Our world is changing so fast that this begs the question what kind of future are we educating our children for? A recent survey by Oxford University suggests that 47% of jobs in the U.S. are at risk of becoming automated in the next twenty years. Children born today will never get to drive a car. Factories already exist where the robots are making the robots and according to a recent study by the McKinsey Global Institute, robots could replace between 400 million and 800 million of the world’s jobs by 2030. Yet so often governments around the world are either burying their proverbial heads in the sand or adopting nineteenth century solutions to twenty first century problems. Global developments will have a huge impact on the work place and governments, parents and educators need to be thinking ahead to plan future education policies which take likely changes into account. The digital revolution, artificial intelligence, autonomous vehicles, 3D printing, biotechnology, nanotechnology and quantum computing will all radically alter the world around us. How do we future proof education during this Fourth Industrial Revolution?
Chinese billionaire business magnate, philanthropist and executive chairman of the Alibaba Group says that only by changing our education systems can our children compete with machines. Ma commented at the World Economic Forum on 20 January 2018:
‘Education is a big challenge now. If we do not change the way we teach, thirty years from now we will be in trouble. The way we teach – the things we teach our kids – are the things from the past two hundred years and are knowledge based. We cannot teach our kids to compete with machines – they are smarter. Teachers must stop teaching knowledge. We have to teach something unique, so that a machine can never catch up with us. Values, believing, independent thinking, teamwork, care for others. These are the soft parts [skills]. Knowledge will not teach you that. That is why I think we should teach our kids sports, music, painting, art to make sure that humans should be different from machines. Everything we teach should be different from machines.’
We can be sure of many things – the schools of the future (and present) will need to embrace creativity in education and the ones that favour innovation and cater to and encourage independent learners will reap the benefits. Teaching our children to behave like machines is the last thing that they need. Education in the enlightened schools of the future is likely to be much more project based – it will be commonplace for students in different countries to be collaborating on shared ventures as paperless classrooms become the norm. Cramming our children’s heads with facts will no longer be enough as critical thinking and problem-solving become far more important. As well as literacy and numeracy and the much trumpeted STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and maths) employers will increasingly prize soft skills like networking, communication, social skills, negotiation and team-building – all things which develop naturally in school age children through unstructured play – something our joyless leaders seem unaware of through their relentless pursuit of meaningless data, stifling micro management and a one size fits all curriculum which seem bent on stifling character, inspiration and creativity. We are all aware of celebrated entrepreneurs who were spectacular failures at school but who have made huge successes of their lives subsequently. Many succeeded despite our education system rather than because of it.
Our politicians make much of ideas like ‘resilience’ and ‘character’ without defining what it is they mean. Whether one is a person of faith or none, surely the story of humanity needs to be about collaboration and the kindness and compassion that come naturally to us rather than the present tired narrative of ‘compete or die.’ If we stick to the latter premise, humans will and very soon.
Cross bench life peer Lord Sacks commented at a recent House of Lords debate on education:
‘We need to give our children an internalised moral satellite navigation system so that they can find their way across the undiscovered country called the future. We need to give them the strongest possible sense of collective responsibility for the common good, because we do not know who the winners and losers in the lottery of the global economy will be, and we need to ensure that its blessings are shared. There is too much “I” and too little “we” in our culture, and we need to teach our children to care for others, especially for those who are not like us.’
After all the future is what we create in our minds. We need to encourage our young to dare to dream of a future free from fear where anything is possible. We may even surprise ourselves.
Formerly Senior Master at one of London’s leading independent preparatory schools, James Glasse is a published author, tutor and education consultant. He currently writes for Times Education Supplement (TES) and other publications on education and related issues and is researching best practice globally.