3.1 Unfinished Business
Despite the dramatic progress in education achieved so far at the national and school levels, much remains to be done:
- Each country, to varying degrees, continues to struggle with issues of children out of school and illiterate youths and adults.
- The quality of learning and the capacity to define and monitor this quality is lacking in most developing countries.
- Inequities in educational opportunities, quality of educational services, and level of learning achievement continue to persist by gender, rural/urban locality, ethnic background, and socioeconomic status.
- The means and scope of education continue to be narrow and confined to historical models of delivery, and the use of other channels continues to be ad hoc and marginal.
- The increase in quantitative and qualitative demand for education is not matched by increase in resources.
3.2 Global Challenges
3.2.1 Globalization of the Economy
The world is faced with significant shifts in the global economic environment characterized by three major developments:
- Changing patterns of trade and competition
- Technological innovation
- Globalization of information
Together, these developments are producing a new worldwide economy that is global, high-speed, knowledge-driven, and competitive. Countries have to meet the competitiveness challenge in terms of agility, networking, and learning, and to arrange production to achieve quality, productivity, and flexibility. The good news is that, with the potential of human development and advanced technologies, developing countries can leapfrog. The bad news is that this process is not automatic. On the contrary, unless conscious efforts are made, countries are unlikely to be able to adapt to the demands of a globalized economy. They may even experience, on one hand, displacement of workers who lack the necessary skills and the prerequisite general education to learn new skills rapidly, and, on the other hand, a shortage of qualified workers for the new industries and modes of production.
3.2.2 Globalization of Knowledge
Generation, selection, assimilation, and application of knowledge are fundamental to the economic growth and well-being of any modern society. Economic growth today is a combination of capital accumulation and knowledge accumulation. Knowledge also plays a crucial role in resolving social problems related to areas such as health (including HIV/AIDS), water supply and conservation, energy generation and use, food security, and environmental protection.
In fact, all facets of society are becoming knowledge dependent. The very participation in a modern technological world necessitates a significant level of scientific and technological understanding. This applies to all areas of everyday living, including banking, business transactions, health services, transportation vehicles, home appliances, utilities, communication, and information exchange. Without the essential knowledge and skills for modern living, people will remain on the margins of society, and society itself will lose their vast potential contributions.
Knowledge, both basic and applied, is being generated very fast and is growing exponentially. As rapidly as knowledge is being generated, there are growing means by which to disseminate that knowledge through printed, audio, video, and electronic media. The revolution in ICTs has made access to information less expensive, more feasible, and nearly universal. Unfortunately, though, most developing countries are behind on both generation of and access to knowledge. While modern technologies are broadening the knowledge base in high- and middle-income countries and transforming their economies and societies, they also are increasing the marginalization of low-income countries and communities. The digital divide among and within nations is real and intensifying.
3.2.3 "Marketization" of Educational Services
The relationship among the marketplace, the state, and the education sector is evolving significantly.
Education is no longer a monopoly of the state or a "protected industry." Local and transnational private entities have entered this field as a result of expanding economic liberalism, increasing political pluralism, and rising demand for education. Government funding has not been able to cope with the evolving demands, and new providers have entered the market in large numbers. In fact, the growth of private tertiary education institutions in developing countries has been more rapid than it has been in industrialized countries. A large number of the new providers are private, nongovernmental institutions, many of them established in partnership with American or European institutions of higher learning, and most are profit-driven and, therefore, accessible only to those who can afford them.
ICTs, which have facilitated this trend, allow for flow of information and educational services across borders and over geographic and social barriers. Open and virtual universities and high schools as well as Internet-based lifelong educational programs have simultaneously internationalized and decentralized education. Education and training can now be practiced by anyone, anytime, anywhere.
3.3 New Demands
The demands for providing educational opportunities are escalating.
- Modern economic, social, political, and technological requirements demand that all members of society have a minimum level of basic education; no country can afford to leave anyone behind. But the biggest challenge continues to be reaching individuals and groups that are historically underserved with physically feasible, economically viable, and socially and culturally acceptable educational services.
- As countries achieve higher levels of basic education, there will be more demand for secondary, technical, and tertiary education. Providing such education across the country through efficient and affordable means is the next challenge, after the challenge of "Education for All."
- Similar pressures are coming from the workplace and the population at large for continuous learning to update existing knowledge and skills and stay current with advancements in knowledge and developments in technologies.
3.4 Financial Resources
As the demand for more and different tertiary education increases, financial resources are not increasing in the same proportion. Part of this constraint is self-inflicted because some of the conventional models for education are not sustainable.
3.5 Implications for Education
The above challenges pose serious questions for the planning of education and training systems and force rethinking in the way education is perceived, delivered, and managed. Where does this leave education development? With six far-reaching implications:
- Holistic Education Structure. The workforce of the future will need a whole spectrum of knowledge and skills to deal with technology and the globalization of knowledge. It also will need to be agile and flexible, and to be able to adjust to continuous economic and social changes. This means that countries must embrace a holistic approach to education, investing concurrently in the whole pyramid of basic education, secondary education, skill training, and tertiary education.
- Focus on Learning. The ancient objective of education, to teach how to learn, problem solve, and synthesize the old with the new, is now transformed from desirable to indispensable.
- Education for Everyone. Modern economic, social, political, and technological requirements demand that all members of society have a minimum level of basic education.
- Education Anytime. The need for continuous access to information and knowledge makes learning lifelong and the traditionally neat distinction between learning and work unreal. Education thus becomes a continuum, with no marked beginning and end, which provides opportunities for lifelong learning to help individuals, families, workplaces, and communities to adapt to economic and societal changes, and to keep the door open to those who have dropped out along the way.
- Education Anywhere. To cope with the diversity, complexity, and changing nature of demands for education services, learning cannot be confined to the traditional classroom. It is unrealistic and unaffordable to continue to ask learners to come to a designated place every time they have to engage in learning. Delivery must extend beyond the face-to-face institutional modality to include distance education, enrichment mass media, and nonformal settings.
- Preparation for the future. We are moving out of the industrial age into the age of free trade, information systems, knowledge economy, and technological innovations. The best and most efficient of our past and present schools have served a different age. Schools of the future have to meet the needs of the future. But what is the future, and can we predict it?
We cannot predict the future. The only thing we can predict is that it will be beyond our wildest imaginations. The future is changing so dramatically and quickly that it poses a nightmare for the traditional educational strategist and planner. We can no longer draw occupational pyramids or do manpower planning. We are educating students for the unknown; the best we can do is to equip them with the necessary conceptual, cognitive, attitudinal, and social tools to continue learning anytime, anywhere, on demand. The skills include:
- A conceptual open-ended foundation of the physical, human, environmental, and cultural world
- Skills to access knowledge, assess it, and apply it.
- Skills to analyze, critique, and apply knowledge to generate solutions and test options.
- Interpersonal skills to interact and work collaboratively
- Social skills to exercise good citizenship, tolerate diversity, and respect other perspectives and rationalities