Reflections on the panel discussion hosted by Dr Christian Darko, Lecturer in Applied Business and Labour Economics, University of Birmingham. Panel discussion with Professor Peter Kraftl (Chair in Human Geography, University of Birmingham), Dr Namita Datta (Program Manager Solutions for Youth Employment, World Bank Group), Dr David Evans (Center for Global Development), Professor William Baah-Boateng (Economics Department, University of Ghana), Dr Rafael Mitchell (Comparative and International Education, University of Bristol), Professor Elaine Unterhalter (Education and International Development, UCL).
The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the inequalities occurring within education and employment and has shown that in order to achieve a more inclusive and sustainable future, major reform of these systems is needed. This panel discussion highlighted significant challenges in education and employment and began to tackle how we might go about generating frameworks for future education.
Dr Rafael Mitchell pointed out that when we are conducting these discussions and forming research, we must acknowledge the global inequalities that exist within knowledge production. Therefore, the topics of education and employment in developing countries must be theorised through international collaboration and it is vital that we engage with practitioners and researchers in local perspectives in order to create specific sustainable solutions.
It is necessary to treat education as an intersectional issue, one which involves various social structures and requires multi-faceted solutions. Professor Elaine Unterhalter highlighted that there exists a conceptual challenge when talking about education, in that often education is treated in isolation to cultural, social and political institutions in specific geographies. Professor William Baah-Boateng illustrated this point, commenting that we must acknowledge that fundamentally politicians are the policy makers of education, and therefore we need to set education and employment discussions in their larger socio-political contexts.
A specific education challenge is ensuring its efficacy for preparing youths for the current job market. Dr Namita Datta found that only 1/3 of youth employment programs have had any impact (S4YE). Often organisations solely focus on addressing the supply side of the problem, by using mentoring and training programs, whilst there exists far less emphasis on the demand side. She argued that the demand side, the actual creation of jobs, is rapidly changing, and that if we are to seriously address issues of education and employment, more focus must be on how we can make sure our education systems are quickly adapting in response to the fluid job market we now find ourselves in. A similar point was made by Dr David Evans, who argued that the current quality of education is failing to adequately prepare young people for the future job market.
Additionally, the pandemic has revealed large divisions in the education and employment system. By providing more attention and resources to the least educated, we can utilise Covid as an opportunity to revolutionise education: Dr Evan argues that we must use the framework of: “unequal problems require unequal solutions”. The pandemic has revealed stark inequalities. Those who have access to online services are able to receive higher (or even more fundamentally, continued) forms of education, leaving the poorest children without access to education due to technological and economic disparities.
One solution is utilising online learning to reach more people and provide education for those who struggle to access in person teaching. However, we must acknowledge that a lack of existing infrastructure is a sizeable barrier to achieving online learning for all. Therefore, as William Baah-Boateng recommends, discussions must first be on how to invest in more infrastructure to create internet access globally, before we can start seeing online learning as an adequate solution. We must appreciate how technology may replicate existing inequalities, by granting those with more capital access to quality education and leaving the most marginalised left further behind.
In the Q&A, the panel reiterated the importance of multi-level solutions, which combine culturally specific sensitives and target a broader system of social inequality. We must collaborate globally in order to tackle these issues and prioritise formulating policy based on the experiences of those on the ground.