makers should also consider more directed interventions to enhance the social conditions of lower income families. For instance, in the UK, the Child Benefit offers a weekly allowance to parents for every child they raise. The transfer could be better targeted by making the income taxable as personal income, which will reduce the size of the benefit for those in higher tax brackets or who do not have face any other mitigating circumstances. In the UK, child poverty has dropped sharply whilst in the USA; it has risen by a third between 1969 and 2013. A child-benefit programme will help make a major dent in child poverty and also represent a powerful investment in the future. Introducing a child-benefit program in the US will make a major dent in child poverty and represent a powerful investment into the future.
Minimum wage – Governments should also take an active review of the minimum wage policies in their countries and recalibrate them to local conditions. There is always a temptation to keep minimum wage lower because neighbouring countries are keeping theirs lower, but this beggar thy neighbour policy will not benefit anyone in the long run. Countries that make the effort to ensure greater equality will be healthier in the long term.
Automation and technological change – Governments should take an active interest in the direction of technological change. It is mostly governmental grants and labs that are responsible for the underlying research that has led to the progress in automation and technology and they therefore have the right to ensure a clear review is undertaken to mitigate the social impacts of technological change through appropriate fiscal and taxation policies.
It is crucial that we as a collective rise up to face the challenges of income inequality and work closely to create a more equal society. The corrosive impacts of inequality will affect us all and the sooner we can find solutions to achieve an equal society, the better, for all.
Having had the pleasure of speaking at the UNCTAD14: e-Learning – Leapfrogging Skills Development session on the 21st of July 2016 in Nairobi, I am enclosing below some of my thoughts on e-Learning and the needs of digital countries in terms of knowledge development and how to best address them.
Details of my fellow participants can be found here.
As an organisation committed to innovation and providing opportunity, it was only apt that we became the first professional accountancy body to develop ACCA-X, a comprehensive suite of learning modules towards financial literacy, accountancy and business skills using MOOC (Massive Open Online Content) learning through an exciting partnership with edX and Epigeum .
In the 12 months since launch (from July 2015), there have been over 120,000 learners from over 210 countries who have participated and engaged with the courses and started their journey towards a better understanding of accountancy, business and finance.
Four key areas for developing and transition economics to consider for e-Learning knowledge development:
Tackling the employability gap
Building the foundations for data-led learning
Capacity building for educators and policy makers
The value of partnerships
Tackling the employability gap
Employability is one of the key policy issues of our times.
Linking education to employability and improving overall efficiency and productivity is something policy makers and politicians are grappling all over the world.
Interestingly, UNCTAD Secretary General Mukhisa Kituyi highlighted in a high level policy roundtable during the first day of the UNCTAD14 conference that employees in developing nations only have an output that is 10% of their counterparts in the EU.
It is important to note though that employability is an issue that afflicts both developing and developed nations equally. It is a problem in India (with increasing numbers of graduates unable to find relevant jobs); it is a problem in China (with the numbers of graduates increasing from 1 million in 2000 to 6.1 million in 2011); it is a problem across the EU with over a fifth of 15 – 24 year olds unable to find gainful employment. Further details can be found here.
Reasons for this employability gap:
mismatch in skills required by industry and what they are being trained towards;
lack of clarity of skills needs and dialogue between educators and industry;
education and training style (focus still on role learning – does not foster mental agility and innovative flair)
This is where technology and e-Learning becomes an enabler to helping fill the gap between education and technology:
Technology allows for learners to reflect, plan and articulate knowledge
E-learning embeds amongst their learners core digital literacy skills – which is crucial
Learning and assessment become more authentic through digital learning à more closely aligned to workplace
For instance with ACCA-X, there is an emphasis to ensuring that the business and accounting theory is supported by interactive simulations of actual practice and with significant support in ensuring learners understand the link between the theory and how they can be expected to apply their knowledge in practice and enable them to be work-ready.
E-Learning allows for students to become active agents of engagement and change and allow them to further develop their social and leadership skills. It also aids students towards becoming self-aware and independent learners which could be argued is the main purpose of education. It is this quality that should be at the heart of institutional strategy policy formulation.
