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Preparing Today’s Students for Tomorrow

We are facing a global learning crisis. The current state of education is a long way from where we want it to be, and macro forces—such as advancements in technology and significant inequalities—are shaping what learning will have to look like in the future.

Around the world, 38% of children leave primary school unable to read, write, or do basic math. Twice as many girls as boys never start school; women make up two-thirds of the world’s illiterate adults. In conflict zones, 27 million children are not in school. Only 50% of refugee children are enrolled in school. Forty percent of employers cite difficulty recruiting employees with the communication, critical-thinking, and collaborative skills needed for the 21st century workplace.

Global Challenges in Education, by the Numbers

Macro Forces Shaping the Future of Education

The current state of global education is far from where it should be, with many areas that need improvement. In addition, the world is changing quickly, so the target—what “good” looks like—is always moving. These are the macro forces that are shaping the ideal state of education, and the gaps that must be closed.

Technological Change: New Skills Needed, New Ways to Learn

New technology, such as advanced robotics, 3D printing, and AI, are resulting in new jobs; 85% of the jobs that today's learners will be doing in 2030 haven't been invented yet. These new jobs will require a broader set of skills than those we are currently teaching in our classrooms. Technology is also changing the way we engage with content. With the advent of big data and predictive analytics, information is accessible—and more personalized to our needs and interests.

A changing workforce needs continuous learning opportunities

The world’s older population continues to grow at an unprecedented rate. Today, 8.5% of people worldwide (617 million) are aged 65 and over. This percentage is projected to jump to nearly 17% of the world’s population by 2050 (1.6 billion).

As the population ages, career lifespans are increasing as well. Among global workers today, 72% plan to keep working after retirement and 58% expect to enter a new line of work to have more flexibility. In order to remain employable, the aging population needs continuous learning and reskilling opportunities.

Millennials will comprise more than 1 of 3 adult Americans by 2020 and 75% of the workforce by 2025. And 79% of millennials expect to switch jobs six times or more in their lives—a trend that will require them to “learn to learn” new skills in order to be successful.

Persistent Inequalities, Lopsided Outcomes

Inter-country inequality remains a persistent issue. There is a gap of 32 percentage points between children completing primary school in low- versus high-income countries, and 52 percentage points for secondary school. Intra-country income inequality also remains a global concern, especially in OECD countries, where the gap between the rich and poor is increasing. A high-income student anywhere in the world scores an average of 39 points higher on the PISA—an international exam—than a low-income student. Other marginalized groups, including women, children with disabilities, people in conflict areas, and refugees, also face significant challenges in obtaining a quality education.

Three Key System Gaps to Overcome

We need to bridge three key gaps in the global education ecosystem in order to ensure that all learners have access to a high-quality education that prepares them for the future:

  • Perspective Gap. We need to change the way we think about when and where learning happens. The education ecosystem today is primarily focused on learning within schools—kindergarten through college—instead of a continuous process that extends from birth through multiple careers.
  • Capability Gap. We need to transform how and what we learn. Only pockets of the system are teaching the skills that are needed for the 21st century workplace. Additionally, lecture-based learning is still a primary mode of instruction today, despite the availability of new, innovative technology.
  • Agility Gap. We need to rethink how we support learning. Despite many efforts at reform, the education sector remains one of the most difficult in which to make sustainable local and systemic change. We need to create systems that are responsive to changing contexts and are wired for continuous improvement. 

Our Experts on the Future of Education

Global Leadership

J. Puckett

Senior Partner & Managing Director, Global Leader, Education Practice

Dallas

  • Change management
  • Strategy development
  • Enterprise building
  • Large-scale transformation

Featured Experts

Daniel Acosta

Partner & Managing Director

Los Angeles

  • Early, primary, secondary, and postsecondary education
  • For-profit education
  • City and regional development
  • Learning and development
  • Social impact and development
  • Public sector
  • Education
  • Telecommunications
Tyce Henry

Associate Director

Washington, DC

  • Early, primary, and secondary education
  • Digital and online education
  • Strategic growth
  • Transformation and cost efficiency
  • Public and private education—early childhood to higher education and vocational training
  • Education for employment and the labor market
  • Strategic planning
  • Organization design
Lane McBride

Partner & Managing Director

Washington, DC

  • Early, primary, and secondary education
  • Strategy
  • Organization design and transformation
  • Change management
  • Leads BCG's Public Sector practice in Japan
  • Digital service development, new business building
  • Alliance strategy formulation and negotiation support
  • Growth strategy
  • Public sector and government
  • Infrastructure and transport, including airlines, road, rail, energy, and housing
  • Human and social services, health and education
  • Large-scale transformation, change, and program management
  • Higher-education transformation
  • Strategic planning
  • Change management
  • Organizational effectiveness
Future of Education

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