It was a question posed to a panel of speakers from developed and developing countries at the Biovision Alexandria 2016 conference currently happening in Alexandria, Egypt.
Education was singled out as the greatest threat, especially in the developing world.
“ICT [Information and communication technology] is the glue that holds innovation together,” said William Saito, the special adviser to the Prime Minister Cabinet in Japan. “It allows cross pollination across disciplines.”
Education is still based on rote-learning, but there’s an urgent need to shift to inquiry-based education at schools; methods that encourage children to develop the learning process themselves, argued Mohamed Hassan, the co-chair of the Inter Academy Partnership in Italy.
The smartphone boom happening in the developing world gives millions of young people access to the Internet every year; it’s the greatest disruption to this decades old style of teaching, he added. Knowledge is now at the fingertips of young people, and traditional education may be vastly transformed within the next decade due to that, he opined.
This rapidly changing world comes with its own challenges, however.
“We are not repairing children for a vastly changing world,” said Jason Blackstock, head of the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Public Policy Department at the University College London, UK.
Some reports suggest that when the toddlers of today grow up, 60% of the jobs present now – and which education is preparing them for – will have disappeared, said Saito. That means we need a paradigm shift in education where failure is not shunned.
We need to create a culture of tolerance of failure, teaching young people that it is normal to fail a few times to truly innovate, he said. “There’s a real opportunity to bring students into the real world and to bring the real world into labs.”
John Kilama, the chairman of the Innovators for Africa Development, Inc. in the US, warned however that these changes require governments that can create an atmosphere that would facilitate change, otherwise “a lot of young people will leave to other countries that can support their hopes and dreams.”
Clearly, the future for the developing world depends on the ability of nations to create enabling environments – ones that allow young people an education that enables critical thinking, entrepreneur training and ICT tools to make use of. It also depends, as well, on policymakers with the proper foresight and a genuine interest in promoting development in a global world.