E-learning allows the opportunity to establish a clear pedagogy (to cater to the different learning styles) – to the right levels of assessment – to effective monitoring and management (through data) and support a process of continuous improvement.
Building the foundations for data-led learning
The data allows for identification of hot spots, areas for improvement and ensure a programme of targeted support and intervention.
Data analytics and review is a critical component to aid both educators and learners along with policy makers.
The availability of data to enhance educators’ ability to better support their learners is a major component of effective e-Learning.
Tutors also have the tools to enhance learner management and be able to teach to scale.
The availability of learning data will also be instrumental in helping policy makers and researchers identify the learning gaps and hot spots and ensure there is effective capacity building taking place at appropriate levels to resolve outstanding issues.
Capacity building for educators and policy makers
This is often an area that is overlooked as e-learning programmes and initiatives are rolled out.
Whilst there is ample learning support for students to help them make the relevant transition to e-learning and blended learning, there isn’t always the same level of support of policy makers.
A key policy area for policy makers is to provide the right levels of support to educators as they embed e-learning within the curriculum.
The ACCA experience has demonstrated that there needs to be support for educators in helping develop blended learning solutions so that they are able to best leverage the opportunities offered through e-learning.
It is a large shift away from strictly face to face traditional’ transmit’ style learning – and training and support needs to be given to help educators adapt to e-Learning.
Educators and teachers also need to be given the comfort and confidence that e-learning is not designed to replace them. It is in fact designed to re-configure their role and their place in classrooms.
The value of partnerships
Developing effective partnerships will be the most effective way for countries to develop effective e-learning and knowledge platforms and solutions to meet their needs and ambitions.
The development of high quality e-learning (from the pedagogy to course development to platform development and delivery) can be extremely resource and investment intensive. This can be a significant deterrent for various developing and transition economies to either defer investment or worse, to develop poorly designed e-learning solutions which hinder more than they help.
The ACCA experience has shown that through partnerships, it is possible to develop a high-quality learning experience and allows for stakeholders in developing and transition economies to scale the learning curve much more rapidly.
Partnerships between policy makers, educators, industry organisations and employers is vital in developing the e-learning solutions developing nations needs.
E-learning solutions represent the most efficient way for nations to build the productive capacity they need to support the wider learning and development programmes to support their employability agenda, to promote social mobility and tackle the endemic problem of inequality.
The path of e-learning and digital learning that remains ahead of us is an exciting one. It is not without its challenges but a focussed and targeted approach of developing the appropriate e-learning solutions that are fit for purpose and in partnership, where possible, will ensure that much more rapid progress is made.
I has the privilege to speak at the ACCA Asia Pacific Future Education Summit in Beijing earlier this month (January 2016).
During the course of my presentation I touched on the changing trends in learning, the impact of technology on learning and jobs and ACCA’s response to these global changes.
Below are my thoughts on this critical triumvirate of technology, education and employability and how it will help resolve some of our major policy issues and challenges of the day.
Young people today are three times as likely as their parents to be out of work.
I have been considering this very urgent issue of employability and the growing ‘employability gap’: the fact that the skills students have as they leave our educational institutions aren’t meeting the expectations of employers, and that employers also want wider, softer skills as well as demonstration of knowledge and hard competencies.
It is also my view that technology is often woefully underexploited when it comes to giving students the opportunity to develop their professional skills.
Globally 75 million young people are out of employment. The issue of employability is not one limited to a certain geography or country. Below are some of the main challenges across some of the major nations/regions of the world.
According to a survey conducted by the Singapore Management University (SMU) in conjunction with Indian partners, it was felt that the employability of Indian graduates is low due to skill and geographical mismatch.
The survey also concluded that this gap can be bridged by digitisation of learning.
It is worth noting that the employability ratio of management graduates was only 15 per cent, engineering (20 per cent), law (14 per cent) and medical graduates (32 per cent).
An estimated 700,000 young people, known as hikikomori, have withdrawn from society and rarely leave home. These individuals have collectively withdrawn from the economic population of the country as a result of employability and the subsequent marginalisation.
