World's children 'failed' by antiquated education systems, report reveals

Radical action needed as parents, universities and governments pinpointed as enemies of reform

Tom Fletcher, a former UK ambassador and a visiting professor at New York University, has launched the new education report. Delores Johnson / The National
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Ignorant parents, archaic universities and lessons that promote war are failing to equip children with the skills they need to thrive in the future, according to a hard-hitting new report on the state of global education.

The Towards Global Learning Goals network, based in Abu Dhabi, called for an international “learning revolution” to transform the way education is delivered after setting out its stark conclusions.

It argued that, currently, pupils worldwide are being failed by “factory schools” which train them to pass exams but will not prepare them for a rapidly-changing and technologically advanced world.

Tens of millions of others are not receiving an education at all or are refugees passing through multiple systems, increasing the risk of rising inequality, radicalisation and conflict for future generations.

Recommendations include the creation of a new international league table that ranks countries on character and skills of children as much as academic performance. A new multilateral agreement to endorse reform and educational principles is also proposed. And a shift in focus towards successful co-operation between nations in history lessons to help create “global citizens”.

Among those to endorse the document is Gordon Brown, the former UK Prime Minister, now UN Special Envoy for Global Education.

“There should be real shock and horror that so many kids in the world are learning the wrong things in the wrong way,” said Tom Fletcher, an academic, diplomat and author who is TGLG project leader. “Everyone knows this – the business leaders, the tech leaders, the governments. But it seems to be incredibly hard to achieve change.

“The report sets out ideas for people across all the different sectors to make improvements. At the moment, it’s a real challenge for humanity that the next generation just won’t have the skills to adapt to the age of artificial intelligence and automation.”

Governments such as Finland and Singapore are leading the way in providing children with an education that is fit for purpose, the report says, while the UAE is praised for its work in designing and measuring moral education. It is proposed that Singapore or Finland form a “pioneer” group of progressive educational missionaries who would promote reform throughout the world.

Universities, it is claimed, have “too often… become institutional impediments to reform.” They are urged to look beyond academic results in selection and assessment criteria, looking more at character and potential. They should become more accessible by offering more short and part-time courses, often online, the report says.

Parents, meanwhile, are too conservative and need to be convinced to change their attitudes by understanding that the way they were taught is not the best for their children.

“They are inevitably blink­ered by the need to pass the right test,” the report argues. “Pioneer educators tell us that as a result they are often an obstacle to the change and reform that their children actually need.”

Governments should also move away from teaching children about the military glories of the past. “In place of education systems that prioritise the teaching of conflict, education should cover the development of political and social systems for coexistence and peace.”

The report took two years to complete, and was informed by interviews with dozens of experts from across the world. The TGLG network, based at New York University Abu Dhabi, is funded by philanthropic donations. Mr Fletcher is a former UK ambassador to Lebanon and is now a visiting professor at New York University.

Other recommendations include greater involvement of businesses to help shape training and assessments relevant to their needs. The International Baccalaureate should also be adopted more widely.

Mr Brown, who led the UK between 2007 and 2010, endorsed the findings. “Ensuring the next generation have the opportunity of education is the great civil rights issue of our time,” he said. “This excellent report will help pioneers, educators, universities, teachers, parents, learners and international organisations take on the obstacles to whole child development. Future generations will need a new blend of knowledge, skills and character to thrive. This work points the way."