The World We’re Educating For…..

…… or rather, the world we should be educating for, but aren’t because we’re dithering and having endless discussions about whether new ideas in education can statistically be proven to raise particular arbitrary educational markers/ scores (in other words, those who want to block change and progress choose the outcome to be measured and then condemn the change because it doesn’t move the marker they chose adequately!

And, in the meantime, while educators sit around debating these things the world is changing at a pace that is getting faster and faster. Don’t believe me, or think I’m being sensationalist? I would ask you to check out the following two videos – recent documentaries.

Particularly, the first comes from The Economist – hardly an organisation that can be condemned for overblown lack of realism. it looks at the future of work.

And the second, looks at some of the latest developments happening in robotics, Artificial intelligence, machine learning and the move in to a new digital age. There have been false dawns in many of these areas before. Writers and commentators first started to really talk about the implications of technology and the changed life as we develop ‘intelligent systems’ in the 1950’s and 60’s. When little really materialised other than a few novelty products, people lost interest. Then, again, in the 90’s there was renewed interest, but again what materialised wasn’t life changing enough to seep in to most people’s consciousness.

However, this time, there’s more than enough evidence that things are very different. However, because of the history, vast proportions of people – especially in the developed countries – sit like the proverbial frogs in the pan of boiling water, oblivious to what’s happening around them.

More after the video ……………………..

As educators we have to acknowledge that this stuff is massive. In the short term we need to be preparing young people in vast numbers with the skills, resilience and self driven motivation to succeed in the gig economy, even though the gig economy may prove to have just been a stepping stone on the way to something way bigger.

Already, in developed countries there are politicians and other commentators prepared to begin to have hard conversations about what might need to happen to support people in a world where less people are needed to make everything happen. There are going to be vast numbers of people who will become ‘surplus to requirements’. Now the developed countries know that their history over the last 20-30 years as the de-industrialised (as industry moved more to developing countries) they didn’t do a good job of retraining people, helping them to reposition themselves to a changed society. This could be more severe in those countries if there is nothing new to reposition many of those people to.

As a result, some countries are already carrying out experiments in what they have chosen to call “universal income” or some other similar name. What it amounts to is harnessing the enormous revenues that will be generated by technology and using them to pay a standard minimum income to every citizen of the country (we can also see in these circumstances why some countries are getting particular now about who is in and who is out, i.e. immigration).

That might provide the solution in terms of making sure that people rendered workless (I think we need to stop using the word jobless) can at least feed themselves and manage the basic fundamentals of life. However, it doesn’t even begin to address issues of how all those people will adjust to infinite leisure (although i believe there’s a connection here to willingness to legalise cannabis in many countries), personal aspiration and ambition. In the context of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs we would need to adjust to a vast proportion of populations for whom the upper parts of the hierarchy would be a no-go zone.

For educators, planners and others willing to look seriously at the future in developing countries there are potentially far bigger challenges and issues. Taking the example of India, there are certain types of jobs and work that have played the biggest part in lifting enormous numbers of people out of poverty. In turn, many of those areas of work have acted as gateways for some of the people to use their newfound skills and abilities to transition higher up the food chain to more higher-value-added work with higher earnings.

India still has enormous numbers living in poverty. There are still millions employed inefficciently in an agrarian sector that must modernise to be efficient and effective. At the same time the country still has a high birth rate and the high birth rate of the last 20 years sees vast numbers of youngsters (graduates and non graduates) becoming available for the workforce. However, what happens if vast numbers of them are simply not needed? I believe the current unemployment data in India is already showing the effects of jobs dwindling in areas like medical transcription, call centres, back office processing etc. As i said before, these types of jobs have been a significant engine for lifting large numbers in to the Indian middle class.

Plainly, if there is going to be a massive unemployment issue in the world, countries like India will not have the resources to be able to contemplate universal income. Worse, as the situation works through, the relatively small numbers who do have the high end skills and abilities in technical fields are likely to be enticed by selective immigration in to developed countries.

I’m not sure anyone yet has the answers to these issues. What concerns me most is that i’m not sure the issues are being discussed fully, transparently and openly. There are challenges ahead and people need to work together to resolve them. Educators need to be at the front as full and active participants in these debates, so as to speak for their pupils but also to further refine their own understanding of the changing needs young people have from the education system in order to figure out how to meet those needs.

The Future of Work

Work is one of the most important ways that ‘modern man’ makes meaning, defines meaning in life – individually and collectively. Therefore, the future of work and the impacts on work of today’s technological developments are critical areas that we should pay attention to, as educators. These are the things that will shape the lives of the children we have in our schools today.

Yet this troubles me. All too often, we see educators who have convinced themselves that if they can just find ways to do what they did before, by degrees of 1 or 2% better, we can make a better version of yesterday’s education and can pat ourselves on the back that we’re reforming, innovating and delivering something world class.