Across the 28 countries of the European Union, unemployment among 15- to 24-year-olds was 22 percent in 2014/2015. The lack of prospects in the job market for young people is a serious problem in large parts of the EU. The highest unemployment rates are found in the south of Europe.Spain has the highest rate, with half of 15- to 24-year-olds out of work. In Portugal, Cyprus, Italy, Croatia and Greece a little more than one in three people in this age group are out of work.
According to a study by McKinsey, the number of students graduating each year from university or vocational school has risen from 1 million a year in 2000 to 6.1 million in 2011. This stunning increase means that the number of new graduates exceeds demand for their services in many areas of the country, resulting in an unemployment rate of 16.4 percent for college graduates.
McKinsey also estimate that by 2020, Chinese employers will demand 142 million more high-skilled workers—those with university degrees or vocational training—or about 24 million more than the country will likely supply. Companies could fill this high-skilled labor gap with less-skilled workers, but this would result in productivity losses or poorer quality products and services. Other companies may leave roles unfilled, delaying the decision to grow or expand.
The study estimates that if China does not bridge this gap by 2020, the opportunity cost could reach some $250 billion (about 2.3 percent of GDP)—which is almost the same as that of Singapore or Malaysia’s GDP! That’s a very large amount of money to put at risk – not to mention the impact on social welfare and harmony.
There are a few reasons as to why this employability gap exists.
The first reason is a difference in what employers want from graduates and what they are getting. Surveys of employers consistently show that they are not satisfied with the skill levels of their new tertiary hires, whether these are graduates of universities or vocational schools. The main complaints, according to McKinsey research (and a wealth of anecdotal evidence), are lack of technical training, inadequate English, and deficient soft skills, such as the ability to work in teams, critical thinking, and innovative flair. For instance in China, in 2013, more than a third of employers in China surveyed said they struggled to recruit skilled workers, with 61 percent of these companies attributing this to a shortage of general employability skills.
A second mismatch has to do with the knowledge requirements of the future and the structural makeup of the workforce. As countries’ evolve their underlying economic models, their labour needs shift as well and the resultant demand for higher skilled talent is not met by the status-quo educational systems.
Thirdly is one of a geographic mismatch. There are instances where the universities in certain countries tend to be concentrated in an area and this leads to a distribution problem as there are other areas where there are not enough universities to support the demand.
There is also a large question about how the education and training system also operates in. In a number of countries, there is growing concern—among parents, employers, and policymakers alike—that the system’s emphasis on rote learning and focus solely on exam performance does not foster the mental agility and innovative flair that the modern work place requires.
Therefore as you see, employability is a very real and serious issue that has serious economic and social consequences.
But before we proceed, it may be useful to have a brief view of what we mean by employability skills.
I have here a list which is not meant to be exhaustive but provides a flavour for some of the skill sets and capabilities we need to consider when talking about employability.
Communication skills that contribute to productive and harmonious relations between employees and customers.
Team work skills that contribute to productive working relationships and outcomes both within teams, the organisation and with external parties.
Problem-solving skills that contribute to productive outcomes and with a commitment to finding solutions.
Initiative and enterprise skills that contribute to innovative outcomes and driving stronger business performance
Planning and organising skills that contribute to long-term and short-term strategic planning and building the processes to achieve desired outcomes
Self-management skills that contribute to employee satisfaction and growth and ensuring they contribute to their organisation’s well-being in the process.
Learning skills that contribute to ongoing development.
Technology skills that the modern workplace requires.
Institutions and organisations tackle student employability in a number of ways, including through for example through professional experience requirements, and employability modules, careers services, work-placements and experiences, work-based mentors, volunteering and increasingly through looking at employability awards. We know there is already some excellent practice, particularly in vocational and professional disciplines where notions of ‘what it is to be professional’ are embedded in the curriculum, but for others this is less apparent. Few use technology really effectively in an integrated way to support student employability, although some are exploring this.
There is evidence of an ‘employability gap’ in the skills that students are actually starting with on day one of employment and the skills that employers are expecting from them. However, there is an increasing appreciation that ’technology for employability’ can provide many potential benefits to students, institutions and employers
Digitally savvy graduates are essential for shaping tomorrow’s entrepreneurial activities, but digital literacies aren’t well articulated.
