As a member of the World Bank Group, International Finance Corporation (IFC) has big goals: end extreme poverty by 2030 and boost shared prosperity—in every developing country.

For more than 50 years, the IFC has been strengthening the role of the private sector in developing economies by demonstrating, investing, and advocating. IFC is the largest multilateral investor in the private health care and education sectors in emerging markets.

Rethink Education was the sixth IFC education conference (#IFCeducation). Author Tony Wagner kicked off the San Francisco convening by making the case for 7 survival skills demanded by the new economy.  He argued for high engagement learning, innovative tools and schools, and high support for teachers.  Addressing a tough question on poverty, Tony suggested wrap around services for all students. (See 10 keys to college and career awareness. Extra time and services should be supported, in part, by weighted, portable, flexible funding).

Several sessions addressed employability as the cornerstone of economic growth, national security, and improved living standards. Speakers noted the 200 million unemployed in the world–perhaps 75 million youth.  Much of the conference focused on how to bridge the stagnated outcomes of the formal system and the emerging opportunity presented by EdTech.

New jobs, new skills.  Doug Becker, CEO of Laureate Education, the largest HigherEd network, described the challenge of preparing people for a market of growing freelancing and micro-tasking with web sites matching tasks and talent.

Stacey Veden, who leads university relations for Marriott, stressed the need for faculty internships because many haven’t worked in industry.

While Tony Wagner talked about the need for “skill and will,” employers often see an inverse correlation with socio-economic  background.

Joel Rose, New Classrooms, talked about creating individual learning progressions (see Next-Gen Blends will Teach to One).

Diploma replacements. Linkedin founder Reid Hoffman elaborated on his provocative September post Disrupting the Diploma.  Hoffman sees sheepskins giving way to computational platforms that carry evidence of demonstrated knowledge, skills and dispositions.

Hoffman argues that a recent micro skill assessment—presented on a trusted platform in a recognizable format—could be a better market signal than a degree or GPA.  He’s bullish on batteries of low cost assessments that could signal readiness for learning more advanced skills.

Hoffman sees future platforms sharing a common and evolving topology of skills—think Wikipedia for job skills. Digital portfolios would allow people to assess skills and others to verify those skills.  Some automated assessment would augment human judgment systems.  In addition to signaling prospective employers and clients, aggregated data from these platforms would provide useful signs of market direction to universities and trainers.

On serving high need populations, Reid outlined the Silicon Valley theory of change: connectivity for all; free or inexpensive content, and affordable devices. Will everything be read on cheap mobile devices?  No, but Hoffman says it “presents a possible path forward.”  (Many attendees at the conference agree and are looking around the corner past the innovation of Bridge International to a time when cheap tablets, open content, and blended formats will extend secondary school access to every young person on the planet.)

Laying the foundation. Biju Hahandas, IFC head of education in Sub-Saharan Africa, hosted a lunch for foundations to discuss investment strategies.

Many of the foundations support job and life skills training. They make grants to content and service providers. A few of the philanthropies at the meeting, like the Multilateral Investment Fund in Latin American and the Caribbean, provide grants, loans, and equity investments to small and medium sized businesses.

The IFC is interested in policy that creates private sector opportunities with focus on outcomes. With Omidyar Network, the IFC joined Omidyar and Learn Capital in the last round of funding for Bridge International Academies.

In a recent paper, Matt Greenfield and I suggested the foundations should Boost Impact by investing in education venture funds.

All about skills.  Eric Hanushek, Hoover Institution at Stanford, spoke at a Learn Capital sponsored dinner last night.  The data is clear, according to Hanushek, “skills drive economics.” Comparing Latin America to Eastern Asia, Hanushek says the lesson is that countries should focus on what kids know, not how much schooling they’ve had (i.e., quality matters).

As an economist, Hanushek thinks about the incentives—national and state leaders should be holding people accountable for real outcomes, creating competition and choice, and introducing performance rewards.

On the EdTech front, Hanushek would like to see incentives to use tech better. Because, he suggests, “the future of every city depends on skills.”

 

Tom Vander Ark is a partner at Learn Capital. 

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