I offer this blog post as a cautionary note. I firmly believe that the way in which K-12 and higher education is preparing our children for the job market of the future needs to be dramatically changed. Much has been said during the past several years about the pending explosion of artificial intelligence, robotics, and its impact on the workforce of the future. The question is, are we preparing our children for that challenge?
Joseph Aoun has written that higher education (and, by implication, K-12 education), must adapt its teaching methods to prepare the students of tomorrow for employment that does not yet exist. In fact, it is estimated that 65% of students entering primary school today will work in jobs that have yet to be created.
This is not revolutionary. When I entered kindergarten in 1955, computers, the Internet, solar power, and electric vehicles did not exist. These “modern technologies” existed in the minds of science fiction writers and fringe futurists. The learning curve was often difficult. It built problem-solving and critical thinking skills, not to mention resilience. We learned to use our college degrees in unexpected ways. We adapted.
It is true that literacy in the areas of technology and data management are critical job skills. It is also true that human literacy skills are critically important. In fact, critical thinking, problem-solving, oral and written communication, entrepreneurial, interpersonal, and cross-cultural skills are critical to success in the workforce of the future. The latter skills are traits and characteristics that will separate humans from artificial intelligence and robots. In short, robots cannot think in context. They cannot assess or sense the very human intricacies of interpersonal interaction. Humans can, and do.
The overarching skill that will transcend all of the skills noted is systems management skills. The ability to manage the complexities of an organization – corporate, education, government – will become paramount. Human beings must and will fulfill this workforce need.
The question, and the challenge, facing K-12 and higher education in the United States is, how best to expose students to the teaching and learning methods that will prepare them for the future. Absent this, the students of tomorrow will be ill-prepared to face the challenges of the future. Maybe equally important, the role of the United States in an increasingly globalized world will be dramatically diminished.
Computers will undoubtedly grow in sophistication to the point where they may take on “human” characteristics like critical thinking, problem-solving, even cultural dexterity and adaptability. What a computer will almost assuredly never develop is the very human characteristic of understanding situations in context and subsequently arriving at the very human decision-making process.
Desh Deshpande, founder of Sycamore Networks, has stated, “There are three types of people in the world. There are some people who are oblivious to everything, some people who see a problem and complain, and some people who see a problem and get excited to fix it.” If we, as a nation, want the students of today to fit into the latter category, we will need to fix what is wrong with the way we educate our children.
More on that in a later blog post…