There is much discussion globally about the need for change in education. This is partly because we can see an unprecedented shift in the job market. It is also because of the speed with which new technologies and new ways of doing things are transforming the world of work. It is indeed the case that we are educating young people now without knowing what sorts of jobs will even be available to them by the time they graduate high school or university. You might ask, “Why do we keep thinking about jobs? Surely education has more value than just preparing people for work.” Absolutely it does; however, the ability to earn a living in an increasingly un-knowable future is fundamental even to making a broader difference in the world. Furthermore, our current methods and structures in education globally are based very much on models designed to prepare workers.
The current mass education model was instituted in the latter 19th century. As such, it is not that old. At its most altruistic, it was designed to prepare young people to become productive workers to fill the expanding labor needs of industrialization. The pleasant knock-on effect was the growth of a middle class, with workers able to enjoy the fruits of their labors. This growing working-class needed basic instruction in reading, writing, and arithmetic (sometimes called “the three Rs”—but that’s another story). In addition, basic classes in civic responsibility were added for an understanding of government at its best, or for social control at its worst. These basic skills were needed for the type of jobs that were available in production, with a few available globally in the management of those who were doing the producing. This is, of course, a generalization, but it is clear why people believed these basic skills should form the foundation of mass education. This was the age, only recently ended, in which workers got a job with a company and remained employed by them their entire career—until retirement.
In today’s reality, many of the jobs at which this education model was aimed no longer exist. In some cases, they have been made redundant, or they have been taken over by automation or artificial intelligence (AI). Even some of those jobs we thought would always remain elite are now firmly in the sights of AI (see for example doctors and lawyers). These trends do not (yet) indicate that AI will replace these elite jobs, but it will fundamentally change them, making for a lower bar of entry. In other words, educating our children today for the jobs of yesterday will not ensure a livelihood tomorrow. Even more important, it will not necessarily prepare them for the emotional realities of the future either.
Over the course of the year, this blog will explore what skills and dispositions are important, and we will explore together how we can develop them. Please check back regularly as I share my thinking, and feel free to contribute. In the meantime, rest assured that “The Three Rs” are not going anywhere. They may not be enough for modern learners, but they are still crucially important. Let’s chart a path through this uncharted territory together.