England's schools system should put a greater premium on skills because “Google knows everything”, one of the most influential figures in global education has told MPs.
Andreas Schleicher, the head of the Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa), told MPs that the younger generation in the UK was “clearly less well prepared than other nations” for changes that technology, such as artificial intelligence, would make to work and society.
He was giving evidence to the Commons Education Select Committee’s inquiry into the fourth industrial revolution.
Mr Schleicher said that while the UK was an “average performer” in maths, British students were doing tasks that were “associated with the past rather than the future”.
Need to know: What is the fourth industrial revolution?
Opinion: We need a new curriculum for tomorrow's world
Revealed: Parents' fears about artificial intelligence in schools
He added: “The kind of things that are easy to teach and easy to test are precisely those things that are easy to digitise.
“That’s basically what we are losing. Labour markets see a decline in the demand for routine cognitive skills and an increase in the demand for non-routine analytic skills, and that’s where we see, relatively speaking, the greatest weaknesses in UK schools at age 15.”
Asked by committee chair Robert Halfon whether England should put more of a premium on skills, Mr Schleicher replied: “Yeah, I think on the application of knowledge and the creative use of knowledge.
“You know, the term ‘skills’ in the UK has almost a negative connotation of being something low-applied. I don’t use this term in this way. For me, ‘skills’ is about your capacity to creatively use and apply knowledge.
“In a way, the modern world does not reward you just for what you know. Google knows everything. The modern world rewards you for what you can actually do with what you know.”
Mr Schleicher said countries such as Singapore, Finland, the Netherlands, Estonia and Canada were well prepared for the fourth industrial revolution.
Asked what those countries were doing, he replied: “[Pupils] are not just learning things, but they are actually more exposed to the application of knowledge.
“I think another important factor is that those countries are much better at getting all students to succeed well, and I think in the fourth industrial revolution, don’t underestimate that because the fourth industrial revolution effectively amplifies the impact of skill differences.
“Those who are better skilled have a huge advantage; those who are poorly skilled face a huge disadvantage.
“The success of those education systems to get everybody to do well is a big advantage in the fourth industrial revolution.”