The United Nations (UN) recognises the 20th November as World Children’s Day, devoted to promoting the welfare of the children of the world. This is a day for children, by children, all over the world to help save children’s lives, fight for their rights and help them fulfil their potential.

A key enabler in improving life outcomes for a child is education. As such the UN have a dedicated Sustainable Development Goal focused on Quality Education, Goal 4.

Targets set to achieve this goal by 2030 include “ensure that all girls and boys complete free, equitable and quality primary and secondary education leading to relevant and effective learning outcomes”. An ambitious aim at a time when the UN reports that 57 million children remain out of school and that many in the world’s poorest countries still do not acquire basic skills in reading and mathematics.

Another target for Goal 4 is “by 2030, (to) substantially increase the number of youth and adults who have relevant skills, including technical and vocational skills, for employment, decent jobs and entrepreneurship”. However, with recent reports suggesting that up to 85% of the jobs that will exist in 2030 haven’t even been invented yet, are we teaching our children the most appropriate skills to succeed in the future?

The Fourth Industrial Revolution is predicted to include developments in fields such as artificial intelligence and machine-learning, robotics, nanotechnology, 3-D printing, and genetics and biotechnology, according to the World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs report. The skills increasingly in-demand are commonly cited as critical thinking, communication, creativity and collaboration. So, do our current education systems enable these important skills to be developed and evidenced to their full potential?

In our recent whitepaper, Qualifying the skills of the future, we explore how governments around the world are undertaking education reform to equip their young people with the skills and knowledge needed to support the future economy and compete in a global job market.

Assessment has to be a key part of these reforms. Governments are taking the opportunity to look at what the role of assessment is and how it can help drive improvements in educational performance for students. If you are assessing an individual’s capacity to collaborate, for example, the best way of doing so is unlikely to be a pen and paper exam sat individually at the end of a course. Formative assessment systems are being created that are the very bedrock of education programmes, such as The Scottish Curriculum for Excellence which incorporates clear ‘Benchmarks’, ‘Experiences and Outcomes’ to ‘help practitioners plan learning, teaching and assessment.’

As Justin Edwards, CEO of CCEA, notes in the whitepaper “…there are big shifts that need to occur in the ‘what’ we are assessing. There are of course some fundamentals that we will always need to continue to teach but we do need to teach more critical thinking and higher order skills at a post-primary level.”

“Technology can give us the ability to produce instantaneous, on-demand assessments, and it offers granularity in the feedback, enabling us to identify students’ achievement skill by skill.”

The challenge is in harnessing the benefits that technology can bring to the education and examinations system in the here and now, while continuing to refine for future needs. It is no small task but we must make sure, for the sake of the children, that our education and assessment systems are fit for purpose in the 21st century.