The nature of knowledge is changing and, in this digital age, our definition of basic literacy urgently needs expanding. The notion of digital literacy – those capabilities that equip an individual for living, learning and working in a digital society – is one that needs to be taken seriously by education providers and consider how it can be an enabler for employability.
Technology acts as an enabler in supporting employability in the following ways:
ensuring that opportunities are provided throughout the curriculum in a scaffolded and supported way for learners to reflect, plan, and articulate and showcase their knowledge and skills in an integrated way
embedding digital literacy skills more broadly across the learning
ensuring that assessments and learning are ‘authentic’, and more closely aligned to the workplace and real-world tasks
using a principles-based approach to change which places the importance of developing self-aware, independent learners (which some argue is the main purpose of education at the heart of institutional strategy, policy and practice
Supporting tutors through better management tools to help their students. By using technology as a tool for learner management, teachers can develop and execute individual learning plans and track the progress being made by the learner in relation to the employability skills.
empowering students as agents of change, which evidence shows benefits all stakeholders including students in the development of wider employability skills. Students and learners can also document their employability skills and self-assessment notes as evidence of their competency and knowledge levels.
We know however that although there is a lot of excellent practice, it is not widespread. Technology can support all of the aims above, but further work is needed to ensure that good practice is shared and teams dedicated to developing learners are supported in maximising opportunities offered by technology, and in exploring how existing employability opportunities can harness technology to best effect.
According to research conducted by Cleary, Flynn and Thomasson (2006), it is recommended that for effective employability skills development; the design of an overall active teaching and learning and assessment strategy adheres to the following four adult learning principles:
Responsible learning – learners take responsibility for their learning. Responsible learning emphasises self-management and initiative and enterprise as learners work independently to develop new knowledge and activities in the interest of furthering their skills.”
Experiential learning – learners learn from experience. This “emphasises ‘learning to do’ and ‘learning from doing’. Authentic learning occurs when learners have an opportunity to apply their skills and knowledge in authentic work environments or in contexts which attempt to simulate the real.
Cooperative learning – learners learn with and through others. This form of learning “encourages learners to learn from each other, share learning tasks and learn from a range of people including colleagues, mentors, coaches, supervisors, trainers, and others.
Reflective learning – learners reflect on and learn from their experience. This can be introspective, where learners are encouraged to examine changes in their own perceptions, goals, confidences and motivations. It addresses: developing critical thinking skills, learning to learn and developing attitudes that promote lifelong learning. Reflective learning can be useful in directly addressing problem solving, initiative and enterprise and self-management skills
Digital or e-learning can foster these four types of learning and the development of all of the employability skills.
Universities and colleges have a responsibility to develop students into individuals who can thrive in an era of digital information and communication – those who are digitally literate are more likely to be economically secure and these skills are especially important in higher education given that graduate white collar jobs are almost entirely performed on computers and portable devices.
But it’s not just about employability – increasingly digital literacy is vital for learning itself. Digital tools such as virtual learning environments, e-portfolios and social networking software for peer mentoring are now common within further and higher education and students without the skills to navigate them risk suffering an inferior student experience at best, and being left completely behind at worst. It goes beyond IT skills, a complete culture change is required to live fully within the modern digital society, from understanding how to communicate ideas effectively in a range of media to managing digital reputation and history.
There are a number of success factors that will be critical as organisations consider an effective use of digital learning to support employability of their students.
They include the following and it is worth bearing in mind that this is an iterative and progressive process which will in turn drive better outcomes.
CONCEPT AND ROLE
Develop the employability skills based on a strategic and structured approach that links the employability skills to each other
Recognise the value of the employability skills in all aspects of life in addition to their employability role, and include recognition of prior developments in these skills in learning and assessment strategies.
Use e-learning in blended learning strategies to cater for a range of learning styles and encourage individualised, self-directed learning.
Adopt active learning strategies such as role plays, real work and simulated work environments, and incorporate e-learning.
Recognise the centrality of learning skills as the foundation for addressing all of the other employability skills.
Break the learning skills into four types: responsible; experiential; cooperative; and reflective learning.
Implement an upfront induction/orientation program to develop awareness and understanding of the employability skills and the e-learning role using a conceptual structure that shows the linkages between these skills.
