As the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) gains pace, labour markets must adapt to meet the changing needs of the communities and economies they serve. Policy and business models are evolving in order to leverage disruptive technology – including artificial intelligence (AI) – and benefit from enhanced connectivity and productivity. A shift in education will be key to ensuring that populations have the skills to both adapt to and build on new technologies and the changes they spur.
Electricity and internet connectivity in some markets covered by OBG may be characterised by unreliable supply or by a low rate of penetration. Papua New Guinea is a case in point: as of 2019 only 13% of the population had access to the electricity grid, with the remainder relying on generators for power. The government has targeted extending electricity to 70% of the population by 2030, aided by the implementation of a rural electrification scheme and the application of off-grid solar systems. In terms of ICT infrastructure, increased internet penetration will be supported by the laying of the new Coral Sea Cable, which will improve bandwidth and reliability, though this will primarily benefit the capital, Port Moresby. In a country where approximately 85% of the population lives in rural areas, infrastructure challenges may thus pose the greatest obstacle to developing digital talent.
By region, Africa has the lowest internet penetration rate, at around 40%, compared to the world average of 57%. This varies considerably by country: internet penetration in Kenya is approximately 83%, ahead of Nigeria at 60% and far above Côte d’Ivoire at roughly 26%. However, this does not seem to have impeded development: Africa is the fastest-growing continent for developers globally, having created 40% more opensource repositories in the software engineering marketplace in January-November 2019 than the same period the previous year – a higher percentage growth than any other region. Indeed, Microsoft is investing over $100m to open its first development centres on the continent in Lagos, Nigeria and Nairobi, Kenya, which sought to create 100 full-time developer roles in 2019, with the aim of growing to 500 by 2023. This should help move policymakers in the region towards achieving the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), particularly regarding full and productive employment.
Many governments in emerging markets have prioritised the provision of higher quality education under the UN’s 2030 SDGs, in some cases by boosting funding. Peru, for example, increased spending by 11% in 2019 to PEN30.6bn ($9.2bn), and aims to spend 6% of GDP on education by 2021.
Widespread technological development – particularly growing internet usage, which makes education more accessible – is enabling a transformation in teaching practices. Accordingly, curricula changes are moving away from rote memorisation towards the development of soft skills. This approach is key because it will equip workers with the tools necessary to adapt to technology as it emerges, while also ensuring that humans continue to add value in areas that machines cannot. Proficiency in quality control and active listening was replaced by cognitive flexibility and emotional intelligence in the World Economic Forum’s list of top-10 workplace skills in 2020, demonstrating the importance of human cognition in an increasingly technical landscape.
An example to watch in this regard is Indonesia. In a move to support the development of human capital, the country appointed Nadiem Makarim, the former CEO of GO-JEK – the country’s sole start-up valued at $10bn as of end-2019 – as the minister of education and culture. This is in line with President Joko Widodo’s emphasis on reforming the education sector and workplace culture amid 4IR to ensure that the country achieves its digital potential. While the country boasts an internet economy that is forecast to grow to over $100bn by 2025, and also hosts four unicorns and a “decacorn”, Indonesia only produces 278 engineers per million people per year. Makarim has suggested that coding, programming, statistics and psychology should be embedded into the curriculum. However, it remains to be seen what measures the minister will take to reform the education system, and what lessons other countries may be able to learn from this.
Stem, Coding & Tech
Beyond a focus on critical thinking and the integration of ICT skills into the syllabus, some governments have allocated funding to upgrade technical equipment and digital technology. For instance, in 2017 Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Education (MoE) launched a pilot programme, Future Gate, to promote digital learning in schools. It was rolled out in 150 schools, and included the distribution of handheld tablets to students and teachers. In 2018 the rollout was extended to a further 1500 schools. The programme aims to replace textbooks with online resources by 2020. Similarly, Egypt’s MoE plans to distribute 1.5m tablet devices to students and teachers, at a cost of LE2.4m ($144,000), to be funded by a World Bank loan. Ghana’s government allocated funding for science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) teaching in 7000 basic schools and set aside capital to build 10 specialised STEM centres.
Developing STEM will be pivotal to improving digital skills, but suffers from a shortage of teachers – a problem not unique to emerging economies, perhaps unsurprisingly, given the growing global demand in this area. This may be compounded by STEM graduates choosing careers in industries with higher pay, and, in some cases, better working conditions. Countries that have their primary medium of instruction in a language other than English may also have an even smaller talent pool to draw on. In markets that lack a formal curriculum for the technology and engineering components of STEM, gaps are sometimes filled by NGOs.
