Eric Hanushek, the Paul and Jean Hanna Senior Fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution, discussed the issue with Sputnik.
Sputnik: Do you think the quality of education is related to national economic growth? If so, how closely?
Eric Hanushek: I think the quality of education explains almost all of the difference in economic growth rates around the world. What we've learned is that just looking at how many years of schooling somebody has is a very imperfect measure of the skills that are important for the economy, but if you measure what people have actually learned while in school, it turns out to explain lots of the very large differences that we see across countries.
Sputnik: What challenges does the education system face under the digital transformation of society and the economy?
Eric Hanushek: The education system has a very fundamental role in all places. And it's whether we can harness the educational system to serve society, and various countries have struggled with that because the learning of children is not the same as the running of educational systems. And so, various countries have had to work very hard and some have failed but others have succeeded dramatically.
Sputnik: In your opinion, what are the demands of the labor market in the 21st century?
Eric Hanushek: We can't predict what the labor market will look like tomorrow in terms of what the specific occupations are that people have or what the skills that are required for them are. What is going to be really required of people in the future is being adaptable to a changed labor market. It turns out that everybody's worried about robots taking their job, and so someday I might be interviewed by a robot instead of a real person. The real question is: is there some way to adjust, and if your job goes away, can you adjust to a different job. That's what schooling and education does.
Sputnik: What is your take on ‘lifelong learning' programs? Do you think ‘lifelong learning' brings any benefits to our lives?
Eric Hanushek: I think that lifelong learning is in some sense essential. The question is: how you get the ability to learn over time. What we've seen is that if you wait till people in the labor market are older and the governments take charge of lifelong learning, it probably doesn't work. What you have to do is instill in people earlier in their life the ability to learn and to continually learn.
Sputnik: Could you explain in more detail the concept of educational technology as it is understood nowadays? What does it involve?
Eric Hanushek: Educational technologies are really an evolving area. I live in Silicon Valley in California and some of the things that people are inventing there for learning are really amazing. On the other hand, for example, the way you teach early algebra to people with little penguins jumping around from bridge to bridge, it turns out that there are these very clever engaging technologies.
The trick is how you integrate that with other aspects of schooling. Just having a computer screen in front of little kids for their entire life isn't going to work. That you need is the integration of the schools and the teachers with the technology. And some people are ready to use technology, others aren't. So, we have to recognize that and not try to insist that everybody use the same technology on the same day because that also won't work.
Sputnik: Is it sensible for a state to ramp up investment in this field?
Eric Hanushek: I've grown up in the US where the states aren't very good at doing this but private entrepreneurs are really good at developing technologies and figuring out how to use them. So, if I turn to the government to say "let's invent new things", at least in the US, this almost always fails.
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