Link remedial education for basic skills, such as literacy, and development of the employability skills in integrated strategies that harness e-learning.
ASSESSMENT AND REPORTING
Use e-portfolios as a tool for student reflective learning as well as a tool for reporting and assessing learner progress in the employability skills.
Pay attention to the different levels of application and performance of the learners and aid them through the journey,
Use a technology-based learning management system to support individual learning plans, tracking of learner progress and achievement, and the efficient use of teaching resources.
Adopt whole of institution strategies, effectively coordinated and supported by staff development activities in both employability skills and e-learning and particularly e-learning facilitation skills to enhance cooperative learning opportunities.
KEY AREAS FOR FURTHER DEVELOPMENT
Recognise that further innovations and improvements will be required to further strengthen the education framework and support learners and students.
There are some efforts we can do to help bridge the employability gap.
We need to make a better case for using technology to develop employability. We need to raise digital aspirations of employers, universities, learning partners and professional bodies such as ACCA and develop students as ‘digital entrepreneurs’ that can go on to act as agents of change for business. Digital literacy often isn’t related to employability skills, and we need to see this change to make a clear link.
We need to work in partnership with employers to understand needs better
We must not forget about those youth that are outside the formal education system, or are otherwise marginalized due to disabilities or their gender. Many youth are employed in the informal sector, and may not be able to access traditional schooling or have access to schools in their regiosn. Offering alternative, non-formal models of relevant education are crucial.
Without these strategies, there is a risk that students leave university or college equipped with the right qualifications for their chosen career but without the tools and understanding they need to thrive in the connected, globalised digital world of today.
Overall, I would like to conclude that digital learning and the employability skills should be seen as two of the dynamic influences whose interaction is likely to have a significant impact on shaping the evolving approach to l education and training now and into the future. There is much work to be done but finding effective solutions in this closely interlinked areas of technology, education and employability will help resolve some of the major economic and social issues of our time.
Having just visited Helsinki, a city I would strongly recommend visiting, I learnt a fair bit about Finland’s overall philosophy to education, learning and development. This came through discussions I had with a number of people whom I met whilst travelling there.
Finland provides a great blueprint for establishing a world-class education system that instills a philosophy of holistic development, lifelong learning and an ethos geared towards the progress of not just self, but of society as a whole.
The Finnish education standards are also amongst the highest in the world, under most global indicators, from the Education Index produced by the UN Human Development Index, to the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), to surveys conducted by the World Economic Forum (WEF).
I think it will be useful to start this short discourse on Finland’s education system with this quote:
“Finnish early childhood education emphasizes respect for each child’s individuality and the chance for each child to develop as a unique person. Finnish early educators also guide children in the development of social and interactive skills, encourage them to pay attention to other people’s needs and interests, to care about others, and to have a positive attitude toward other people, other cultures, and different environments. The purpose of gradually providing opportunities for increased independence is to enable all children to take care of themselves as “becoming adults, to be capable of making responsible decisions, to participate productively in society as an active citizen, and to take care of other people who will need his [or her] help.” – Anneli Nikko.
This pretty much encapsulates the overall philosophy the Finns have adopted towards education and learning.
It is worth noting the following points about education in Finland:
All education is free (including fully subsidised hot meals for all students).
Parents of new born babies are given books to read to the children – to inculcate a habit of reading!
There are no university tuition fees and benefits are provided for university students.
All children have to learn 2 foreign languages in addition to Finnish.
The values of living in harmony with one another and respect for all cultures, traditions and faiths are taught very early on in a child’s life.
The advent of ‘phenomenon’ teaching
Finland’s leading educators, despite their formidable achievements, have not sat on their laurels. They have continued to identify the changing trends taking place within the wider global economy and labour trends and are adapting to meet the rising challenges.
Across most parts of the world, there is a pressing issue of youth unemployment, which ranges from 25 to 50%, across Spain, Greece, Saudi Arabia and major economies. This is partly due to ‘skills mismatch’ that occurs as a result of employers not getting the skills they need from individuals who leave the schools’ systems.
What Finland is undertaking now is a radical reform that is scrapping, in a phased manner, the traditional teaching by subjects (such as learning maths, English, history, etc discretely) and instead focussing on teaching by topic areas.