In Myanmar, the Myanmar STEM Education Association introduced Hour of Code, a resource provided by the international NGO Code.org, in January 2019. The initiative is dedicated to expanding access to computer programming, and was first introduced in Myanmar’s largest high school, the Practising School Yangon Institute of Education, which has around 7400 students. However, teachers of the programme reported poor English proficiency as a barrier to learning. Similarly, in Colombia, which aims to double the contribution of digital and creative industries to GDP by 2029, from 1.8% in 2019, the government introduced its Coding for Kids programme in 2019, aiming to train 15,600 students in computer programming by the end of the year. This is a joint enterprise between the MoE, the Ministry of Information and Communication Technology and the British Council, based on pre-existing British Council initiatives, which are already active in 23 countries.
In many markets, technical and vocational education and training (TVET) is perceived as less attractive than the traditional education path, which may lead to insufficient uptake of the type of courses they offer. In Peru, for example, there is a ratio of three university students to one TVET student, yet 80% of positions in the country’s most dynamic sectors require technical education. Employing a diversified labour pool, including those with technical or non-traditional education, will be particularly important going forward. Workplace diversity offers a wider pool of talent, drives innovation and may be more likely to result in higher financial returns, according to a 2018 report by McKinsey.
Countries seeking strategies to address this may look towards the UAE. The country signalled its commitment to digital development when it became the first country to appoint a minister for AI – Omar Sultan Al Olama, who had worked on the country’s 4IR strategy – in 2017. The Abu Dhabi Centre for TVET (ACTVET), which was established in 2010, oversees two academic institutions that have a number of sites across the UAE: the Abu Dhabi Vocational Education and Training Institute offers secondary education, while the Institute of Applied Technology provides both secondary and tertiary education. These place increasing emphasis on the importance of STEM subjects and, crucially, are regarded just as highly as institutions offering a more traditional style of education. Moreover, Emirates Skills, an organisation operating under ACTVET, organises events and annual competitions with cash prizes for young scientists, technicians and inventors. Abu Dhabi hosted WorldSkills in 2017, an international competition that aims to raise the profile of skilled young people and highlight their importance to economic development.
A key component of the UAE’s efforts to accelerate digital development is the evolution of a tech ecosystem under the government’s Hub71 initiative in Abu Dhabi. In addition to creating a favourable business environment, the hub will allow tech start-ups access to capital by attracting venture capital firms and investors, and developing a network of global assets for UAE start-ups to tap into. Moreover, the initiative grants subsidised housing, office space and health care, with a 100% subsidy available for seed stage start-ups, and 50% available for emergent start-ups. Leveraging technological development is key to the government’s diversification efforts and, as such, it has committed Dh535m ($145.6m) to the tech hub. The initiative’s founding partners are Mubadala Investment Company, Microsoft and SoftBank Vision Fund. Such collaboration between the private and public sectors will be pivotal in preparing the next generation for the labour market.
In some markets, there is a considerable lag between students leaving education and entering the labour market, which is often attributed to a gap between the skills possessed by graduates and those desired by employers. Establishing linkages between industry and academic institutions can thus be key to digital transformation. In addition, it offers an opportunity for partnerships between multinational and domestic organisations, particularly in rapidly evolving sectors such as ICT.
Chinese tech giant Huawei operates these programmes in a number of markets. In Côte d’Ivoire, for example, the company has operated a Seeds for the Future initiative for ICT students since 2017. The project trains students through a series of lectures, familiarises them with advanced technological equipment and provides them with work experience. Huawei also launched an ICT Academy in the Philippines in 2018, through which the company forms linkages with universities to train students in key areas of ICT and pays for them to sit the accreditation examination. In the Philippines, students in some institutions can allocate two semesters to learning from industry partners, and employability is becoming an increasingly important metric upon which school performance is judged.
