Why we need to act now to build future skills

The 21st century world is digital, uncertain, complex and volatile. But what does this mean for our education system? On Thursday, we’re hosting over 200 of the people leading change in education to discuss challenges, share ideas and explore solutions for improving our education system and giving young people more power to shape their own future.

Why are future skills important?

Digital is disrupting industries and reshaping our relationships with the world. Artificial intelligence, globalisation, environmental change, big data and political uncertainty all suggest a not-so-distant future which could look very different to today. With such huge changes happening around us, how can we decide what educators need to prioritise?

One place to start is the labour market. On Thursday, we’ll explore the implications of Nesta’s recent research into employment in 2030. It shows that the future workforce will need broad-based knowledge alongside more specialised skills for specific occupations, and that complex skills combining social and cognitive abilities - such as collaborative problem solving - will be increasingly important.

This is emphasised by the latest OECD PISA test scores which measure ‘collaborative problem solving’ for the first time alongside maths, science and reading. Andreas Schleicher, architect of the PISA tests, will discuss the UK’s performance with us on Thursday. But, if our pupils are to thrive in future workplaces, how can the importance of collaborative problem-solving, creativity, teamwork and other vital skills be reflected in practice?

There’s an enormous amount of exciting work already being done. We’ll hear from School 21 and Apps for Good on how their innovative programmes enable children to direct their learning towards real scenarios and gain important life skills. We’ll explore the potential of artificial intelligence to facilitate personalised learning solutions such as CogBooks, both in the UK and the developing world. We’ll hear from businesses, government and educators on how digital skills can be supported and showcase innovations such as Rocket Fund that supports schools to access the latest technology. And much more!

Furthermore, this is an exciting time for educators. Announcements in the latest budget offer welcome news: measures to improve access to maths and computing in schools; investment in training more teachers in computer science; and a recognition of how investing in skills is crucial to a wider industrial strategy. Alongside this, we are seeing hugely exciting innovations developed by individuals, companies and charities. Through our open call for ideas to tackle our two ‘education challenges’, we were overwhelmed by responses (and 10 of the shortlisted entries will be pitching their ideas on Thursday).

Acting Now for Future Skills is an opportunity for us to take stock of where we are and where we need to be. If our education system is to tackle the great challenges ahead and our young people are to thrive in the future, we must:

  • Look to the future to inform our practice;
  • Use evidence to inform and grow solutions that work;
  • Ensure that our education system works for all, regardless of disadvantage.

It is these three actions that will guide our discussion on Thursday, as we bring together government, educators, funders, innovators and civil society to learn, share and collaborate.

If you can’t join us, but want to get involved - don’t worry! We’ll be livestreaming the event here from 10am - 4.30pm. Or follow the conversation on Twitter using #futureskills.


Joysy John

Joysy John

Joysy John

Director of Education

Joysy was the Director of Education and led Nesta's work in education across innovation programmes, research and investment.

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