For instance, students may learn about ‘business planning’ which will be a combination of languages, Maths, communication skills and writing skills. Some students may learn about the European Union, which will be a combination of history, economics, languages and geography. This inter-disciplinary approach will also help students make the links between the subjects they learn and how it can be applied in the real world rather than learn them as mere abstract subjects without necessarily viewing why they are important.
As part of the reforms, students are also working in smaller groups from an earlier stage to improve communication skills, embed a spirit of collaboration and solving problems and thinking of new ideas.
Interestingly enough, pupils, under this new education framework, will also be more involved in the planning and assessment of these phenomenon-based lessons, encouraging pupils to take ownership of their education and development.
Marjo Kyllonen sums it up best: “We really need a rethinking of education and a redesigning of our system, so it prepares our children for the future with the skills that are needed for today and tomorrow”
There is a significant amount for the rest of the world, and particularly Asia, to learn from the Finnish education system. The education systems across most parts of Asia do produce technically competent and highly skilled individuals, but are more geared towards exams and merely scholastic achievement when learning should be more holistic.
As I said at the start, Finland – a great country and a great place to live and learn!
I was fortunate enough to participate at the recent Myanmar Development Summit held in Yangon on the 10th of August 2014. I participated in a panel discussion on the opportunities and challenges for Myanmar’s development agenda.
The panel was moderated by U Kyaw Tin, Chairman of the Myanmar Institute of Certified Public Accountants and I shared the panel with Dr Maung Maung Lay, Vice President of the Union of Myanmar Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry, UMFCCI, Dr Thet Thet Khine, Secretary General of the UMFCCI and U Aye Chan, CEO of IMA Group.
Developments to date
Over the last few years as Myanmar has opened up economically and politically, there have been some major strides made in a number of areas:
1. Social and political reforms:
Politically we have seen a greater freedom of speech, improved press freedom and broader steps towards national reconciliation. The ongoing dialogue with armed groups in a number of states is also a step in the positive direction.
In the last three years government spending on education has more than trebled (it was increased by 30% in the last year alone) and government spending on healthcare has almost increased five-fold (it grew by 78% in the last 12 months alone).
The government has also implemented a strategy for greater public financial management reforms to enhance efficiency and transparency of government spend.
2. Improved monetary policy and central bank independence
The monetary policy has improved starting with the unification of exchange rates (there used to be a time where the official kyat to US dollar rate was 8 kyat to a dollar whilst the market rate was closer to 800 kyat to a dollar!).
The regulations governing central bank independence have also been brought more in line with international best practices, granting the central bank greater independence and autonomy.
3. Improved tax collection and reforms
With support from the World Bank, Myanmar is also embarking on a series of ambitious tax reforms to strengthen revenue administration, which will increase the effectiveness of tax and non-tax revenue mobilization.
This was further supported by the passing of the Union of Myanmar Revenue Law of 2014 and four other tax bills in March this year.
4. Improving business, investment and trade climate
Approved FDI has increased to US$4.1 billion in 2013/2014 (almost 300% from 2012/2013 when it was only US$1.4 billion). The investment has also been distributed across a diverse range of sectors from manufacturing (45%), telecommunications (30%) and hospitality hotels (10%). This will prove beneficial in the long term as it will increase employability whereas investment primarily in the resource sector would have not necessarily created sufficient job opportunities. The investment has also come from unlikely trade partners including Ooredoo of Qatar and Telenor of Norway (both in the telecommunications sector).
This improved business climate has come on the back of passing of the Foreign Investment Law (FIL) in late 2012 which provided better clarity for international businesses seeking to do business in Myanmar along with the removal of restrictions and barriers to foreign investment. The highly efficient Directorate of Investment and Company Administration (DICA) have also reduced the time for businesses to establish operations in Myanmar (this is also on the back of my own personal experience as we established our operations in Myanmar).
5. Progressive financial sector developments
The government is working very closely with industry stakeholders as Myanmar seeks to establish its first stock exchange in Yangon – the Yangon Stock Exchange (YSE). This is following the passing of the Securities Exchange Law last year. Japan’s Tokyo Stock Exchange (TSE) and Daiwa Securities Group, a Japanese investment company will supporting Myanmar in delivering the YSE by October 2015.
