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How to power a learning society in a time of disruption

Educational institutions have no choice but to work with governments, the private sector, and communities to guarantee equitable access to high-quality learning resources during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond, according to a new book published by the Asian Development Bank (ADB) in May 2021.

“COVID-19 has taught us that flexible learning arrangements and teaching practices are vital to developing relevant skills in a fast-changing world,” said ADB Education Sector Group Chair Sungsup Ra.

The book presents contemporary perspectives on the importance of a learning society in supporting the Asia Pacific region’s development journey.

“Post-pandemic, parents, employers, and other stakeholders outside traditional education institutions are expected to play a greater role in supporting education and lifelong learning,” said Ra.

Michael Fung, Deputy Chief Executive of SkillsFuture Singapore, co-authored a chapter with Renzo Taal of UiPath, and William Sim of Trailhead Academy (Asia Pacific), titled, “SkillsFuture: The Roles of Public and Private Sectors in Developing a Learning Society in Singapore.” 

Shifts in the new learning architecture: The emerging digital age is engendering a situation where the ongoing employability of the workforce depends more heavily on the ability to acquire new skills, and less on initial qualifications earned during early education. Credit: Fung, Taal, Sim

The chapter discussed the roles of the public and private sectors in developing a learning society. 

With the arrival of Industry 4.0 and the digital age and extended working lifespan, the ongoing employability of the workforce depends more heavily on the ability to acquire new skills in a timely manner throughout life, and less on initial qualifications earned during early education. 

To address this new reality, the emphasis on education needs to put the responsibility on the learners themselves to acquire new knowledge and skills to remain relevant.

According to Fung, Taal, and Sim: 

“Consequently, a new learning architecture is required for education and training systems to impart the necessary skills for new jobs and job tasks on an ongoing basis to accommodate the reskilling and upskilling needs of individuals. The learning architecture must be inclusive to cater to the needs of different population segments working in different industries, regardless of their age, financial status, or educational background.”

The book contains twenty other chapters written by policymakers, practitioners, and researchers. They conclude that the coronavirus pandemic created opportunities for building stronger and more equitable education systems.

Among the ways to make learning systems more resilient and accessible, access to technology for teaching and learning will close the digital gap. Ensuring that teachers and students know how to best take advantage of technology will see an improvement in learning outcomes. 

The book emphasizes the need to build learning societies in which resources are dedicated to promoting lifelong learning. Educators must also reevaluate how learning is assessed, and communities should play a greater role in promoting learning.

“Fifty years ago, Asia showed the world that development was possible,” wrote Joseph E. Stiglitz, Columbia University Professor and Nobel Laureate, in the foreword.

“There will have to be a structural transformation to a knowledge-based, services sector, green economy. Nothing could be more important in doing so than to help the countries in the region create dynamic learning societies.”

LEARNTech Asia
LEARNTech Asia
LEARNTech Asia showcases innovation in learning in Asia. We feature stories and resources in online learning, workplace learning, adult education, EdTech, and creative solutions by teachers and trainers in learning institutions, non-profits, and enterprises that enhance human capacity and inspire communities of lifelong learners.