Instead, with the speed of change so rapid in the world today, we need to be thinking in far more bold and creative ways about what schooling and education should be today in order to prepare young people for the world of tomorrow. If we don’t do these things we shouldn’t be surprised if the education available in our schools is seen as less and less relevant, less and less applicable to the evolving lives of young people. Worse, for those of us engaged in schools development in developing countries and away from the economic powerhouses will be condemning the young people we work with to the disadvantages that have held their countries back ….. but multiplied far worse.

One simple example stands out. Over the last 20 to 30 years one of the biggest engines of growth for developing countries was the shift of manufacturing to those countries. There were multiple reasons for this. In the western countries environmental laws and employment laws became more rigid and more costly to comply with. however, by far the biggest influencer was the relative cost of manpower/ labour.  Western workers became too expensive to employ in labour intensive manufacturing environments. In fact, often the developing country labour was so much cheaper that companies didn’t even need to be hasty about introducing or developing advanced equipment for manufacturing.

However, we’ve now hit a critical tipping point with automation, robotics and the harnessing of AI. Companies are moving manufacturing back to developed countries. Governments, such as the USA, make a big deal of this as a conscious effort to support the common man in their countries, to bring back jobs etc. However, the truth is that much of that manufacturing goes on almost entirely without the need for labour and so will have little or no impact on wages and unemployment. However, it now leads to reduced costs of distribution for the manufacturers and a favourable environment to innovate, automate and  harness to new technology.

This represents a challenge for the mass of people in all parts of the world. Job growth in the developing world slows down, job growth doesn’t really materialise in the developed economies (except McJobs with zero hours contracts). In the meantime, the proportion of the world’s wealth flowing in to the hands of the richest and the biggest corporations increases.

(Ironic that I’m writing this the weekend that the American government passed laws to massively cut tax rates for big corporations (who are frequently already sitting on massive cash piles or engaging in aggressive buy-backs of their own shares as the best way to generate shareholder returns).

I came in on the point that educators should be taking account of where the world is going. Only if we do that do we have any hope of providing effectively for the education needs of a generation who are growing up to a very different world to any that has been experienced before.

To this end, here’s the podcast and report from McKinseys;

McKinsey Pocast – What is the Future of Work?

Then, here is the report from McKinsey. This is the summary article that includes a link to the full PDF downloadable report;

What the Future of Work Will Mean for Jobs, Skills and Wages

As I reflect on the content, what it’s telling me is that we need far less didactic teaching of content and syllabus. We need to hasten the transition to teaching and learning that emphasises the development of Twenty First Century skills and competencies. Also, we need to continue to make schools places where students come to own their own learning, have real and genuine agency and don’t wait for teachers to put learning in to them. Rather, we need environments where children hold themselves accountable to learning goals from an early age, working to build the grit, resilience, tenacity, flexibility,  creativity and adaptability to be able to lead and reshape themselves in an ever changing world.

It’s an exciting time and potentially one that can be phenomenally rewarding for young people. However, it won’t be if they’ve been ill-prepared. Children prepared to excel in the world of yesterday will just struggle immensely in the new world of tomorrow.

Society or Education – Which to Change First?

I’ve shared a number of articles in the past about the ways in which modern education is failing to rid itself of the ‘industrial model’ mindset, with the result that it is poorly serving today’s young people who need to be equipped with very different skills and competencies if they are to excel in the fast changing, technological age of the Twenty First Century.

Here’s a very thought-provoking article from Mindshift, that quotes extensively from the work of John Abbott, Director of the 21st Century Learning Initiative. So many of the opinions he expresses in the article strike a chord with me and reflect issues and concerns that have been very much in my mind. Particularly, Abbott stresses that conventional schooling is not enabling young people to develop the transferable, higher-order thinking skills that they need to become true lifelong learners.

On one point I disagree with the conclusions in the article. It’s right to point out that the problems in schools cannot be looked at in isolation from the challenges in the rest of society. As technology changes the world in fundamental ways, we have options and choices about what kind of society we want to have (and therefore what education will prepare us for it). However, to suggest that the changes in society must happen forst, and then educators will adjust later is to risk leaving a generation of young people to flounder without the skills and equipment to operate effectively in the changing world. I believe those of us in education have to have the courage to look in to the future and reshape the education that will prepare young people. We cannot necessarily know what choices the world is going to make in terms of the shaping of society. However, if we help young people NOW to develop greater independence, interdependence, resilience and flexibility then they will be more empowered to deal with whatever the future holds. Sometimes I fear that too many of my peers use lack of certainty as their primary excuse for not bringing real meaningful changes in the education arena.

There was a particular sentence in the article that really stood out to me – “Adults who feel hard-pressed to predict or control their own destinies, and who feel confused about the “big issues of life,” Abbott notes, are less willing to give children the time and space they need to shape their own futures.” I read this in the context of both educators and parents. There’s no doubt that we see such sentiments from some parents at times. The more uncertain they become about their own lives and feel like so much flotsam tossed on a tumultuous sea, so they seek to control more and more aspects of their children’s lives. In plain terms – it doesn’t work! Our children need courageous parents working in collaboration with courageous educators.