A microfinance law was also passed last year to improve access to finance for small and medium sized firms and to increase the level of liquidity in the market.
Banks are also being held to more stringent regulations and are required to improve their capital adequacy ratios to be more in line with international best practices.
Some key facts to consider:
GDP growth was 7.5% in 2013 (forecasting 7.8% in 2014).
Agriculture provides jobs for over 50% of Myanmar’s workforce.
Government budget for 2014 was US$ 19.5 billion (a third of Myanmar’s GDP)
Inflation has been creeping up and is expected to increase to 6.6% in 2014 from 5.8% in 2013. This is as a result of the weakening of the kyat vis-à-vis the US dollar, increasing wages (both in the private and public sector), a real estate boom/bubble and increased credit.
According to McKinsey, Myanmar has the potential to achieve a GDP od US$200 billion per year by 2030 (it was just under US$60 billion in 2013).
The average productivity of a working individual in Myanmar is currently only US$1,500 per annum (which is 70% less than other Asian economies including Thailand, China, Indonesia, India, Vietnam, etc). This low productivity also results in the low GDP per capita.
Key areas of focus for sustained development and progress:
Below are seven areas I view as critical for Myanmar’s continued development and progress. The achievements to date remain delicate and can be easily derailed if some of the below trends and developments are not addressed sufficiently.
1. A need for harmonious development.
One of the biggest perils faced by rapidly emerging economies is a severely widening income gap. It is vital that Myanmar addresses the issue of income inequality by providing broader employment opportunities and increase the number of middle-class Burmese.
It is also important that Myanmar’s leadership resolves on-going ethnic and sectarian tensions and friction in the country. This can severely destabilise the country and reduce the quality of life for Myanmar’s people. There has to be greater social and religious tolerance. Persistent incidences of communal violence between the Buddhists and Muslims are exacerbating the tensions. The government should support further initiatives by centrist leaders of the Muslim and Buddhist communities and support greater dialogue between the various communities. There needs to be greater efforts to reform education starting with the primary levels, to encourage greater tolerance for the different ethnicities and religions in the country.
The role of the military is still not entirely clear and this ambiguity needs to be resolved for a greater entrenchment of democracy taking root in the country so as to produce the optimal opportunities for further growth.
2. Improving access to education and creating educational opportunities for all.
Myanmar’s investment in education has increased significantly over the last three years but it still has one of the lowest averages of schooling the world at just four years. The universities and institutions of higher learning remain chronically underfunded and after four decades of neglect, do not yet have adequate infrastructure. However, this is slowly changing with the likes of Yangon University, Yangon University of Economics and Dagon University striking up partnerships with other top universities and organisation. This will help improve the teaching faculty and also provide greater exposure for the students and staff of these universities which will in turn improve overall performance.
A good national education is also essential for enhanced social mobility. The notion of social mobility is critical in helping people move out from the cycle of poverty and in increasing the middle class segment of a nation. Social mobility can only take effect if the right opportunities and education is provided to the people. As Myanmar continues its growth and development, the educational institutions will need to prepare Burmese youth with the right skills and capabilities so that they can gain meaningful employment and support Myanmar’s development.
3. Improving employability, productivity and efficiency
For growth and development to remain inclusive and sustainable, it is important that investment continues in the areas of labour intensive industries and sectors such as manufacturing.
The majority of the population still live in poverty (GDP per capita based on purchasing power parity is about US$3.60 per day)
The government is focusing on an export-led growth supported by productivity gains in agriculture and industrial development. President Thein Sein’s ‘Framework for Economic and Social Reforms’ launched in 2011 emphasised the need for a market-driven economy to support economic growth and to provide jobs and opportunities for Burmese.
There must be greater support provided to farmers and the agricultural sector (which as I’ve stated above provides employment for more than half of Myanmar’s working population) to introduce modern practices and improve productivity. Over time, this ensures greater food security for Myanmar and it also helps to boost the export-driven economy which Myanmar is gearing up towards as food production increases. Myanmar’s agricultural sector is also endowed with the 25th largest arable land in the world and has ten times the per capita water endowment of China and India. This gives the opportunity for Myanmar to be a true powerhouse in agriculture and help feed the world’s growing population.
