Quality education: an overview
“Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all” is the definition of SDG4, the fourth of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Education is the key for political participation (SDG16: Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions) and better job prospects (SDG8: Decent Work and Economic Growth).
As stated by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the difference in both opportunities and skills is particularly marked between people who have attained upper secondary education and those who have not. But education inequalities begin way earlier in life.
According to the UN, progress towards inclusive and quality education is too slow and, if the current tendencies continue, over 200 million children will still be out of school in 2030.
The current pandemic exacerbated the situation, with just 34% of children in the poorest households completing school in low-income countries.
Remote learning, which has been increasingly adopted by most nations in the past two years, remains out of reach for at least 500 million students.
If governments have the strongest responsibility in solving these problems by assuring inclusive and quality education for all their young citizens, managers and entrepreneurs have to do their own part too, promoting lifelong learning and professional development among their employees.
A change in mentality is required among those employers and companies that still consider organizing or financing courses for their workers as simple expenses instead of long-term investments.
In fact, professional training has several proven positive effects for the whole organization, like increasing employees’ motivation and efficiency.
Entrepreneurs can also decide to develop their entire business (products and services) in the education field: there are many things that can be done from books to technologies to innovative teaching methods.
This is obviously the most absorbing and effective way for entrepreneurs to join the effort towards the achievement of SDG4 and we will see some valuable startups operating in the sector in the paragraphs below.
Before that, however, we will primarily focus on the reasons and benefits of employee training, as it concerns a bigger number of companies.
Employee training as a route to lifelong learning
Two out of ten SDG4’s targets are about tertiary education, addressing university and professional learning.
This fact should not come as a surprise, since upper secondary education is the one proved to be the most effective for better job prospects and general work stability.
Accordingly, about 83% of the population with tertiary education is employed in OECD countries, with Iceland, Norway, Sweden and Switzerland leading in Europe.
Apart from universities and polytechnics’, companies can also organize courses for their own workforce, by relying on their senior staff or contacting external experts, including academics and researchers.
Employee training involves a teacher working with learners, transferring them certain areas of knowledge or skills to improve in their current job performances or to cover new – often higher – positions within the same company.
There are also companies that give special leaves or days of absence to their employees and even funds to make them pursue an MBA or other types of masters.
Internal training or university courses financed by companies are both excellent ways for managers and entrepreneurs to promote lifelong learning opportunities, as called for by SDG4.
Typical reasons for employee training
Employee training can be initiated by a company for multiple reasons and it can involve a single worker or a group of employees.
The main reasons for these learning programmes typically are:
- The indication from a performance evaluation that a performance improvement is needed in one or more departments
- As part of an overall professional development program
- As a way for employees to be eligible for planned change in roles within the organization
- To “pilot”, or test, the operation of a new performance management system
- To teach the workforce a specific subject that can be useful in the performance of their duties or even outside work (the latter, for example, to enhance the company image between the workers)
- To make the employees/collaborators learn how to use a new machine/tool/software/application.
As it is clear from the reasons reported above, employee learning programmes can cover very different topics from communication to IT skills, from safety or ethics to financial education.
Common benefits from employee training
Employee training or development (the latter refers to overall employee growth programmes, not focused on an immediate job role), if well planned and well-executed, is appreciated by employees, useful for both them and employers.
The most common benefits of employee training, are:
- Increased job satisfaction and morale among employees
- Increased employee motivation
- Increased efficiencies in processes, resulting in financial gain
- Increased capacity to adopt new technologies and methods
- Increased innovation in strategies and products
- Reduced employee turnover
- Enhanced company image
- Enhanced risk management, e.g., training about crisis communication and leadership, self-defence, health and safety measures…
How to create effective employee training programmes
Having stated the main causes and benefits of employee training programmes, it is now time to give some good practices to choose the most needed courses and activities for your workforce, implementing them in your organisation.
These are the six steps that every good manager should follow:
1. Identify business goals
Evaluating business goals is the first step for every action inside a company, including the choice of an internal training programme or an external course for one or more employees.
According to that, a manager or entrepreneur has to implement training programmes or buy courses that have a measurable impact on business goals attainment.
Also employee satisfaction and morale is a valuable goal within a company, so this variable may sometimes justify the choice of courses not strictly related to the specific roles or jobs. In this case, but also for immediately spendible knowledge, a survey between the employees is warmly suggested, to better understand their needs.
