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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. 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
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Make the case
  • Closing the skills gap unleashes economic potential. If education systems successfully address the skills gap for the future of work, as much as US$11.5 trillion could be added to global GDP by 2028.
    (Accenture, 2018)
  • 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 seven low- and lower-middle income countries, fewer than 1% of women in the poorest 60% have spreadsheet skills.
    (GEM, 2020).
  • Social-emotional skills will be more important than ever in the 4IR. A person’s degree of self-control and motivation is associated with increased earnings.
    (Price, 2015)
  • 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)
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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. If education systems successfully address the skills gap for the future of work, as much as US$11.5 trillion can be added to global GDP by 2028.
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