A study of nearly 100 countries across a range of income levels has revealed large gaps in students’ skills – not only in areas such as language arts, math and science, but also in areas such as critical thinking, problem solving, creativity, and curiosity.

Gaps such as these are clear signs that too many students are not getting the education they must have to prosper in the 21st century and that countries are not finding adequate numbers of the skilled workers they need to be globally competitive, argues a new report from the World Economic Forum (WEF), written in collaboration with The Boston Consulting Group (BCG).

The report, titled New Vision for Education: Unlocking the Potential of Technology, was released yesterday.

“The skills gap is not just a developing-world issue: we found wide variations in performance among high-income countries as well,” says Elizabeth Kaufman, a BCG partner and a project advisor for the report.

“For example,” adds Allison Bailey, the head of BCG’s US education practice, “the US has gaps in numeracy and literacy when compared with high-performing peers such as Japan, Finland and South Korea. That means that all countries must improve their education systems to grow and compete.”

The report aimed to understand how education technology can help address critical skills gaps as one tool in a portfolio of approaches. On the basis of the research results and interviews with dozens of experts, the report discusses a number of representative resources and tools, including personalised and adaptive content and curricula, open educational resources, and digital professional-development resources for teachers. The report further examines how some of these tools are being deployed in three school networks from different parts of the world: Bridge International Academies in Kenya, Innova Schools in Peru, and Summit Public Schools in the US

“Education is a key focus of the World Economic Forum and is at the top of the agenda among our partners and constituents across industries and sectors,” says Mengyu Annie Luo, head of media, entertainment, and information industries at the World Economic Forum. “Technology is a positive disruptive force for improving the efficiency and quality of education. However, for technology to reach its greatest potential in teaching and learning, it needs to be better integrated throughout the instruction process and focus on problems unique to each country’s educational context.”

Delivering on the potential of technology to address skills gaps will ultimately require effective collaborations among a complex and interconnected group of policymakers, educators, education technology providers, and funders.
Among other actions, stakeholders can do the following:

* Assess and realign education systems and standards for the development of 21st century skills;

* Develop and promote technology expertise among teachers;

* Develop products to fill gaps in twenty-first-century skills measurement and instruction; and

* Provide funding for piloting, transferring, and scaling up technology-enabled models.

“Partnership-Multi-stakeholder collaboration is crucial to innovation within the education space in order to close the skills gap,” says Gordon Brown, former UK prime minister. Brown spoke at the New Vision for Education project workshop at the 2015 annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

“While technology is not a silver bullet, I’m glad to see the momentum across industries and sectors to align goals and expertise and bring education quality and equality to different parts of the world.”