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Education and

the Fourth Industrial Revolution

Key message

With the increasing risks of automation, job displacement, skills mismatch and precarious livelihoods, it is imperative to transform the education system to prepare young people for the future of work.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) will fundamentally alter human societies on an unprecedented scale, driven by emerging technological advances in artificial intelligence, robotics, nanotechnology, biotechnology, materials science, and quantum computing. As a result, the future of work will be unlike anything we have seen before, or prepared for – and only a quality, relevant and inclusive education can prepare the next generation with the skills, values and competencies they will need to thrive.
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Key challenges
  • It is estimated that by 2030 more than half of young people worldwide will not have the basic skills or qualifications necessary for the workforce. 
    (Education Commission, 2016)
  • Just a few years ago, technologies associated with the 4IR were projected potentially to displace more than five million jobs by 2020, most of the loss concentrated in low- and middle-skill jobs.
    (Deloitte & GBCE, 2018)  (McKinsey, 2017)
  • The global skills mismatch is currently estimated to affect two in five employees in OECD countries, costing the global economy 6% every year in terms of lost labour productivity. 
    (Boston Consulting Group, 2020)
  • The skills mismatch is highly gendered and must be addressed through gender-sensitive education and training. Skills in traditional ‘men’s jobs’ are twice as likely to be transferable to new employment opportunities as those of traditional ‘women’s jobs’.
    (Deloitte & GBCE, 2018)
  • Employment in the future is likely to place an increased premium on digital literacy. 84% of multinational and large national companies surveyed reported being ready to digitize work. Yet the percentage of adults with basic spreadsheet skills is 7% in lower-middle-income countries, 20% in upper-middle-income countries, and 40% in high-income countries.
    (GEM, 2020)  (World Economic Forum, 2020)
  • The Fourth Industrial Revolution requires reshaping the future of education and work. 65% of the students that are in school today, will work in jobs that do not currently exist and 47% of today's jobs will be automated in the next decade. Most of these jobs are likely to require a higher level of digital and social-emotional literacy.
    (Elayyan, 2021)  (World Economic Forum, 2020)
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  • Closing the skills gap unleashes economic potential. By closing the current skills gaps, the global economy would gain at least US$6.5 trillion by 2030 through increased productivity.
    (PWC, 2022)
  • Young people are demanding that the education system step up and provide critical skills for the future of work. In a 2018 Global Youth Survey, 79% of young people reported that they had to go outside formal schooling to get the skills necessary for their desired jobs.
    (Deloitte & GBCE, 2018)
  • The intersection between gender and poverty in determining digital literacy is especially worrying. In the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, 12.5% of urban women and 1.3% of rural women can carry out a basic arithmetic formula in a spreadsheet. The gap is 17 percentage points in Samoa and 23 points in Vietnam.
    (GEM, 2023)
  • When education aligns with the flexibility and adaptability that mirror the future of work, it can have significant effects on students’ learning outcomes. A study of 62 schools in the US that adopted personalised learning approaches found an average increase of 11 percentiles in maths and eight percentiles in reading. This impact of personalised learning was significant compared with other types of interventions.
    (Pane et al., 2015)
  • Investment in education is urgent to meet future skills demand. It is estimated that 42% of core skills required for existing jobs will have changed by 2022. By 2030, more than half of young people worldwide will not have the basic skills or qualifications necessary for the workforce.
    (Education Commission, 2016)  (World Economic Forum, 2020)
  • Pandemic related school closures have accelerated the need for basic digital skills as a prerequisite for learning and skills acquisition through remote learning, increasing their demand in a further digitized society. Within a week of the pandemic, the African Development Bank’s Coding for Employment platform saw a 40% increase in users.
    (Doroba et al., 2020)
  • Countries with experience using information communication technology (ICT) to deliver education were far less likely to encounter learning loss due to the pandemic. China, the Republic of Korea, and Singapore — who have trained teachers in ICT for the last two decades — reported minimal or zero learning loss during the COVID-19 crisis due to their ability to easily shift to online learning.
    (UNICEF, 2021)
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Key opinion
Kristalina Georgieva Managing Director Imf Headshot
Kristalina Georgieva
Managing Director of the IMF
Safeguarding our post-pandemic future means safeguarding our human capital. Over a billion learners across the world have been affected by the virus-related disruption to education. That is why we need more investment—not just spending more on schools and distance-learning capacity, but also improving the quality of education and the access to life-long learning and re-skilling. These efforts can pay large dividends in terms of growth, productivity, and living standards. We can build a more resilient world by harnessing the vast potential that education provides for people to learn, grow, and transform their lives.
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Key talking points
  • Greater investment in education will help systems respond to a transforming society and prepare young people for work and life in the future.
  • If nothing changes, more than half of all young people will not be on track to have the skills they need for work by 2030.
  • Emphasising new skills that will enable resilience in a rapidly changing world — curiosity, creativity, critical thinking, problem solving, social-emotional skills, digital literacy, and systems analysis — will be of particular value in the workforce.
  • Closing the skills gap unleashes economic potential. As much as US$6.5 trillion can be added to global GDP by 2030.
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