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Upgrading Our Global Skills for Lifelong Learning

"Skills have become the global currency of the 21st century. Without proper investment in skills, people languish on the margins of society, technological progress does not translate into economic growth, and countries can no longer compete in an increasingly knowledge-based global society." Mr. Angel Guerria, Secretary-General, OECD

The new OECD Skills Strategy released in May shows that we need to put a premium on skills-oriented learning throughout life. Those in the workforce must upgrade and maintain skills to meet the changing needs of society. Employers are advised not only to invest in learning, but also create a culture that fosters it. In short, society needs to cultivate lifelong learners.

This was one topic examined at a public forum held immediately after the inaugural meeting of the Global Cities Education Network, which took place at Asia Society's new Hong Kong Center.

Tom Boasberg, Superintendent of Denver Public Schools, started by saying learning agility is one of the key skills he feels is important for the 21st century. Students must love to learn everything, including but not limited to science, ethics, arts, and world languages. Boasberg feels that Hong Kong is an example of a place that has used all of these disciplines to advance its society, pointing to success in the worlds of finance, design, and movies.

One of the keys to this success is that these skills are not concentrated in a limited number of people. Educational equity for all is important to the advancement of society. This is what needs to happen in the United States, says Tom, "if change is incremental, we won't catch up to Hong Kong...a transformation is needed, we must get away from the factory model."

In Singapore, this notion is explicit in the motto of their education system, "Thinking Schools, Learning Nation: A Learning Nation envisions a national culture and social environment that promotes lifelong learning in our people. The capacity of Singaporeans to continually learn, both for professional development and for personal enrichment, will determine our collective tolerance for change."

Cheong Wei Yang, Director, Planning at the Ministry of Education, Singapore, feels that it is especially important for teachers to be lifelong learners since success for all students is determined by their interaction with their teachers. Primary students will enter the workforce in 12 years, and be relevant to it for 60 years. The top jobs in 2010 didn't exist in 2004. Therefore, teachers must prepare students to solve problems and use technology that doesn't exist now.

He cited what he calls the ABC's of teachers, which is an acronym for the:


  • Ability to know 21st Century skills

  • Belief in them

  • Competencies to achieve them

Belief is a very important part of education reform work, due to a need to change mindsets. They must ensure that every student learns in a way that leads to achievement. And Cheong Wei Yang believes teachers want this; after all, they became teachers because they had that sense of mission. Sometimes, there is resistance simply because they aren't sure they can do the job. The government must give them the tools to do it.

Asia Society defines globally competent students as lifelong learners able to adapt and contribute knowledge and understanding to a world that is constantly, rapidly evolving. By teaching for global competence, we are preparing workers for not just the next 12 years, but for the better part of the coming century.


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