The Yidan Prize community debated this question at the Asian Development Bank’s skills forum in Manila, where 1,500 social policy leaders in Asia and the Pacific Islands met to explore digital transformation, climate change, and interdisciplinary learning.   

Investing in Asia’s education for decades has completely transformed work, lifestyles, and urban areas. The rise in living standards has been phenomenal. Industry, services, and now the creative economy are booming, thanks to this “youth dividend”.  

But with great success, comes challenges. There are new stresses on the environment and social structure, which raises the question: can education help people live more inclusively and more sustainably?

The 10th ADB International Skills Forum: A New Era of Digitalized and Climate Resilient Human and Social Development was held from 17 to 19 October 2023.

Our 2018 Yidan Prize for Education Development laureate, Professor Anant Agarwal, spoke about how the power of innovative technologies can make education more accessible. Anant urged governments to make electronic devices and the internet more widely available, so that more students can access virtual tutors like Xpert, where the technology mirrors the very best teachers. Anant described AI as a “co-pilot” for teachers which will open up new resources, improve efficiency, and shift the focus of teaching from rote memorization to critical thinking.   

Dr Elizabeth (Beth) King urged the audience to think about technology as more than a tool and more “something that will change our lives and work.” Technology, she warned, will exacerbate the difference between students with good teachers and those with less able teachers. To overcome this, she urged governments to “bite the bullet and overhaul teacher training”. In her view, technology should be embedded in training, teaching practices, and student assessments, instead of a separate subject on the curriculum. Beth cited the work of Professor Michelene Chi, our 2023 Yidan Prize for Education Research laureate, on the many ways students learn, using it to reinforce the idea that there is no trade-off between a focus on socio-emotional skills and technology if there is also pedagogical reform. But it also needs skilled teachers.  

Finally, Rebecca Vieyra and her team of PhET super-users showed delegates the power of PhET Interactive Simulations, an online simulation platform launched by our 2020 Yidan Prize for Education Research laureate Professor Carl Wieman, to engage students and cultivate new levels of scientific knowledge young people need in today’s fast-changing world. They showed delegates that even the most ambitious aspirations for more skills, active learning, and empowered teachers in STEM are achievable.