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Sberbank and IOE to Cooperate over Landmark 21st Century Skills Project

Flagship Russian bank Sberbank’s Charity Foundation and the HSE Institute of Education have recently agreed to cooperate in a milestone 21st century skills research and development project.

With multiple stakeholders representing academic, business, and other communities, this collaborative endeavour aims to deliver visible upgrades to the Russian education system, reflecting a global need to advance aptly trained, future-proof human capital best ready to meet new sociocultural and operational environments. In particular, the Project will involve devising a clear and justified approach to identifying, evaluating, and deploying core next-generation skills and competencies, with due consideration given to the national socioeconomic and educational contexts along with global best practice in the field.  

On February 20–21, as part of the kick-off stage, IOE hosted a series of public design and scoping discussions to better streamline the participants’ overall Project vision, outline a basic skill and competency research framework, and to share expectations of key outcomes.   

In today’s world where increasingly more emphasis is given to globalization, digitalization, automation, and mobility, what we are now confronted with is a surging influx of transdisciplinary innovation, marking the onset of a revolutionary industrial era with its new challenges to meet, objectives to pursue, and cooperation modes to deliver.

At this point of crunch, amidst dramatic ruptures and transformations of a planetary scale, education has come to be recognized as the key global vehicle to facilitate more coherent understanding and clues to addressing the above dares and issues. It is education that should provide grounds for closer and more proactive partnership across various stakeholders in local and global community development and wellbeing – from parents and early schooling settings to business leaders and policy makers.      

For educators, this primarily means an urge to go an extra mile in jointly tackling what is referred to as the 21st century skills agenda, a broad concept which aims to set forth plain and uniform guidance for all the stakeholders on how they should best grapple with securing relevant knowledge and technical skills essential in the economy of networking and innovation, while also – and most importantly – fostering values, approaches, soft skills, and multicultural communication aptitudes that will enable learners to effectively enter the 21st century environments.

Pursued under common perception of expected educational inputs and socioeconomic outputs, this collaboration, that will draw upon the stakeholders’ collective expertise, experience, and wisdom, should enable much better aligned learning curricular and attitudes to strike a better balance between the available and required human capital skills. Ultimately, this improved skill supply–demand parity will become central to supporting national and global wellbeing, when communities thrive on greater equity, inclusion, collaboration, and productivity.

When it comes to Russia, with the extent of academic best practice penetration and internationalization still lagging behind many of its peers, advancing the national general education system to better recognize the global sustainability and 21st century literacy goals turns a critical priority, specifically given the negative effects that prior-decade demographic setbacks have been producing on labor availability. Furthermore, this aspiration is also driven by the country’s still highly secluded and formalized institutional and governance settings, where more transparent and considerate cross-stakeholder cooperation is required, and it is embarking together on largely overlapped agendas of building the right talent and business efficiencies that could well become a prolific common venue to foster such partnerships and joint project delivery.   

Accordingly, the main focus in the Project kick-off seminar, held during February 20–21, was placed on clearly articulating and reconciling, to the best extent possible, the ways academics and businesses view – and what they expect of – the 21st century skills framework.

In the course of discussions, Boston Consulting Group’s representatives shared interim findings under the firm’s large-scale project seeking to ascertain future labor requirements and key developments in the Russian job market through 2025. In their turn, IOE and guest educational experts dwelt on current and prospective approaches to integrating new competencies into general and corporate learning & development curricular. In particular, Dr. Jarkko Hautamäki, a Professor in Education with the University of Helsinki, spoke on key challenges in upgrading national high school syllabi to better accommodate the 21st century skills, and the role of open multi-party discussions in streamlining this process.

The principal dilemma with enabling a more global vision for education upgrades is that national schooling systems are often unresponsive or even resistant to cross-border best practice and fundamental change. In many cases, they will just cling to a course they have been taking for years, where heavy reliance is placed on long-established, culturally-bound heritage and local educational tradition, which is often viewed as a key element in national identity and should therefore be preserved in its authenticity.

But the point is, perhaps surprisingly and unexpectedly, that education systems worldwide are now objectively facing largely the same development needs. So, to stay competitive in a longer run, particular national schooling settings definitely require to get more agile and adoptive of reforms reflecting global imperatives and priorities – of course if they are to make a real difference in the learning content and approach, for younger generations to live in a definitively better world.

This is where multi-party discussions come to the fore as indeed a great way for various institutional representatives to sit down together and work out more cohesive and realistic conceptions as to how we should go about implementing all these transformations.

      Jarkko Hautamäki, Professor, University of Helsinki