In order to reduce skills gaps in countries around the world, education technology needs to be integrated into classroom learning, experts said at the 21st OEB conference in Berlin last week.
Discussions at the event centered on the learning divide in vocational education specifically and whether educational institutions are equipping students with 21st century skills.
“We have to count technology as an educational ally”
Referencing national strategies to increase education including UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, Mark West of UNESCO in France, argued: “What these internationally agreed frameworks say, is that if we are to meet the targets for education over the next 15 years, and we will have to leverage ICT [information communication technology].”
“We cannot continue to ignore technology, we have to count technology as an educational ally,” he added in the session.
Meanwhile, speakers debated educators’ ability to deliver 21st century skills in the conference’s plenary debate.
Jo Swinson, former Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for employment relations, consumer and postal affairs in the UK, said: “When it comes to technical skills, when it comes to social skills and vitally when it comes to capacity to embrace change, we are not yet rising to that challenge sufficiently.”
“Very specific skills and gaps in science and technology that are not being properly filled, these shortages are causing significant problems,” she said.
However, Allan Pall, from the European Youth Forum in Estonia, noted that often the education system is blamed for not delivering specific skills, when the structure of the economy can’t provide jobs to support skilled graduates.
“You’ll see countries where unemployment levels, even throughout the financial and economic crisis, were at a record low, such as Germany and Austria,” he said.
“It’s not because the education system has failed, it’s because the macroeconomic system has failed in terms of not having enough job creation for all those skills.”
Addressing the gap between the demand and supply of vocational education, Donald Clark, an education entrepreneur from the UK, told delegates in a session that “if you don’t use technology, you’re going nowhere fast”.
He also emphasised there will be economic difficulties if there is too much focus on academic development, to the detriment of skills training.
However, he added that the biggest challenge facing technology in vocational education is getting teachers to adopt it.
“I think this needs to be bottom up rather than telling teachers what to do,” he later told The PIE News. “We have to let them do it for themselves.”
Shafika Isaacs, an independent consultant currently working in South Africa, specialises in the use of technologies to support education systems.
“We’ve had programmes in 13 countries in Africa where we’ve encouraged dedicated courses using technologies that would target not just workers in the informal sector but particularly women,” she told delegates.
However, she echoed that the adoption of these technologies into the classroom by the educators is a challenge.
“What we’ve found is that just free training isn’t enough to encourage that adoption, and integrating it into classroom practice,” she said.
“We have to start including it in the blend, we can’t consistently just ignore it”
“We need to explore more why it is that even though we’ve done training, provided access…despite all those efforts, it’s not translated into the kind of pedagogy integration.”
Donald Clark added that technology can allow vocational students to learn in a virtual environment.
“That’s what pilots do, they learn in flight planes and simulators, we’ll have that in vocational learning soon,” said Clark.
“So there’s a whole ladder of things but we have to start including it in the blend, we can’t consistently just ignore it.”