4. Increasing access to finance
As Myanmar’s banking sector continues with reforms, increasing access to finance for smaller and medium sized businesses will help increase further growth, productivity and employment. There isn’t sufficient liquidity in the market and SMEs in Myanmar do not yet have the same impact as SMEs in other ASEAN countries. Part of this is due to a lack of sufficient access to finance which will allow for Myanmar SMEs to compete with their regional counterparts.
On an individual level, more than half of Myanmar’s population have no access to financial services, 30% are using unregulated services and only 20% have access to regulated financial services. The limited access to regulated financial services not only impose significant costs on poor people given interest rates of up to 240%-a-year compared to up to 36%-a-year for regulated services, but informal mechanisms also offer individuals limited protection, less choice and lower returns.
5. Sustained commitment to reforms and global standards.
Myanmar has adopted international standards in a number of areas. They adopted the International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) along with the International Standards on Auditing (ISA). The government, in an effort to boost transparency and greater fiscal control and management have also adopted the International Public Sector Accounting Standards (IPSAS).
Myanmar is also currently reforming the Companies’ Act which is still loosely based around the 1914 Burma Companies Act! This will ensure greater clarity for enterprises operating in Myanmar and also improve business and investor confidence and sentiment.
Myanmar has also recently become a signatory to the Extractives Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), a global anti-corruption scheme that requires member governments to disclose payments earned from oil, gas and mineral wealth. Burma’s EITI arrangement could also be expanded to include hydropower and forestry.
Such initiatives will support Myanmar’s reform efforts and development and pave the way towards strong frameworks that support sustainable and inclusive growth.
6. Greater transparency, accountability and robust governance
President Thein Sein set up an anti-corruption committee to weed out corrupt public officials. Corruption poses one of the most severe threats to Myanmar’s reforms and development. Crony capitalism exacerbates issues of income inequality and social discontent and the government will need to continue to act to curb corruption.
He also implemented various initiatives to improve administrative reform and cutting red tape.
Though efforts have been made to establish a stronger rule of law, the daily papers recount stories of land grabs, ethnic and sectarian conflicts and corruption and the pervasive conflicts of interests across all levels of government and business. There needs to be grater efforts in the areas of establishing an independent judicial system that will allow for a stronger implementation of rule of law. A clear and robust rule of law improves public confidence, enhances investor sentiments and paves the platform for sustainable growth.
7. Capacity building with an eye on sustainability
Myanmar has to undertake sufficient capacity building – both in terms of people capacity as well as physical capacity.
Myanmar’s current physical infrastructure is not adequate to meet future growth demands needs. Massive infrastructure investment in the areas of power, water, rail, road are being planned both locally and with foreign investors’ assistance. However, as Myanmar builds more roads, more railway tracks, better power grids and improved water systems, it will be important that there is effective and well-managed town planning and resourcing. We already are witnessing severe traffic congestion and delays, particularly during peak periods, and it this continues, Yangon’s traffic issues could well rival Jakarta’s or Bangkok’s and this becomes a huge social and business cost. Investment in technological upgrades and telecommunications must also continue as Myanmar’s telecommunications and Internet infrastructure still lags that of the rest of ASEAN.
These infrastructure improvements must also consider the wider impacts on sustainability (including social, human and environmental). Myanmar’s decision to suspend the construction of the Chinese-backed Myitsone Dam in Kachin state due to environmental concerns was a step in the right direction. It is important that Myanmar’s leadership consider the longer term impacts over the possible short-term benefits when making infrastructure plans and decisions.
Physical capacity building must be matched by sufficient human capacity building too. As has been described earlier, there needs to be appropriate educational, training and development opportunities for people to ensure that they have the right skill sets, aptitudes and capabilities necessary to support Myanmar’s development. People and physical infrastructure development go hand in hand and a holistic approach needs to be taken to ensure longer term, viable and sustainable development for Myanmar.
Ultimately, it is vital that the right implementation approach is taken to the policy developments taking place in Myanmar. Policy must translate into action or inclusive growth, economic and social progress and sustainable development will merely remain a pipe dream for Myanmar.