A time to skill: The impact of technology on education, inclusion and work
Today, being digitally connected allows millions of us to work and learn from home. But what about those without access to critical ICT tools? We discuss how digital learning is evolving, and introduce Ericsson Educate, which addresses digital inequality and the rapidly changing skill requirements for a world increasingly shaped by ICT.
Look into the eyes of a child and you instinctively know it – the future belongs to the learners. Look into your own eyes in the mirror and you instinctively know it – humanity is on a critical learning journey, and we must literally learn our way into a better future.
Connection fuels this learning, but inclusion and empathy are the preconditions that ensure learning takes us in the right direction. Now more than ever, being digitally connected is vital to life itself, and those without a secure and reliable digital connection are at an unacceptably widening disadvantage. The COVID-19 outbreak continues to disrupt school and education, not just because it demands an evolution in online learning, but because it demands revolution to close the dangerous gap of digital inequity in learning. COVID-19 has rapidly rewritten all our realities, demanding that we learn as much and as fast as we can. For this education to happen, you need connection, which provides continuity and virtual access – both of which are vital. When the digital difference between ‘have’ vs. ‘have not’ becomes ‘know’ vs. ‘know not’, everyone’s shared future is at risk.
The challenges of enabling digital education during a pandemic
As reported by UNESCO, some 1.3 billion students and youth across the planet are affected by school and university closures due to the COVID-19 outbreak. Half of the world’s student population is unable to attend school in the manner they used to. The learning efficacy of so many students is now tethered even more to how untethered and unfettered their digital access is – if they even have it in the first place, that is. There is likewise a huge demand to provide comprehensive online education programs to governments and educational institutions. It is an unsurprising fact that these needs are usually most acute in the most underserved places. But it is surprising that these underserved places can exist anywhere. Even in technologically mature school districts like the one our kids are so fortunate to be in, there are many students without access to the equipment, infrastructure, food security, or domestic stability to learn, prepare, or collaborate effectively online.
Ericsson is proud to be part of the Global Education Coalition launched by UNESCO to facilitate inclusive learning opportunities for children and youth during this period of sudden and unprecedented educational disruption. As per UNESCO’s latest call for action: “Investment in remote learning should both mitigate the immediate disruption caused by COVID-19 and establish approaches to develop more open and flexible education systems for the future”. Never before has our entire planet needed to unite in real time against an unseen adversary; governments, civil society, non-profit organizations and the private sector are joining forces to combat the contagion, along with its educational and economic consequences. As UNESCO makes clear, part of this combat is construction: we must co-create more inclusive digital learning systems that prepare people today to continually reinvent their skillsets and mindsets for tomorrow.
The challenges of teaching in a digital age
Teaching has always transcended the traditional classroom, but the conditions and increasing scale of digital and remote environments do pose challenges that demand significant adaptation, preparation, support, and engagement. The list is daunting: constrained or non-existent contact with students, rethinking ways of interacting, reaching, and teaching, adequately addressing a spectrum of special needs, motivating students, juggling competing demands on time, and dealing with confined circumstances that can make attentive learning and teaching incredibly difficult.
Teachers basically need even more of what few even get in the first place – investment, infrastructure, development, time, and help. Companies like ours can, and must, provide that help based on the capabilities we work to create in our people, customers, and society. For example:
- How to curate, co-create, and leverage relevant quality content, and context
- How to support the induction of novice digital learners into a connected environment
- How to use various digital learning platforms and tools efficiently and effectively
- How to deliver digitally in real time: engaging, managing, facilitating, reinforcing
- How to empower learners through empathy, design thinking, and growth mindset
- How to measure and drive meaningful skills progression
Digital transformation is skills transformation
Building future critical skillsets and mindsets in an inclusive way has never mattered more to our future societal well-being than it does now. According to the World Economic Forum (WEF), “the world is facing a re-skilling emergency.” WEF estimates that “by 2022, over 40 percent of core skills required to perform existing jobs are expected to change”, and that by 2030, ”more than 1 billion people will need to be re-skilled” into the transformed jobs of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. The economic effects of COVID-19 have accelerated and intensified this gap even more. Entire sectors are racing to interface, re-skill, and re-vector people and businesses, and it is everyone’s responsibility to address this.
Digital skills are at the center of this re-skilling revolution and are the undeniable, unavoidable prerequisite for the future workforce. We already see that the advent of 5G, IoT, and large-scale artificial intelligence /machine learning are taking us to a new reality of ubiquitous real-time connectivity – from connected cars to personal wearables to smart grid technology – and this will fundamentally change our world. The highest promise of these technologies is their potential to be used thoughtfully and cooperatively to address some of the most pressing digital inequities of society.
However, even the short-term use cases for these technologies correspond to industry evolutions that require constant skill and role reinvention. The advent of 5G is a watershed moment for the virtual learning movement. Virtual learning can be the powerful means for connecting learners to “virtual villages” of great teachers, content, community, and experiences. Virtual learning can attain a new level of authentic human connection, through advances in real-time AR/VR/360 immersion, holographic projection, human and artificial intelligence, and empathetic education. But without digital inclusion, authenticity cannot adequately drive advancement.
It is therefore essential to bridge the gap between the skills of current and future workers to address the rapidly changing skill requirements for a world increasingly shaped by ICT (Information and Communication Technology). The ICT sector plays an important role in supporting the proliferation of high-quality training programs that enhance industry-relevant education to make students employment-ready. There is a growing need to supplement university students in their ongoing technical studies with courses that strengthen their ICT skills and increase their readiness for jobs in the telecom and ICT sectors. It is essential to connect them, not just to content, and not just through platforms, but to a vibrant community that can help them gain the experiences and exposure they may otherwise never know, so they can progress to take their rightful place in changing the world they do know. Making this kind of connection and co-creation happen, at scale, where it is most needed, and in partnership with like-minded organizations and institutions, is what Ericsson Educate is all about.
Aristotle said that "education is an ornament in prosperity and a refuge in adversity." Now especially, we must work to BE the refuge – not just for our colleagues and loved ones, but for those who have no refuge at all. Our strength and our vulnerability flow from the same place. We must be the light for each other, not because we are unfailingly strong (we're not), but because we share the unfailing vulnerability of moving through this time together.
Look into the eyes of our shared future, and you instinctively know it – it’s not progress if we move ahead in a way that leaves so many behind. When we unite to reach and educate all, using the power of digital technology to make the most human connections, together we are building the empathy engine for a better world.
Read our blog post on how the future belongs to the learners.
Discover how Ericsson works with access to education.
Learn more about how Ericsson works with digital inclusion