Education leaders, policy makers and investors meeting in Doha this week agreed that more versatile skills will be needed for the future job market.
Discussing regional and global education, Sheikha Abdulla Al-Misnad, a board member at Qatar Foundation and former president of Qatar University, said, “We tried everything—big investment, big changes, big reforms—but unfortunately we didn’t achieve the results we hoped for. We need a transformation.”
AlMisnad was speaking at a roundtable discussion during the Qatar Economic Forum, organised by the State of Qatar in cooperation with Bloomberg, which met in Doha from June 20 to 22.
Asmaa Al Fadala, director of research and content development at WISE, a Qatar Foundation education forum, also participated in the roundtable on “Adapting the Education Sector to Changing Global Realities”.
Al Fadala agreed that transformative change was needed. Reform results in a better version of existing systems, she said, but preparing young people for the future requires different systems.
“The convergent crises of our world today are shaping how we teach and what we teach and the skills needed for now and the future,” she said.
Training in Versatile Skills
Salah Khalil, the founder of the Alexandria Trust and Al-Fanar Media, said that talking about the kind of education needed for the future job market assumed that we know what those jobs are.
“The only part we can predict about future jobs is that they require different skills than the ones we currently have or we currently invest in,” Khalil said, citing a recent Harvard University report showing that it would not be possible to predict what a significant proportion of future jobs would be.
“What you want to do is to train people for skills that are extremely versatile and open up tremendous opportunities to a very large number of jobs across sectors and across geographies. Those are the critical thinking skills,” he pointed out.
Khalil is the founder of Macat International, a company that measures and develops critical thinking skills.
“Macat spent 12 years doing extensive research with the University of Cambridge to define critical thinking skills as the component skills of problem solving, creative thinking, analysis, interpretation, evaluation and reasoning,” Khalil said.
Macat is now involved in a joint project with the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development to develop the next international instrument for measuring critical and creative thinking.
“There is no guarantee that digital skills or space exploration skills or any other skill will not be required in the future, but critical thinking skills are a safe bet,” Khalil said.
“The future economy will be powered by augmented intelligence, not just artificial intelligence,” he added. “Critical thinking is the only way you can augment artificial intelligence, and it must be a part of your way going forward in line with new economic trends.”
The Way Forward for Education
Al Misnad agreed that focusing on skills such as critical thinking, problem solving, teamwork and leadership was the way forward for education.
“In our region we have thousands of degrees but no skills because the whole environment was geared towards paper,” she said. “Our region needs skills. It needs somebody who can work anywhere and who can adapt to change.”
The panellists agreed that personalised, student-led learning was another area that had huge potential to change the way the education system worked.
“If I wanted to change one thing in higher education to move in that direction, it would be getting rid of the idea of semesters and courses and trying to put things together in much more interesting and creative ways,” Michael Trick, dean of Carnegie Mellon University in Qatar, told the panel.
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Trick expected the future educational environment to be much more diverse with students being able to to choose from geography, economics, career goals and other aspects and subjects.
“If we concentrate on that and stop thinking of the classroom as the unit, we can all start to see the transformation we have been talking about,” he said.
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