Since formalized education was in its infancy, legislators, educational leaders, and governments worked together to develop models that make education more efficient and cost effective–but they often fell short of serving the needs of students or enriching their lives. And, while people under the age of 18 comprise 25 percent of the global population, it never occurred to most people in positions of authority to ask what they need from their educational systems.
Students experienced great tumult these past few years, especially because of the global pandemic. This singular event put a spotlight on the challenges of quality and equity in education. And it is students who can help change how the world’s young people learn.
In September 2022, the UN convened the inaugural Transforming Education Summit, with the ambition to elevate education to the top of political agendas and spur action considering global school closures caused by COVID-19 to address the issues faced by students during this time. 2023 also marks the “halfway point” to the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, with SDG4: Quality Education to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all by 2030.
It is against this backdrop that the Transforming Education Survey was launched by the World’s Largest Lesson, in partnership with UNICEF and UNESCO. This uniquely global research gave voice to those not usually heard and represented a diverse group of students from across the world, with 37,000 students responding from 150 countries.
The survey results were eye-opening. Regardless of whether a student respondent was from a developed or developing country, one of the most universal insights from the survey indicated that students don’t feel they are learning the practical skills they need to prepare for the “real world.” In fact, 61 percent of students said they aren’t learning enough–or learning nothing–about digital skills like programming and coding. Additionally, 59 percent called for increased financial literacy and budgeting education, and 55 percent want to learn more about how to analyze and use data.
The education-focused survey also highlighted existing inequalities between developed and developing countries, with students feeling the lack of digital access as being an acute issue. Eighty-four percent of respondents from developed countries said they had a device to learn with, while only 59 percent of respondents from developing countries said they did.
It likely comes as no surprise that mental health was also a concern, with 33 percent of students reporting that they are feeling anxious to be back at school after COVID-19 even though 77 percent of students said they were happy to be back in class. And 44 percent indicated they want to learn more about how to look after their mental health and wellbeing.
Finally, the young people surveyed indicated that they want to be more informed on key current issues such as cultural differences and climate change, with 42 percent of students reporting the desire to learn more about different cultures and 42 percent wanting to learn more about how to protect the planet.
When students were asked who they’d like to work with to make these changes in how they learn, they looked close to school. Children from developing countries would like to work with friends and other young people (63 percent) while children from developing countries would like to work with teachers (52 percent). Interestingly, only 38 percent of respondents from developing countries chose their government and politicians to work with, while only 28 percent of respondents from developed countries wanted to work with governments and politicians.
Increasing the barriers to real transformation, schools continue to see funding cuts and, as part of this, curricula that only offer the bare minimum to students. Courses like expanding financial literacy, coding, and digital skills seem impossible within existing school district budgets. The private sector helps lighten this load by supporting educational programs and even enlisting employees to volunteer their skills to students who want to learn what schools can’t fund.
When it comes to transforming education, children and young people have so much to offer and know exactly what they want to do at school. Governments and educational leaders must consult and include children in their decision-making, so that education reflects everyone it serves.
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