Educators, employers and politicians must work together to ensure young people have the skills, knowledge and aptitude to thrive in the future, urges ASCL’s general secretary Geoff Barton.
“The times,” sang Bob Dylan in 1964, “they are a-changin’.” It was an anthem for a turbulent decade; the voice of a generation determined to throw off the stifling constraints of the old order. But it resonates down the years because, like all great poetry, it contains a timeless truth.
The times are always changing, and the pace of change has never been greater than it is today.
As a society, we are still struggling to manage the impact of the technological advances of the past 10-20 years. In that short time, phones have morphed into personal computers connected to the world wide web, possessed by virtually every citizen in the UK, capable of streaming video, music, games, and linked at the touch of a screen to the chatter of multiple social media sites.
For all the benefits of this extraordinary inter-connectedness, there are downsides too, including fake news, cyberbullying, grooming and radicalisation. And there is growing national concern about how the mental health and wellbeing of our young people is being affected by this challenging environment and how we help them navigate a terrain that we barely understand ourselves.
The age of robotics
That, however, is just the start. There are greater challenges on the horizon, and a pace of change unprecedented in human history.
Ahead of us lies the age of robotics, of artificial intelligence; an age in which human beings will be increasingly replaced by automation in many fields of work. The nature of employment will fundamentally change, the likelihood being that young people in our schools and colleges may have several careers in their lives and in which lifelong learning will be something that everybody does and needs to do.
It could be tremendously exciting; a society in which people feel liberated and energised by changes of direction, in which the dividends of greater efficiency are shared.
Or it could be dystopian; a society sharply divided between the wealthy and the leftbehind, where poverty and joblessness are embedded, and people scrabble for crumbs of work.
We must ensure our curriculum is fit for the future and that our young people are prepared for the world of work through productive links with employers”
Which of these visions becomes reality depends on what we do today; the politicians, the businesses, the educators.
We must ensure our curriculum is fit for the future, that it is broad and enriching, and that our young people are prepared for the world of work through productive links with employers. This is the great challenge of our time.
We have a responsibility to work together to ensure our young people have the skills, knowledge and aptitude to thrive in this future – to be the adaptable, resilient, optimistic, confident individuals whose human ingenuity and endeavour can never be replaced by machines.
Future Talent LIVE gives us just such an opportunity to think and discuss how we achieve that objective and turn the age of robotics into a time of opportunity.
Linking skills and curricula
In a report in 2016, The World Economic Forum listed the top 10 skills that would be needed for the fourth industrial revolution (see image).
The challenge for educators is how we incorporate these into curricula alongside the learning of essential knowledge, such as reading, writing, maths and science, at a time of constrained funding.
It accentuates the need to ensure that the knowledge curriculum emphasised through recent reforms does not become just a memory test, and that learning enhances the ability of young people to think critically, to solve problems and to be creative.
It demonstrates too that we must fight to retain curriculum breadth in the face of accountability measures and funding constraints which often pull in the opposite direction.
We cannot wait for some far-off curriculum review to take a more strategic approach to understanding and delivering the skills that will be needed in the future”
The creative arts and design and technology – subjects which are increasingly under pressure – teach several of the skills that feature in the list. The same is true of sport, which provides opportunities for young people to develop their teamwork and leadership skills, besides the obvious benefits of fitness and wellbeing (physical and mental).
And that extends also to enrichment activities – drama, music, clubs, trips volunteering, expeditions and so on – all of which provide such valuable learning experiences.
Challenge and opportunity
What is certain is that we cannot wait for some far-off curriculum review to take a more strategic approach to understanding and delivering the skills that will be needed in the future.
The time is now and we have to work within the system as it currently exists. Indeed, this is an opportunity for us as school leaders to give real meaning to the principle of a school-led system. We need to lead the future.