2. Find skill gaps
Surveys and other analysis techniques are needed also to better identify the skill gaps between your employees’ current and ideal skill sets.
This analysis is essential to identify specific learning objectives.
3. Set measurable learning objectives
Learning objectives should have long- and short-term measurable outcomes to evaluate training effectiveness, in order to implement changes in the methodologies where and if needed.
It is possible to use learning management software too, to better monitor the training conduct and test the output.
4. Implement multilayered training methodologies
The most successful learning programmes combine different elements and techniques to optimize the efficacy of the training/course.
They integrate theory and practise sessions, in-person lectures and online ones, videos or books that suppose more passive learning, together with interactive elements.
You should try to recreate these various combinations in order to offer your employees a more enjoyable and valuable training experience.
5. Measure training effectiveness in progress and at the end of the course
As we stated before, measuring the effectiveness of the training is fundamental to make adjustments in progress and also at the end of the programme to evaluate employee satisfaction and learning.
The data resulting from this analysis will prove to be useful for organizing similar initiatives in the future.
6. Provide post-training reinforcement
The worst thing that can happen when finishing a course or a training activity is that the employees soon forget what they have learnt.
It happens if they do not have the chance to put that knowledge into practice immediately after because our brain tends to forget the information that is not felt as useful.
That is why it is so important giving your employees easily consultable material like manuals, slides and digestible clips they can consult after the learning programme has ended to reinforce their knowledge and use it in their daily work, when possible.
Education companies to take inspiration from
Employee training is the easiest and most common way for entrepreneurs and managers to contribute to SDG4, but there are also companies whose business model is entirely focused on education and they are not necessarily schools and universities in a traditional sense.
There are also education startups and companies in general, especially in the edtech field, whose contribution to more inclusive education is admirable and others that are cutting the edge of innovation in the sector.
We will list some of them that are having a real impact on students and teachers’ lives.
Blackboard is one of the most successful companies providing management systems and software for school institutions.
It was founded in Washington in 1997 and it is now active in 18 different territories, having a strong impact on the digitalization of the teaching world.
The company helps school institutions to keep all the data and processes in one comprehensive platform, to ease the relationship between students and teachers, for example through efficient video call applications, and to facilitate administrative tasks like enrollment management.
They also provide A.I. technology like chatbots to increase students’ engagement through a 24/7 service to answer their most common questions and needs, without adding burden to school and university support staff.
Teachers Pay Teachers
Teachers Pay Teachers is a marketplace founded in 2006 where teachers can exchange study material in English.
It has over than five million resources divided by grade level, subject, price, resource type and format, serving more than seven million teachers per year.
Their aim is to create a deep connection between school professionals and it is one of the very few edtech companies that have a similar business model.
Coursera is one of the biggest edtech companies, connecting students with more than 200 top universities (e.g. Yale and University of London) and high profile firms, like, for example, Google and IBM.
Thanks to this platform, users can purchase affordable courses to enhance their skills from the best universities worldwide without moving to the campuses.
Students can buy single courses or enrol in online bachelor/master degree programs of different disciplines with a flexible schedule.
The company also provides a specific offer for enrolled university students, thanks to which they can have one free course from Coursera’s library each year.
Byju is India’s first e-learning platform for children and teenagers, covering the entire k-12 sector of school education, from kindergarten to 12th grade, with a special focus on maths and science.
It allows students to take video lessons via the application or website, partially solving the lack of school infrastructures for a continuously growing population in the country, with successful gamification techniques to enhance children’s learning.
Quality Education: what can you do in your daily life?
Potentially every person can contribute to the achieving of quality education for all, through small actions in their daily lives.
As an entrepreneur, you can promote the following behaviours between your employees:
- Donate your used books. The easiest way to give access to knowledge is to donate your used books to someone.
- Promote and take online courses. In our digital world, there are more opportunities to get access to knowledge than ever in history.
- Visit your local school and ask what school supplies they need. Start a school supply drive in your community.
- Mentor young people. You can provide tutoring and homework assistance, teach a language or deliver a lesson on the Global Goals.
- Support a charity whose mission is to provide education to less fortunate children and teenagers.
- Never stop learning and teaching others.
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This was the fourth article of our SDGs series, which aims to make the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals easy to put into practice for startups and entrepreneurs, in general.
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