To foster a population best able to deal with a future we can’t yet see, we’re going to need to change education. . . a lot. The reality of the modern age is that I learned more in one year of a well-curated Twitter feed than in my entire master’s degree. I have better relationships from LinkedIn than from university, and yet higher education is one of the largest industries in the entire world.
If we really think about it, if most people were asked what the role of education is, they would say something along the lines of it being there to best prepare kids for their future. It would be to give them the skills they need to get good jobs, to cope with life stresses to be happy prosperous, balanced, kind, empathetic people. It’s fascinating to me that a seven-year-old in school today will be reaching key stages of their career at around the age of 35, which will be the year 2040. It’s clear to me that 2040 is an age we can’t even come close to imagining. The amount of change between 1997 and 2018 has been so wild and unpredictable, and there are more signs that this change will accelerate than that it will slow down. The challenges that a person will face in this era are beyond our imagination. Yet this seven-year-old in school today is being put through an education process based not around the likely skills and traits they will need for a career in 2040, but one based around the needs of industrialists in 1840.
Businesses are now complaining about the poor skills of school-leavers and graduates (Berr, 2016). We’ve assumed the way forward is to ensure that more people study for longer, but I think that the changing world means that we need to prepare kids in a totally different way. It’s the clichéd hope of the paranoid parent that teaching Chinese will best prepare kids for a future of different power structures in geopolitics, but is that essential in a world of Google Translate? Many think teaching kids to code is the solution, but won’t software be written by software soon anyways? Our vision for the future needs to include more imagination. It’s staggering to me how much the world has changed, and how little education has. The digital age means a different world.
Current schooling seems outward-in. We prioritize knowledge above all else. It is tested in exams. The best in school are those who can most easily recall information. Which was pretty helpful until now, when information is immediate, everywhere and abundant. In a world of fake news, being able to form opinions, criticize, evaluate, and see both sides of the story are far more vital than merely knowing things, absorbing stuff and parlaying it back robotically.
For kids growing up today, let alone tomorrow, we’re living in a world where we outsource knowledge and skills to the internet. I’m not saying that it is a waste of time to have good handwriting when we’re more likely to be interacting with voices and keyboards, but I’m not sure that it’s a priority to be perfect at it.
Kids will struggle to communicate if they can’t spell at all, but when spell-checkers auto-translate and software handles voice-to-text, maybe it’s not something to take up much time. Maths and the logical thinking that we gain from understanding it is essential, but perhaps we need to think of it more philosophically and get to grips with reasoning more than memorizing processes.
These are not changes we have to make, but they are principles and assumptions that we should question. The future is less about what to remove, but rather what to refocus on. I believe that there are key attributes to develop; both at school and also in the workplace these are values at the core of who we are. This is an inside-out approach to developing robust, happy, balanced people fit to embrace the modern age.
The core characteristics are typically developed while we are young and typically shaped by educational establishments, but it’s vital that these values are imbued both in parenting as well as beyond school and for longer. These values and approaches not only will serve people well long into their careers, but should be nurtured, supported and recruited for in all companies.
The workplace will change more in the next 10 years than it has in the last 50, and roles that once relied on physical work will increasingly be automated. Roles demanding data input, routine calculation and Excel are likely to be replaced most quickly by algorithms. Customer service roles in many sectors may vanish, but roles in luxury customer service, requiring different skills and attitudes, may grow. We need to think imaginatively. Coding will soon be done by itself, but creative problem solving may be more vital than ever. Increasingly, the world of employment focuses away from doing, and more towards thinking.
The following is adapted from Digital Darwinism by Tom Goodwin ©2018 and published with permission from Kogan Page Ltd.
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