How important are intercultural skills and proficiency in foreign languages to compete in the modern world? An essay competition, sponsored by Generation UK, invited UK students to tackle the question: How can our education better prepare us to compete in an increasingly globalised world? Read extracts from the winning essays below.
Georgie Kirby, University of Bath, on developing new skills:
As the world becomes increasingly globalised, what constitutes a relevant and competitive education is shifting; whilst basic literacy, maths and science qualifications may have previously been sufficient for success on the job market, relevant language skills, an empathetic understanding of different cultures and a good grasp of foreign political agendas are becoming imperative. This is why our education system must adapt to accommodate for these new requirements, or risk leaving its students behind in the global job market.
Lauren Petit, University of Southampton, on communication technologies:
While practical considerations may not make study exchanges viable, today’s widely accessible e-communication technologies could be used to get students from different countries working together. For example, getting pupils working with their foreign counterparts on projects would teach them to accept and understand other’s perspectives. Another example would be creating buddy systems, whereby children could learn about another culture through friendships outside of the classroom.
Azzah Ali, University of Leicester, on foreign languages:
Despite the huge evidence supporting the importance of proficiency in foreign languages, it is still an area where British people lag behind those in many other European countries. For example, the UK makes up 12% of the EU’s population, but only 5% of the EU institutions’ workforce (who must be proficient in at least one other EU language) are British. In order for the UK to represent itself effectively on the international stage, its institutions must promote learning of major international languages, and the importance of experience abroad.
Tomas Robertson, Heriot-Watt University, on global awareness:
Awareness can be encouraged at all stages of education and involves much more than just geography classes. Students should be exposed to global current affairs, have opportunities to travel and learn foreign languages throughout as much of their education as possible. Students who have a knowledge and understanding of the world around them can be more competitive at a global level. While those only aware of what goes on at home may be less likely to take advantage and interact with global opportunities and issues.
Felix McKechnie, University of Exeter, on studying abroad:
To remain globally competitive, we must demand a global education. An exciting way of developing this global outlook is by studying abroad. Statistics from the OECD’s Education at a Glance 2013 show that the number of university-level students studying abroad has jumped from below 2m in 2000 to nearly 4.3m today, an increase of 115%. Such an experience introduces students to their global competition, cultivates intercultural development and improves multicultural communication – invaluable skills for global business.
Rochelle Malcolm, Institute of Education, London, on cross-cultural competency:
The ‘ripple effect’ of the financial crisis has been seen across the globe, proving that the connection between countries and continents is significant. Therefore, when entering globalised workplaces, our basic skill-set must include cross-cultural competencies and communication. Comprehension and experience of social, cultural, historical and economic diversity is paramount, as is an understanding of human conflict, climate change, poverty, famine and disease.
Sarah Al-Hussaini, University of Birmingham, on education and health:
As well as raising the productivity and income of an individual, education is also strongly correlated with improved health, longevity, and social inclusion (World Bank, 2012). Each of these factors will strongly benefit individuals’ agency, improving their quality of life and ability to positively affect the world around them. The relationship between improved education and health is particularly beneficial in that it creates a positive cycle of human development — higher levels of education mean greater awareness of health risks, and greater health is important for higher educational attainment (e.g., via improved cognitive skills). The overall result is a multiplied return on the development of individuals’ capabilities, better preparing them for any future challenges they might face.
Ajit Niranjan, University of Bristol, on innovation and modernisation:
There is a huge impetus to modernise current school systems; the ‘education race’ will undoubtedly be the biggest competition of the 21st century. The titanic technological developments all around us will force countries to either adapt or languish. Yet, unlike previous global races, this race is not limited to superpowers; emerging economies such as South Korea and Hong Kong are challenging standards once set by Scandinavia and the U.S. The superpowers of the future will be neither those countries with the highest GDP nor the largest armies — rather, the hubs of innovation and advancement will be the ones exerting the greatest influence in the global sphere. For this, education is the key to success.
The winners will participate in our UK-China Student Forum at Tsinghua University on 22 April, as well as a series of wraparound events for the UK-China People to People Dialogue in Beijing. The Dialogue, which aims to help China and the UK develop a better understanding of each other, will take place in Beijing on 23 April.