German companies have a considerable presence when it comes to linkages with academia in Egypt. For instance, the industrial conglomerate Siemens is working with the German Society for International Cooperation to establish a 2000-sq-metre centre to train more than 5500 technicians to work in Egypt’s energy sector over the 2018-22 period. Additionally, in June 2017 the German and Egyptian governments signed an agreement to support the financing of a solar energy-focused TVET programme worth €50m. Germany also provided financial support to Myanmar’s TVET segment, following the signing of agreements between Myanmar’s MoE and the German Development Bank in July 2019. This included financing of €10m to upgrade specified facilities in Mandalay, Taunggyi and Baelin, as well as assistance in building the capacity of Myanmar faculties and upgrading teaching materials.
UNESCO recommends that developing countries spend 1% of GDP on research and development (R&D), though a large proportion of these markets fall below this mark. According to World Bank data, in 2017 both PNG and Myanmar’s expenditure on R&D as a percentage of GDP was 0.03%; Peru’s was 0.12%; Oman’s was 0.22%; Colombia and Indonesia’s spending both stood at 0.24%; Mauritius’ at 0.36%; and Egypt’s at 0.61%.
Entrepreneurship – which will be key to developing disruptive technology and start-ups to help leverage innovation – and R&D go hand in hand, and education at all stages has a key role to play in fostering a business environment that is conducive to entrepreneurial innovation. In terms of TVET, a solid starting point for accelerating entrepreneurship may be to ameliorate public perception and then encourage an entrepreneurial mindset among students at these institutions. In Africa, speakers at the Very Young Entrepreneur Education and Acceleration, an initiative of the Anzisha Prize, held in 2019, called on education policymakers to introduce entrepreneurship training to young people much earlier in their academic journey.
“Students need to understand that they can be self-employed, and that ideas can be turned into businesses,” Addel Omar Al Ameri, deputy vice-chancellor of Strategy & Future at the Higher Colleges of Technology in Abu Dhabi, told OBG. Likewise, universities can also foster this mindset among their students. “These institutions can instil a greater entrepreneurial spirit among students, as well as bridge the gap between research and idea generation and business,” Everette Dennis, dean of Northwestern University in Qatar, told OBG.
For governments in emerging markets that are seeking to upgrade their education system, capital may be a foremost concern. Public-private partnerships (PPPs) can offer a feasible solution. A successful PPP project was executed in Edo State, a low-income region in Nigeria, where 11m children were estimated to be out of school. Starting at the grassroots level, the state introduced a programme in partnership with Bridge International, a for-profit social enterprise, in 2018. This included extensive retraining of staff in teaching philosophy, training techniques and new technology. A standout feature of this reform was the retraining of a bulk of government teachers at one time: in April and May 2018 over 6000 teachers and 800 head teachers were trained during five, 10-day training sessions, with a further 6000 teachers and 600 head teachers trained in 2019. Following the programme’s completion, a reported 20,000 primary children have returned to public schools in Edo State. This makes the state’s education system one of the first in the world to leverage PPPs at a state-wide level. The programme has received international attention, with representatives attending a US Agency for International Development symposium in late 2018, where they met with the World Bank and the International Finance Corporation.
Education technology (edtech) has seen considerable investment and is being integrated into curricula reforms, as it has the potential to support state efforts to boost the sector. Edtech can widen access to education for those in remote regions or in areas with teacher shortages – an issue often compounded by a growing young demographic in emerging markets.
In Myanmar the private International Language and Business Centre uses video conferencing to teach several classes simultaneously from different locations. However, care must be taken to ensure teachers are sufficiently trained in the use of this technology. In Mexico, for example, around half of primary schools and two-thirds of secondary schools have access to digital teaching materials, but proper training has not yet been delivered, which has hindered the extent to which students in rural areas can leverage the resources.
Officials in Africa hope to use the African App Launchpad, an edtech product, to train 10,000 people and create 100 start-ups in the region. The product was launched in November 2018 in Egypt by President Abdel Fattah El Sisi. The programme uses an online platform to upskill users in applications and gaming technology. If successful, the product could leverage edtech to build on Africa’s strong position in app development.
Keeping up with changing technology and industry trends will be of particular importance for countries looking to diversify their economy. This includes the requirement to fill a host of job positions that do not yet exist: the World Economic Forum predicts that at least 133m new roles will emerge by 2022. These trends require change at the grassroots level in terms of reforms in curricula and teaching style at all education levels, as well as ongoing retraining as technology continues to evolve. The digital skills gap may be bridged by edtech, spurred by increased R&D, and facilitated by a strengthening of linkages between industry and academia. Evidently, the development of the education sector will be imperative not only to economic progress, but also to meeting the UN’s SDGs.
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