Modern education has failed to to keep up with the needs of the new economy
In a world where the essential factors of production - land, labour, and capital (excluding entrepreneurship) - are absent, 'knowledge' becomes the sole meaningful resource, says Austrian-American author Peter Ferdinand Drucker. In his 1993 book, Post-Capitalist Society, Drucker predicted that, within two to three decades, the only decisive factor of production would be knowledgeable workers. Similarly, in 1992, Tom Peters described the work culture at McKinsey, a management consulting company, in his book Liberation Management, as one where 'conversation is the organisation'. The concept was to fully utilise available resources and create an organisation capable of meeting client demands.
Since the early 1990s, knowledgeable and experienced individuals have advocated for the identification of new management practices and the development of resources to address the unpredictable and rapidly changing environment. In the past three decades, the world has been striving to create a workforce with sufficient knowledge through formal education and experience.
Formal education in Nepal began in 1835 with the establishment of Durbar School. However, the modern education system was introduced in the 1990s following the abolition of the Panchayat system and the introduction of a multi-party democracy. Despite claims of fundamental changes in the education system and curriculum, the modern education system in Nepal has not brought about significant changes.
Until recently, the only way to secure an official position was by acquiring qualifications through formal education. However, the Internet's introduction and rapid growth and reach have disrupted this long-standing belief. Easy access to unlimited knowledge with no pre-conditions and the ability to work remotely with only knowledge as a requirement have initiated the beginning of a new economy. Despite this, the education system, which even Gen Z has been instilled with, has failed to impart the basic paradigms of the new economy.
The entire world, from educational institutions to corporations, has shifted towards digitisation. The COVID-19 has created a new buzzword: the new normal - a world where people were confined to homes, businesses were halted, educational institutions remain closed, and the entire world was on a standstill contemplating the unexpected. The digitisation process, which was fast-forwarded by the pandemic, compelled educational systems worldwide to shift to online classes and distance learning. Although digitisation in the education system was anticipated to create equality, it has created a digital divide spanning across genders and geographies, to name a few. Students with digital access were privileged enough to continue their education while others could only dream of it. The idea of digital inclusiveness to bridge the gap was only planned through an ICT blueprint that is yet to be executed. Today, educational institutions in developing countries are still far behind in investing in digital-friendly classrooms, labs, and infrastructures. There is enough evidence of the poor quality of students that the lack of infrastructure and execution plan produces.
The entire system of the green economy seems to be in confusion. Without a theoretical framework, it is difficult to specialise in green finance as a topic. Despite being a buzzword for over a decade, the concept of green finance is still under discussion and in the research phase. However, it is viewed as an imposition on developing countries. These countries long for physical development and prosperity, even though they have a very low capacity to achieve those goals. But with the green tags, the cost of the same project could be beyond their capacity. The green market lacks the speculation compared to the prevalent capital market, and the possibility of instant profit booking is very low in green investment. Hence, investment in the green market, along with green products and services, is gaining acceptance at a very slow pace.
The concept of materialism and the accumulation of wealth has long been dismantled. Eastern philosophy has always been associated with peace of mind and detachment. The spirituality-centred philosophy of the east has now been rebranded by the western world as the 'circular economy.' The basic idea of reusing, recycling, and reducing has been put into practice in eastern philosophy for ages. Although multilateral and bilateral agencies, along with activists, are voicing the importance of the circular economy, the adoption rate is still very low. The basics of a circular economy - durability, reuse, remanufacturing, and recycling - come with a significant cost. The economy is still based on a fossil fuel and extraction-based system, and protectionism for these organisations is prevalent worldwide. The global commitment to reducing waste and creating further value by providing incentives still has a long way to go. Similarly, the integration of circular economy principles into the education system and curriculum cannot be imagined anytime soon.
The modern education system that we take pride in has failed to deliver the requirements of current needs. A high school student with ample knowledge and without formal education is earning significantly more than a graduate today. The concept of the gig economy has long been in practice in Nepal. Various businesses like Fiverr, Topital, Jooble, and countless portals have become popular job seeking prospects for the new generation. Similarly, the physical gig economy is also in practice. Ride-sharing services and food delivery services are common platforms that can be found in every corner of the city today. However, the lack of policies to foster these nomads and benefit from the innovative young minds has hindered innovation.
Various paradigms of the new economy that we are seeing today are still a continuum of the eastern philosophies with a western touch. The world needs a digital economy, green economy and a circular economy. However, the digital divide, the lack of theoretical framework and the protectionism has been silently accepted. Nevertheless, we still take pride in the educational degrees and certificates that fail to inculcate the very needs of this new economy. The way of living that we have long been practising with numerous experiments has been passed along the generations. We have completely left those inheritances and adopted the consumerism mindset. However, the very Global North has come up with their own versions of the new economy that we tend to follow.
(Parajuli is a visiting faculty member at Kathmandu University School of Management)