The Future of Education in an Uncertain World


January 21, 2016

The Future of Education in an Uncertain World

by Asheesh Advani, CEO, JA Worldwide

Later today, at the World Economic Forum’s Annual Meeting in Davos, Switzerland, an esteemed panel will discuss the future of education—specifically, how the world can educate young people to deal with the uncertainties ahead and take ownership of their futures.

JA is well versed in preparing young people for an uncertain job market and empowering them to own their economic futures. For nearly 100 years, we’ve been addressing the social and economic challenges of young people through our experiential learning opportunities in financial literacy, work readiness, and entrepreneurship. We believe that our 100+ member countries, which reach over 10 million young people each year, will thrive in the next century, too.

Why am I so sure? Because we’ll continue to seek out and experiment with cutting-edge research and innovative educational models, and we’ll adapt our learning platform and curricula to take advantage of what we learn.  As a federated NGO, we have the strength of a network of hundreds of leaders, and a breadth and depth of reach into school systems that is unparalleled.

One piece of research I’m spending time with is the Future of Jobs report, released yesterday by the WEF, which examines the impact of the changing job market. As jobs move away from office and administrative positions and toward computer, mathematical, engineering, and architecture roles, technical skills will be in high demand. But because of increasing skill instability, these technical skills will need to be supplemented by social skills (persuasion, empathy, teaching others), collaborative skills, and self-efficacy. In the next five years alone, young people will also require the skills to seamlessly manage uncertainty, disruption, and upheaval, as their skill sets and the jobs they perform retool.

In addition to ground-breaking research, innovative educational models abound. One I’m especially interested in is Samaschool, recently named one of the 13 most innovative schools by Tech Insider, as a model for educating young people to be self-employed digital workers. Operating in both the USA and Kenya, Samaschool goes into areas of high poverty and high unemployment and offers online and instructor-led training in high-demand digital skills. Upon earning their certificates, alumni receive ongoing support from Samaschool and network with each other. Nearly all graduates earn income through Internet-based work, and most are self-employed, work-from-home professionals. Tupperware uses a similar home-based model to stimulate self-employment; Samaschool is a modern equivalent focused on Internet-based work.

Of particular interest to me is how Tupperware and Samaschools use the term “self-employed” instead of “entrepreneurship.” Is the idea of an entrepreneurial startup too big, too frightening for some of our students? Someone with a thriving home-based business may not consider herself an entrepreneur—after all, her business may serve a great need but may not be especially risky or innovative—but she would consider herself self-employed. 

Participation in massive online open course (MOOCs) is also thriving and offers us a model for specialized, multi-language, self-paced online learning. Perhaps the best-known examples of free MOOCs are Khan Academy (which supplements school courses with online tutorials) and EDx (a joint Harvard-MIT venture, where anyone can take free online courses in topics ranging from game design and robotics to Calculus and physics), while paid MOOCs Udemy and Udacity specialize in teaching web, app, and machine-language programming. Because MOOCs have only a seven percent completion rate, we can take these models one step further. By blending our vast, hands-on volunteer network—and an equally vast teacher network in schools—with MOOCs and other mobile and web experiences, we are able to deliver a better balance of online learning, human interaction, and successful course completion. JA is uniquely able to bring together volunteers, corporate funders, public sector regulators, and advocates for education, along with ed-tech solutions and the student populations they serve. 

We can also turn the online learning model inward, as a way for JA staff to deepen our own knowledge of the latest trends in philanthropy and other critical job skills, such as fundraising, digital marketing, and impact assessment. One such example is Philanthropy University, an offshoot of Stanford University’s NovoEd, which aims to build capacity at nonprofits through free, self-paced online courses. Philanthropy U enrolled 400,000 students from 180 countries in the first five weeks of its launch! 

At JA, we have a proven delivery model that over 100 million living alumni have used to benefit their families, communities, and the global economy. We’re excited to use the latest research and promising educational models as we continue to address the needs of young people in the new economy and extend our reach to even more communities around the world. Tune in today at 1pmCET/7amEST to hear additional ideas from the WEF panel.