Technology Changes for 2016-17

We live in an age with technology change happening at an ever increasing rate. We only need to think how few years it has taken for smart phones to become such an integral part of our daily lives to know that this pace of change is not going to slow down.

In my growing up years (a very long time ago now!) probably the biggest technology changes happening were quite significant, though we didn’t always realise it at the time. Cars became available to a much broader mass market. I’m pretty sure my father was the first person in either his or my mother’s family to own a car. This suddenly brought a whole new level of mobility in to our lives that had never been imagined previously. Second, TV became ‘mass market’. It was black and white, and in England had only three channels. It didn’t broadcast 24 hours a day like it does now, but used to close down at night with the national anthem. I think I’m right that it used to close down for a few hours in the morning and a couple of hours in mid afternoon as well. Nevertheless, it brought enormous changes in how families entertained themselves. The final one that sticks in my mind is the first computer games consols – one game (a simple form of tennis) where you either played against the computer or an opponent. It plugged in to the TV, so as soon as anyone wanted to watch something, you had to stop playing. None of us then knew what all this was the prelude to.

For the children who are growing up now, the technology really defines many of their life experiences both now and in the future. As a result, these things should matter and be of more than passing interest for us as educators. After all, it’s a future that we’ve committed to preparing children and young people for.

I’m always interested in expert predictions of what are going to be the ‘next big things’, especially when they come from people with a good record of past predictions. So, I was very interested to read this article that sets out the likely big tech trends for 2016;

11 Tech Trends That Will Define 2016
(Click on the link above to read the article)

The prediction about use of Artificial Intelligence to support the learning of special needs students is especially fascinating and makes a great deal of sense. It could be enormously powerful.

Walk Away From That Screen, Kid!

The explosion of screens in our lives has been unprecedented in terms of the speed that things have happened. As a result, there are a lot of uncertainties about the implications, how much (or whether) screen use should be controlled.

This is an interesting summary of the current viewpoints in the USA, the first of two articles from New York Times, tied to a PBS broadcast on the subject;

NYTimes – Well – Blog – Screen Addiction Toll On Children

The first thing that struck me was that, for such a fast developing phenomenon, the data cited isn’t up to date enough. My guess is that if similar data was gathered today, it would reveal even more stark findings and extremes of what’s happening. In terms of the impact all this is having on children we really are in a very uncertain place – there just is no precedent for anything like it before.

For a number of years I was one of the (few?) parents who worked to keep a daily limit on screen time. The positives that came out of that were that my son read more, played outside more and, I believe, spent more time interacting with and reflecting upon the real world around him. The downsides were; his perceptions that he was wronged because he was the only one in his peer group subject to such rules, temptation to dishonesty and breaches of trust to find ways to circumvent the rules. Just as alcoholics will go to extraordinary lengths to get hold of drink, to conceal it and consume it, so the latent technology addict latches on to all sorts of spurious justifications. One of the simplest against a parent is the accusation that because they spend time with technology, so they have no right to limit the child’s. The fact that one is using it for work related email, research, report preparations, spreadsheets, writing etc. while the other uses it for mindless gaming and social chatter is apparently neither here nor there.

As my son got older it was inevitable that the trade off of asking him to take more responsibility in his own life would come with less sense in imposing such a rule. Once the restrictions were off, inevitably screen time went up a lot. Do I worry about its implications in his life? Yes, I do. Do I get concerned that with the combined ranks of those who wish to convince young people that life lived online is better than the real world his self-control, responsibility and commitments to make the best of his own life won’t be strong enough?

In Western countries when TV got bigger, regulations were there to control what could be seen when and what methods could be used to exploit or ‘suck in’ consumers. Likewise, the advertising industry was subjected to specific sets of rules about what it could do, what was acceptable, especially around children. The internet comes with none of these checks and balances.

More needs to be known, and quickly. There also needs to be advance thought given to future implications of newer developments like virtual reality – yet to become mainstream, but with enormous implications. Today, perhaps the hardest aspect to deal with is that as parents or educators we are not well-enough informed to know what is right or wrong, what is or isn’t dangerous. However, our ignorance is certainly not bliss and could be something we rue greatly in the future.

The students of our school have now been on summer vacation for around two and a half weeks. I hope, for their sake, that they’re not all buried deep in a screen right now. I would love nothing more than for them to cut their screen time in favour of some outdoor activity, reading, art or even just time to chat and play with siblings. What’s the saying – moderation in all things!

Technology of Tomorrow

Well, I'm feeling guilty that I haven't posted anything new for some time. In my defence, it's been a very hectic couple of weeks. I've got lots of great material stored up, so keep a look out over the coming days and weeks.

Here, to get back in to action is a thought-provoking video of new things happening in technology, highlighting the way that we in education need to respond if we are to effectively prepare young people for a rapidly changing world.

TedXGurgaon – Kishore Bhargava