Valuing 21st century skills-based education

Covid-19 has truly exposed our deeply flawed, problematic education system. In the past few months, most students enrolled in our local universities, were begging to be provided with some form of flexibility vis-à-vis either submitting their assignments, not made to undergo in-person exams when the pandemic was yet to reach its peak in Pakistan – and even questioning unequal access to the internet and the so-called online classes – thanks to the financial, infrastructural constraints.

However, what this piece primarily deals with is not the inequalities that define our preexisting socio-economic structure, but what factors would worsen these inequalities.

One of these factors was inspired by the way our government chose to give our local matriculation, intermediate students with a generous 3% increase in their preexisting percentages, results; whereas, Cambridge International using a method of statistical standardization, allocated predicted grades to GCSE and Advanced Level students, as the exams had not taken place.

The highly controversial nature of Cambridge International’s used method is still in the talks everywhere – so much so that this grade awarding method has forced the governments from within Scotland to England to Wales to Northern Ireland to step up to the plate. This is indisputably an evolving situation for the students particularly in Pakistan; however, the fair question arises as to how at all is it all relevant? Is this one of the factors, hinted to above?

The answer is: yes. A rational mind would wonder, what would I have expected our government or bodies like Cambridge International to have done differently especially amidst a pandemic? My answer is: Nothing radically different of course.
But here is a thing. In spite of living in the 21st century; witnessing the fourth industrial revolution; why the governments, institutions from within England to those in Pakistan did not consider valuing ‘skills-based’ criteria to help innumerable students around the world to proceed with their education? When even most of these governments, institutions are aware of how their binary systems of awards and rewards are getting increasingly redundant?

For instance, Pakistan’s government even while extending a relief to the students chose to focus on ‘adding’ more to the preexisting percentages, marks. Similarly, Cambridge International still chose to define students through binary ways of letter allocation ranging from A*s to even Us (ungraded) – with definitely no pun intended. You got it right: failing students for not having appeared in the exams – and that too amidst a pandemic.

What is problematic is not our own government to exam regulatory organizations like Cambridge International choosing to upgrade or downgrade grades, marks et cetera – but why both of them chose to implement it this way respectively? Why does deep-rooted inaccessibility to skills, to education and therefore to development, not bother the aforementioned entities more than their shoddy, primitive grading, marking systems?

When Young Global Leaders, associated with the World Economic Forum, such as Marga Gual Soler and Komal Dadlani, recently brought to attention in one of their articles that 65% of students entering school today will have a job that does not exist – Who are we fooling?

A pandemic that we still have not completely defeated – and global security issues from healthcare to climate change to unemployment becoming all the more relevant – Why are we so reluctant in recognizing the importance of skills-based education and how finding its coherence with global security issues can help us lead to a better world?
Are our children, youth aware of the foundational literacy, competencies and character qualities that together combine the 21st century skills they need?

These range from basic, numeric, scientific, ICT, financial literacy to competencies like critical thinking, creativity, communication and collaboration; similarly, character qualities ranging from curiosity, initiative, persistence, adaptability, leadership to social and cultural awareness. If these skills are neither recognized today, nor acquired – so only a more unequal world is inevitable.

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