Capacity development, Education, Information and Communications Technology, Social development and protection

T20 and realizing education for all in the Digital Age

T20 and realizing education for all in the Digital Age

Two major challenges to realizing the role of education in promoting sustainable and inclusive growth

Education is a key driver for sustainable development (UNESCO 2018). However, the goal of realizing education for all in the Digital Age faces two major challenges. First, many countries and economies are still not ensuring quality education for all. Millions of children and youth still lack the necessary tools to realize their potential amid economic, political, and social strife. Second, with the emergence of the fourth Industrial Revolution and the growing use of automation, big data, and artificial intelligence, human labor is being substituted increasingly by machines or algorithms.

New jobs will certainly be created, but not necessarily for the same people. This demands that governments and communities act with a sense of urgency, since the competencies required to succeed and prosper in this new environment will certainly be different than those prevalent today. Thus, the required responses to these challenges are twofold: to develop policies to achieve the spread of access to high-quality education to all, and to rethink education in a way that enables all people to deal with this rapidly changing environment in both their work and social lives.

The T20 contribution to developing effective policies for the G20

The challenges faced by governments in the field of education are complex and demand a host of well-crafted policies and programs. This calls for the mobilization of global expertise and collaboration. To achieve this objective and vision, think tanks around the world are coming together to try to address these huge challenges. As part of this movement, the Think 20 (T20) network aims to support the Group of Twenty (G20) process by making policy recommendations. As T20 members, we have challenged ourselves to think, to produce evidence, and to look for new solutions in order to develop recommendations for education policy that will help to achieve an economically prosperous, environmentally sustainable, and socially inclusive future. These findings have been transmitted to the G20 and the general public in the form of policy briefs written by T20 task force members.

Education joined the G20 and T20 agenda for the first time during the Argentine Presidency of 2018 and were collected in book form (Fundación Santillana 2018). This inclusion of education was continued under the Japanese T20 chairship of 2019. In 2019, the responsibility for education in the T20 was split between two Task Forces, those on “2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development” and “The Future of Work and Education for the Digital Age.” The former Task Force concentrated on the spread of high-quality basic education to developing economies, while the latter Task Force focused on the challenges arising from the various technological developments associated with the Digital Age.

Among their many policy briefs, the two Task Forces have produced recommendations that articulate different dimensions of education policy and technology-driven transformations. These policy briefs have been collected together in a recently published ADBI volume, Realizing Education for All in the Digital Age. We hope this second set of education-related policy briefs will inspire subsequent T20s to consider education policy as a key dimension that must be considered if we are to foster a prosperous future for all.

Summary of policy briefs in the book

Education policies and global commitments concerning the present education systems need to work simultaneously on multifaceted problems. This complicates reform processes in both developing and developed countries. Conventional and domestic-centered knowledge built around existing practices will not be enough to reach those marginalized children and to provide them with quality education. The first step is to examine different existing contexts and their obstacles to accessing quality education. This is analyzed by Tanaka, Taguchi, Yoshida, Cardini, Kayashima, and Morishita in “Transforming Education towards Equitable Quality Education to Achieve the SDGs.”

Although the global and national figures on gender equality in education have significantly improved, they mask stark variations within countries. Ridge, Kippels, Cardini, and Yimbesau argue in “Developing National Agendas in Order to Achieve Gender Equality in Education (SDG 4)” that baseline data is essential for a good understanding of such realities and their reasons, as well as for producing evidence-based recommendations.

Learning outcomes in the present and future contexts require not only visible cognitive knowledge and skills but also non-cognitive ones, such as interpersonal, problem-solving, critical thinking, conflict-managing, and emotion-managing skills, which are often referred to as soft skills or 21st century skills. However, Urban, Cardini, Guevara, Okengo, and Flórez Romero, in “Early Childhood Development Education and Care: The Future Is What We Build Today,” warn that children in vulnerable conditions are not accessing appropriate quality training in these areas.

International learning assessments, such as the Program for International Student Assessment, the Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies, or Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study, rely on useful metrics and provide comparable information about students’ performance and systemic bottlenecks. However, to understand how students are actually taught and how to attain outcomes that meet societies’ present and future needs requires different approaches. Istance, Mackay, and Whinthrop, in “Measuring Transformational Pedagogies across G20 Countries to Achieve Breakthrough Learning: The Case for Collaboration,” advocate that actionable data on teacher collaboration, continuous school improvement, and activities outside school should be made available for countries to facilitate pedagogical transformation.

Teachers are undeniably at the core of delivering high-quality education services. González, Castillo, Costin, and Cardini offer insights from Latin American experiences in “Teacher Professional Skills: Key Strategies to Advance in Better Learning Opportunities.” They argue that effective teaching and learning only occur when a coherent framework of systemic change functions at the school, local, and larger system levels.

Digital skills need to be incorporated not only in basic education systems but also in technical and vocational education and training (TVET), tertiary levels of education, and lifelong learning programs. A holistic approach should be considered for lifelong learning by encompassing education and training at schools and in non-formal and informal settings, including work-based learning, and by incentivizing the public and private sectors to invest in skills acquisition. These topics are addressed by Lyons, Kass-Hanna, Zucchetti, and Cobo in “Bridging the Gap between Digital Skills and Employability for Economically Vulnerable Populations,” and by Park in “Lifelong Learning and Educational Policies to Capture Digital Gains.”

Bandura and Grainger, in “Rethinking Pathways to Employment: Technical and Vocational Training for The Digital Age,” argue that the common notion that TVET is inferior to academic paths must be reversed and that the disconnect between education and work should be corrected by promoting closer collaboration between the full players in education and employment.

A good example that shows how digital skills can contribute to realizing an inclusive society is the use of financial technology (fintech). Morgan, Huang, and Trinh assert in “The Need to Promote Digital Financial Literacy for the Digital Age” that national strategies and programs on digital financial education need to be developed.


Asian Development Bank Institute. 2019. Realizing Education for All in the Digital Age. Tokyo: ADBI.
Fundación Santillana. 2018. Bridges to the Future of Education: Policy Recommendations for the Digital Age. Buenos Aires, Argentina: Fundación Santillana.
UNESCO. 2018. Global Education Meeting 2018: Brussels Declaration.

Peter J. Morgan

About the Author

Peter J. Morgan is a senior consulting economist and advisor to the dean at ADBI.

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