Education-to-Employment - Can There Be A Global Solution?

Could there possibly be a Global Solution for the Education-to-Employment problem?

The question can be answered at two levels. First is to see the contrast between the national and the global. A solution shaped around the local labour markets, sensitive to cultural nuances and regulatory quirks, can be contrasted with the ideas of some kind of universal solution, something that works everywhere.

This latter view of the world is, in many ways, increasingly common and incredibly arrogant. This is the view from the top, in which the world is just a poor version of the West, all waiting for some kind of redemption. This proselytising view has two incompatible assumptions at its heart. First, it works on the basis that the Western education models are broken, because they do not deliver the desired outcome, namely, employment (or more broadly, occupation) at the right level. Next, it makes a further assumption that some kind of universal model, based on what has been done in the West, could solve the problem for the rest of the world. This apparent anomaly is explained away either with the worldview that the developing countries are just on the path that the Western economies have traversed before and that Private Sector innovation can fix the problems inherent in the education models in the West. However, developing countries are following a different path than how the developed countries got there (for more on this, see my earlier post Futureducation - Preparing For The Wrong Future) and the private sector has not been any good at innovation in education (with the possible exception of education marketing) than the public universities, at least so far.

Not surprisingly, therefore, the attempts at a global solution mostly fail. It is too easy to overlook the differences, both the structural differences of the labour markets as well as of the culture systems, while engaging with global companies and global investors. There is no one size fits all in international markets - and definitely not in education, where the nation state is alive and well. Contrary to the assumptions made in the conference rooms in the West, the Chinese are not unhappy with their one-party state (which may indeed be more meritocratic than the political institutions in the West) and the Indians can perfectly reconcile a technology job and an arranged marriage (which may require adjustments, but is not that the essence of relationships, they would ask). And, indeed, the labour markets are set to diverge, rather than converge, as we shift away from export-led growth to economic growth driven by domestic consumption. And, finally, but fatally for those who believe in apocalyptic globalisation (a term coined by Pankaj Ghemawat of IESE), languages are not dead yet. Even if English is spoken in different countries, it is different English in different countries (which is an insurmountable problem for machine translation) - and local languages, as we deal more and more with inner markets, are more, and not less important.

However, there is another way of looking at the Education-to-Employment problem. Almost every student can be made to improve, made enabled for a better life and more equipped professionally, if one could have a personalised education. The great folly of modern education may actually be the quest of industrial scale, though there were not many alternatives given the requirements of industrial development and the quest for social justice. But the personal nature of education, the current experience may underline, was an unacceptable trade-off. This may be at the heart of the Education-to-Employment problem, that education has moved too far away from the interests and lives of students.

Now, there is no way that one could provide a personalised education to the millions of people seeking it, even if there were enough educators available. The only hope of doing so, and thus narrowing the E2E gap rests on technological applications, which may indeed personalise the experience of education more than any other means. The problem is indeed that the technology talk goes hand in hand with the discussions of global scale - primarily because technology-led education needs capital and capital loves the ideas of secular globalisation - and the whole proposition becomes self-cannibalising. In Education, the challenge so far has been the black-and-white view of technology most people in the field adapted, and that technologies of personal engagement and attention have not been sufficiently distinguished from technologies of scale.

Indeed, this is where one could see how an universal solution can emerge. As with many other things at this day and age, the key is not in closed proprietary education offerings in isolation of cultural and personal issues, but development of an open framework backed by technologies, and pedagogy, of personal engagement and development. This point of openness can not be overemphasised, given the diversity. However, while we talk about open frameworks, institutions and investors are chasing proprietary content, credentials and glitzy communication to win the game. Needless to say, they are likely to falter at the twin reefs of cultural distance and the very personal nature of education.


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