It seems clear we are in a period of rapid change. Technology coupled with broad changes in society is bringing new challenges to how we live and work. The skill which served us well in the days of the industrial revolution are rapidly approaching their use by date. The evidence is mounting and the narrative around education is shifting towards a story centred on long-life skills, creativity, collaboration, critical thinking and communication. Success in the future seems to be connected closely to one’s capacity to innovate, to problem find and to make strategic decisions when confronted by unique situations for which we have not been specifically prepared.
Data on the future of the workforce increasingly indicates that many of the jobs in high demand today will disappear. A CEDA (Committee for Economic Development of Australia) report indicates that "More than five million jobs, almost 40 per cent of Australian jobs that exist today, have a moderate to high likelihood of disappearing in the next 10 to 15 years due to technological advancements”. Globally a report by the Boston Consulting Group indicates that 25% of jobs will be replaced by robots and Stephen Hawking adds that "the automation of factories has already decimated jobs in traditional manufacturing, and the rise of artificial intelligence is likely to extend this job destruction deep into the middle classes, with only the most caring, creative or supervisory roles remaining”.
Most at threat are the jobs categorised as routine-cognitive tasks. Those which are easily replaced by computers and artificial intelligence. After a long period of decline in manufacturing jobs with human labor replaced by robots this sector has stabilised. Now is the turn of the office worker, the clerk, the desk jockey to be replaced by servers and AI. If your job involves processing information, evaluating forms and manipulating data you should be nervous. The wider effects will come as the number of people required to complete these routine tasks dramatically shrinks and the effects extend into all sectors up and down the career ladders of the corporate world. Only those who are employed on the basis of their ability to handle complexity, to find new problems and transform them into opportunities are likely to thrive in this new economy.
The implications for educators of this shift are enormous and the pressure to make changes immediate. While the predicted transformations might be some ten to fifteen years away this equates neatly with the lead time for schools. The students entering kindergarten today will entire a workforce that is significantly impacted by the rapid expansion of Artificial Intelligence we are seeing today. Will they be ready for this future or will they have experienced a model of education that is better preparation for the age of the steam engine and the factory?
Here lies the challenge, to move from awareness of the future we are heading towards to an embrace of the change it requires. To shift from rhetoric to action.
What do we place at the centre of our schools? Do we focus on the capacities for success in the 21st century or do we cling to the past and teach the skills required for life in the office? Do we value creativity, critical thinking, innovation and collaboration and if so how do we ensure these skills are experienced by every child and valued in every classroom? What values and attitudes do we instil and how do schools and the broader community prepare our children to lead balanced lives where success is measured in moments of joy rather than in dollars earned?
Some teachers in Australia will be counting down the days to Vivid Sydney. In addition to the spectacular light shows which attract international visitors, Vivid Sydney has become an ideas festival. Through May and June intrepid educators have the opportunity to share strategies for embracing creativity with innovative trans-disciplinary thinkers. Sessions titled ‘How to Champion Innovation in your Team and the Workplace’, 'Creativity in Education Renaissance Souls’ and ‘Leading Teams for Creativity’ will entice teachers out of their classrooms and into the city. Ideas will flood back into schools and students will for a brief time enjoy learning alongside teachers passionate for change and empowered by new understandings. But will the change stick and will the change scale?
When the routines of the educational systems return, when curriculum pressures and the demands of external testing are felt, will we resist the urge to fall back into old patterns of action? Will the ideas of Vivid spread into every classroom or will we have bubbles of innovation? Research by Dylan Wiliam points to the significant impact that individual teachers have on the success of their learners. More than any other influence, getting the right teacher determines the growth experienced by students in any school year. The disturbing consequence of this is that for our future survival we are relying on the lucky chance of being placed with teachers who are active in transforming their practice for the times ahead. If your teacher is not connected, does not have a personal learning network, does not attend teach meets and events like Vivid Sydney, is not a 'self-navigating professional learner' (@mariealcock) will they have an awareness of what your future will be like and the capacity to take action to prepare you for it?
By Nigel Coutts