21st Century Skills versus Basic Skills

With advances in technology, there is no doubt that we all feel the pressure to keep ourselves updated. Otherwise, we will be rendered obsolete. In the United States, it is no secret that a large number of manufacturing jobs have already disappeared. Human workers in assembly lines are now being replaced by more reliable robots. Even developing countries like the Philippines which have a considerable number of the labor force manning call centers are in danger of losing their jobs to artificial intelligence. We then clamor for our educational systems to pay attention to these changing demands. We ask that schools pay more attention to developing a new set of skills, the 21st century skills. However, the fact remains that one simply cannot build a mansion on top of a weak foundation. And in the case of the Philippines, the problem sorely lies in the lack of equity and quality in basic education.

This point can be more easily understood by citing one concrete situation. It may sound far from labor and economic concepts but nonetheless, it demonstrates a very important aspect in developing and maximizing a country's potential. It is United States soccer. It is one competition in the international arena where the United States mens team always fails to reach the top. The team did not even qualify for the coming World Cup in Russia. Lewandowski puts it nicely in his article in Soccer Politics as he cites Sokolove of the New York Times Magazine:
Most academy programs in the U.S. operate under the pay-for-play model, in which parents choose to invest in their children’s soccer education. But this model has been widely criticized for its inefficiency and inequity, seeing that it disadvantages young soccer prodigies whose parents can’t foot the bill.
A society cannot realize its full potential without promoting equity. The same applies to education. If the Philippines aspires to compete in a global economy then it must develop its entire citizenry. It must provide quality basic education to all and not just to the children of the elite. In the blog of the World Bank on education, there is an article that tackles what education can do in the face of rising robots and artificial intelligence.

Above copied from World Bank Blog on Education

In this article, Patrinos and his colleagues wrote:
"Economists studying the effects of automation are emphasizing the importance of “higher order soft skills” such as creativity and interpersonal skills. However, we believe that most countries still need to focus on getting the basics right."
And the reason is simple. It is the same reason behind the poor performance of the United States in soccer. Lack of equity prevents the realization of the full potential of any society. This lack of equity is unfortunately present in the basic educational system of the Philippines where quality education is provided only to a chosen few. Automation will soon erase low-cost and low-skill labor on which developing countries like the Philippines depend a lot. There is indeed a need for higher education to keep pace with the rest of the world, but as important if not more, quality basic education should be provided to all.