A Twitter chat: How technology in schools can help bridge the skills gap

The digital economy is demanding new skills from workers, but too many students finish high school unprepared for the future. To explore how emerging technology and new approaches to education could address that, this week, I moderated a Twitter chat with McGraw-Hill SVP Jeff Livingston and Rashid Davis, principal of New York’s Pathways in Technology Early College High School.  You can check out a Storify of the conversation here, or see an abridged version of the conversation below.

We started the Twitter chat with some context. McGraw-Hill’s svp of College and Career Readiness Jeff Livingston pointed out that the topic is especially relevant now because, in addition to the changing economy, the high school diploma has lost so much of its value.

At the same time, we’re seeing the emergence of all kinds of new technologies – like adaptive learning platforms and online courses.

Science and technology skills are more in demand than ever before, but there are mismatches between what employers need and what students are learning.

This didn’t come up explicitly in the Twitter chat, but it’s worth noting that a few recent surveys have highlighted this gap. A McKinsey survey in December found that only 42 percent of employers think students are prepared for work while 72 percent of educational institutions do. In a recent GE survey, C-suite execs said linking schools with business was one of their top priorities. Davis’ Pathways in Technology Early College High School, in New York, is one example of how that can happen. The school is backed by IBM and in six years, students get a high school degree, an associate’s degree and better chances for an entry-level position at IBM when they graduate. Chicago offers similar schools and educators in Maine, Massachusetts and elsewhere are also looking at the model.

As the economy goes digital and the Internet becomes an even bigger part of lives, those with STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) backgrounds will be well-positioned to succeed…

But some pointed out that it’s important to remember that a STEM education doesn’t necessarily guarantee employment:

… And others emphasized that focusing on STEM subjects shouldn’t come at the cost of learning “softer” skills.

In addition to developing a more relevant knowledge base, some tweeted that students need more experience in the workplace and connections with working professionals. (Another little side note: more startups — like Careerosity, Mytonomy and ModernGuild — are trying different approaches to this.)

The chat also highlighted how new adaptive learning technology and analytics platforms could personalize education so that schools can better assess what students actually know, not just how much time they spent in a classroom.

That could potentially lead to new ways of structuring schools and organizing classrooms

As schools and families explore these different options there will doubtlessly be plenty more debate but Livingston and Davis emphasized that students can start by creating a plan.