How can we scale up learning and equity as well as prepare learners with relevant skills for the 21st Century workplace? These were some of the questions we explored at the Asian Development Bank’s 9th International Skills Forum: Reimagining Education and Skills Development for a New Normal, hosted with support from The Education Commission, Yidan Prize Foundation, and UNICEF.

Our Director of Partnerships, Dr Christopher Thomas, hosted the first panel discussion titled Future of Education: Power of Convergence, featuring members and representatives of our Council of Luminaries:

Assembling the building blocks of education

Patricia spoke about how early learning experiences are vital in shaping children’s thinking skills, school performance, health and behavior. Her research in the fields of neuroscience and early childhood demonstrates that social interaction with children systematically strengthens neural networks in their brains. Simply put, when we interact with young children, we are helping to build their brains. We know all children are born with enormous potential to learn. However, the opportunity to learn is not equally distributed across households, regions and countries.  

Drawing on BRAC’s experience, fellow panelist Erum shared how the team developed the Pashe Achhi program (Bengali for ‘Beside You’) to offer play-based learning and psychosocial support to children and their caregivers in Bangladesh during the pandemic. The program involved a weekly 20-minute phone call which encouraged positive engagement between caregivers and children and empowered women in the community as agents of change to ensure equity and inclusion.

The findings from research and practice are clear: children learn from their earliest days, and harnessing that immense potential of learning in their early years will set them up for success in years to come.

Building growth mindset classrooms

Carol called on us to imagine a classroom where students embrace challenge and see mistakes and struggles as opportunities to learn; where teachers show an interest in all students’ learning and teach a topic until all students fully grasp the subject.

This is a growth mindset classroom, fostering a culture of deeply engaged and sustained learning and preparing students for problem-solving in the real world.
In light of the disruptions from the pandemic and the skills needed in the 21st Century workplace, there has never been a more important time to foster a growth mindset in all learners.

Providing quality higher education at scale

Anant spoke about how technology powered learning at scale during Covid-19. In the month of April 2020 alone, there were five million new learners on the edX platform. Despite the big shift from in-person classrooms to digital browsers, experiments demonstrated that students learnt equally well online and offline and even experienced less stress with online lessons by learning at their own pace.

Anyone with an internet connection is able to access online courses on edX, regardless of their backgrounds. Short, future-proof programs such as the MicroBachelors are creating new modalities of learning and upskilling—a welcome move to encourage lifelong learning in a rapidly evolving world of work.

Ensuring equity and inclusion: a better world for all

From early learning to tertiary education, we heard from experts about the power of convergence, the importance of collaboration across disciplines, and the need to place equity and inclusion at the heart of education.

Closing keynote

Our 2017 Education Development laureate, Ms Vicky Colbert, gave the closing keynote, and shared how Fundacion Escuela Nueva (FEN) took its teaching methods from a local innovation to national policy, and to a global initiative with impact in over 19 countries. She talked about the importance of engaging key actors of change to sustain innovation and of thinking systemically from the outset. Finally, she also highlighted the power of convergence: of the interplay between research and practice, and of using empirical findings to support innovations.